Fusion-jazz band Cosmic Dust rises from the ashes with new album

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

If you go

• What: CD release concert, “The Dust Also Rises” by the Cosmic Dust Fusion Band.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

 Where: Classic Pianos, 3003 S.E. Milwaukie Ave, Portland.

• Tickets: $15 in advance, $17 at the door.

• On the web: http://jimivories.net

To take in Jim Templeton’s vibrantly colorful vistas, close your eyes and open your ears.

“What I love to do is create landscapes and scenarios that have real depth to them,” the jazz keyboard player and composer said.

The chaotic optimism and lumbering of great beasts into “Noah’s Ark.” The slow, dreamy whirligig of “Circus.” The sweeping spaciousness of “Prairie Song” and the scary-fast frenzy of “NY Taxicab.”

Templeton never forgot his anxiety in the back of that cab, he said. The Spokane native was fresh out of high school and playing professional piano on Cape Cod one summer in the early 1960s when he realized, you can’t call yourself a real jazz cat unless you’ve bitten the Big Apple.

He paid a visit, but couldn’t stomach that bite. “Unbelievable traffic, stress, activity, tension. I had made a big mistake,” he remembered. He hailed a cab and begged, “Get me the !$@! out of here!”

The panic was no fun, but the resulting tune sure is, Templeton said one evening in April while enjoying the tranquility of his back yard in central Vancouver, while the third generation of his 1970s-infused jazz band, the Cosmic Dust Fusion Band, was getting ready for a rehearsal.

Cosmic Dust will release a new batch of Templeton soundscapes during a CD release concert set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Classic Pianos in Southeast Portland. Tickets are $17 at the door.

Rising again

“The Dust Also Rises” is Templeton’s third release under a band name that’s rooted in truly cosmic Pacific Northwest news: the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May 1980. Ten days after that happened, Templeton returned to Spokane from his temporary residence in Denmark, where he was playing and teaching jazz piano.

“All this dust was settling all around the Northwest,” he said. “People were collecting it in little bottles and jars.” And it wasn’t just any dust, of course. It had exploded from deep inside the planet. Strongly influenced by the complex compositions and space-aged electronics of jazz-fusion masters Return to Forever and Weather Report, Templeton launched a new band and named it after what the Pacific Northwest was covered with that summer: Cosmic Dust.

A couple versions of the band enjoyed a years-long run playing summer festivals and other gigs, even while Templeton kept teaching in Europe; then, in 2005, he moved to Vancouver and pursued more mainstream jazz sounds with different players. He also developed a private sideline doing craniosacral therapy — a real departure for a guy who’s never been too “touchy-feely,” he said.

“Using my hands to help people feel better” has been “one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” he said.

And, for a few years, he owned and managed Ivories, a celebrated jazz club in Portland’s Pearl District. Musicians and fans alike loved the place, but hosting live music is always an iffy business, Templeton said, and he realized after a while that he couldn’t keep personally subsidizing it.

If he has any regrets about Ivories, Templeton said, it’s only that while he was playing club manager, he didn’t play much music. Now, the third version of the Cosmic Dust Fusion Band has him leading the band from behind his synthesizer keyboard again.

This version of Cosmic Dust includes Gary Harris on saxophones and flute; Mike Doolin on guitar; Sam Hallam on bass; and Charles Neal on drums.

Familiar and strange

Templeton, who said his path was set early in life when he rejected sensible parental advice to go into engineering, does love engineering sounds on polyphonic synthesizers and other electronic instruments.

“Maybe I’m just a frustrated symphony composer,” he said — but actually, he’s not frustrated at all; between his keyboards and his highly skilled band, he’s got plenty of voices and choices available when his musical imagination goes roaming across landscapes.

New landscapes are definitely in store, now that he knows what Cosmic Dust part three sounds like, he said. But first, he’s focused on promoting the new CD, “The Dust Also Rises,” which draws on the large backlog of unrecorded Templeton compositions.

“Some of this stuff is 20 years old or more. My real goal is to get all my compositions out there so they’re posthumously recognized,” he joked — or did he? “But my immediate goal is to make as big a splash as possible with this band,” he said.

“Music is a journey,” he said. “You start in a place that feels safe — but then you start exploring, experimenting, raising expectations. It’s a balance between what’s familiar and what’s strange. That’s life.”