Sideways Portal
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Sideways Portal

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Improvisational jazz ensemble performs Monday, June 9, at Sunnyside-Up in Corvallis.

[Video Feed URL] - Gazette Times

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By Jake TenPas
The Entertainer

Sideways Portal just the latest players of Dave Storrs’ improvisational jazz

CORVALLIS — Drummer Dave Storrs has been a driving force in Corvallis jazz and improvisational music since at least 1991. That was the year he and saxophonist Mike Curtis, dubbing themselves Zygote, started a weekly series of performances at Java Rama, which became Cafe Roma, on Monroe Avenue. Now, long after both coffee shops have closed their doors, he’s still getting his off-kilter groove on, working with both past collaborators and fresh faces to keep Corvallis’ creative music scene hopping.

On Monday, June 9, he played with his most recent group, Sideways Portal, at the first of three performances planned for Sunnyside-Up Cafe. On Tuesday, June 17, he’ll reunite with Curtis, then close out the musical miniseries on Monday, June 23, with Brown and Bigelow. Both will start at 6 p.m.

While each of the groups represents a well-defined facet of Storrs’ musical personality, they also share certain fundamental principals. Foremost among them seem to be honesty and compassion.

Or, as Storrs puts it, “Intention and forgiveness.”

“We almost have to give ourselves an opportunity to forgive,” Storrs says, speaking of the broken moments that invariably arise when musicians truly improvise. They might falter, but as long as the honest intention is present, any mistake can be forgiven, no matter how far off course it takes the group.

“It’s like a conversation where at the end, you go, ‘Oh! That’s what we were talking about,’” Storrs says.

Joining him in the conversation that has been dubbed Sideways Portal is longtime collaborator Page Hundemer on bass, as well as two of Corvallis’ better known jazz musicians of recent years, guitarist John Bliss and trumpeter Rob Birdwell. Given that Birdwell and Bliss have been playing together for roughly five years, and Storrs and Hundemer’s relationship stretches back 14 years, the two duos combine to form a quartet bursting with communicative avenues.

“If the musicians are right, if everybody’s playing really honestly, nobody’s showboating, nobody’s trying to play licks. If the musicians are really sincere, it’s all the same thing,” Bliss says.

“It’s hard to know what moves people, what affects people,” Birdwell adds, talking about the wide range of styles the group can run through in a single set.

On this particular Monday, they play songs that are really more of ideas, ideas with names such as “Melody,” “Tight and loose” and “Stay,” all of them classifiable under the greater heading of “spontaneous composition.” Each imparts ideas of sound or motion, inviting the musicians to pass ideas back and forth, taking them and tweaking them — or just outright breaking them — as the mood hits.

Dave calls it “falling down the stairs” as he talks about his performance with Brown and Bigelow, which is made up of Hundemer, guitarist Nick Rivard and vocalist and guitarist Monica Metzler. The quartet played Old World Deli last weekend.

“I just looked at the audience and saw them go, ‘Oh, that’s possible,’” he recalls. Such a reaction is not uncommon at a Storrs show, although playing with Metzler and Rivard, who are both in their early 20s, some of the improbable moments were that much more striking.

Metzler is a vocalist of stunning personality, and seeing her oldschool jazz demeanor swinging along with Rivard’s cool guitar tone makes a lot of sense. Tossing Storrs’ and Hundemer’s sometimes dense rhythmic tendencies into the mix can make for a jarring contrast, but one that reinforces Storrs’ mission of making it OK to make mistakes.

“I’m a tough taskmaster,” Storrs says. “I’m trying to teach all the time.”

On Monday, 14-year-old Aden Kailin sat in with Sideways Portal, alternating between surprising bursts of enlightened sax and moments of wide-eyed indecision. “It’s good to go to your limits,” he said during a break. “Find your edges, make them so they’re not your limits.”

Over the next couple of weeks, as Storrs brings his groups to Sunnyside-Up and Sideways Portal plays the second installment of its Jazz Brunch series at Cloud 9, all the musicians, regardless of age, will continue to go to their limits and beyond.

“It never stops for Dave,” Birdwell says. “It never stops for any of us.” - Gazette Times


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Sideways Portal formed in the Summer of 2007 - what began as a series of jam sessions and recording sessions at veteran musician (and "All About Jazz" featured artist) Dave Storrs' studio, turned into something more lasting. Sideways Portal is able to make music on-the-spot and creates unique settings that foster improvisation. As the band enters the "portal" the audience is also transported. It's a place where music, spirit, mind and matter converge, and reveal the higher power of music and its boundless nature.