Artichoke music is a Portland OR, landmark! Founded in 1971 by Judith Cook Tucker it was named Artichoke because “artichokes are all heart!” Over the years, this establishment has changed locations and owners but the core philosophy has remained constant. This is home to Portland’s Folk music community. Currently with Richard Columbo and Jay Morris at the helm, Artichoke supports the musicians of the northwest with a nice selection of instruments and a venue to perform.
So, on a rare sunny Portland afternoon in May, Artichoke offered up a concert that was attractive enough to bring north westerners indoors…. Tony Kolenberg and Michael Manring!
As you enter the Artichoke Café through a side entrance, you are absorbed into an intimate, old salon like setting with a compact stage at one end and an assortment of tables and chairs that make you feel more like home than a venue. A full house of Portland’s eclectic music lovers, beer, wine, snacks and light conversation completed the scene. As the room was almost filled to capacity, I lucked out when a very gracious couple offered me the extra seat at their table. (Thanks again Folks!)
The show got underway with an opening act originally from New Zealand named “Down Owens Lane”. Folk music numbers with the acoustic guitars, mandolin, clarinet and earthy vocals made me drift back to the 60’s and Joan Baez. (The surrounding audience’s long hair, dreadlocks, beards and Tie dye helped that time leap along)
For the main event, guitarist Tony Kaltenberg and Michael Manring took the stage. (To be joined shortly after by percussionist Jarrod Kaplan) The combination of steel string acoustic guitar, Djembe drums, hand cymbals, ankle bells, and fretless bass wove an intricate tapestry of harmony, rhythm, and emotions. Playing off each other, these extraordinary musicians spoke to us in a purely instrumental, higher language that kept the house enthralled in silent awe. Creative freedom was manifest, and captivated the crowd.
At one point, Tony and Jarrod left the stage leaving Michael alone to totally blow us all away with his solo bass expertise. Balancing a percussive foundation with harmony and extraordinary technique, Michael spoke in his own voice to a mesmerized crowd!
You really have to “witness” Michael Manring’s playing to fully grasp the magnitude of his evolution as a bassist.
Wielding an arsenal of Zon Basses, Michael displays a complete command of the fretboard while changing his tuning (multiple times within a piece) with his Hipshot tuners “and” bridge tuners. And if that’s not enough, he jumps in and out with his Ebow (a sustaining device) while working his pedal box with the manual agility of a seasoned magician! What’s most important in this display of techniques and gadgets is the fact that the music flows uncompromised from beginning to end. We were guided through a continuous movement of sounds, feels, rhythms and places that transcended merely hearing, much less his techniques. He is truly the master in this realm. On a humorous note, Michael thanked the audience for “Putting up with subversive Bass music”.
Needless to say, after a night of listening to Michael, odds are an introspective reassessment of your own playing, no matter where you are in your musical growth, is inevitable.
Following an amazing show, Michael chatted with the excited dazed throng (myself included) and demonstrated the down to earth, almost humble goodness that always seems to be unique in one so talented!