Diverse brands of popular music continue to top my personal A&E charts this weekend.

On Friday, an ensemble of jazz professors from the University of Southern Maine School of Music will hold forth on the Gorham campus. Their show is titled “Not Your Grandfather’s Jazz.”

Crowd-wise, the biggest draw will be the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s two Pops concerts on Saturday and Sunday. Pianist Joe Boucher will conjure the kindred spirits of Billy Joel and Elton John.

The Press Gang, a trio of Irish musicians from Maine, will celebrate the release their latest CD with a concert in Portland on Saturday.

USM Faculty Jazz Ensemble

Originality and improvisation will be the twin themes this Friday when the University of Southern Maine School of Music presents its Faculty Jazz Ensemble in concert.

The organizers of the concert are Micah Maurio, USM artist faculty in trumpet, who will lead the concert along with Barry Saunders, USM artist faculty in saxophone. They’ll be joined by seven others, all USM faculty members or graduates of the jazz studies program.

The program is titled “Not Your Grandfather’s Jazz,” and represents the faculty’s collective desire to showcase its cutting edge. “This is our chance to contribute to the ever-evolving art of jazz, from a compositional and improvisational standpoint,” said Maurio.

Besides Maurio and Saunders, the lineup includes Bill Street, USM artist faculty in saxophone; Christopher Oberholtzer, USM professor of music and director of jazz studies, on trombone; Ryan Parker on piano; Gary Wittner, USM artist faculty in jazz guitar; Bronek Suchanek, USM artist faculty in double bass; Les Harris Jr., USM artist faculty in jazz percussion, and Taylor O’Donnell, USM artist faculty in jazz voice.

The concert features several works written by Saunders, including a piece titled “Hockets & Les,” a short 12-tone hocket that will be used as a springboard for improvisation. What’s hocket? It’s a melody that has been divvied up into two or more parts, with the voices alternating, sometimes at seemingly random intervals.

“This piece represents a kind of musical minefield for our wonderful colleague, Les Harris Jr., to percussively navigate,” Saunders said. “Each player will be free to set the musical direction for the hocket and the following improvisation. During the drum solo section, Micah and I will interject a different improvised hocket in an attempt to musically poke and inspire Les.”

Maurio’s works in the concert include a piece titled “Sticks and Stones,” which he says was inspired by “Giant Steps,” written by John Coltrane. “This composition is a good example of a modern standard,” said Maurio. “It includes an integrated rhythm section arrangement and multiple, independent melodies; a stark contrast to the singular melody and ‘chuggin’ along’ songwriting style from Tin Pan Alley’s heyday.”

The USM Faculty Jazz Ensemble performs together just once every two years. The organizers note that grandfathers and grandmothers are welcome.

Catch the USM School of Music Faculty Jazz Ensemble at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 at Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 890-5555.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Imaging an evening where Rocket Man and Tiny Dancer hop in a cab and go downtown, dine in an intimate Italian restaurant then visit a nightclub and swing to the beat of Crocodile Rock.

That’s the big idea behind the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Pops program that’s playing twice this weekend. Titled “Piano Men,” the concert will comprise a compilation of the works of two top-selling pop artists who are known for performing their own works while accompanying themselves on the keys: Elton John from England and Billy Joel from this country.

Both achieved pop mega-stardom in the 1970s and remain active to the present. John and Joel have performed together often and each has occasionally appeared with a symphony orchestra. This weekend’s program imagines a concert with each artist backed by the full sonic power of a 70-member orchestra.

A four-piece pop group founded by two Maine residents, Joe Boucher (PSO’s concert manager) and Chris Eastburn, will perform the unforgettable hits of the ultimate piano men. Eastburn has written the arrangements and Boucher will sing and play piano. Gary Backstrom plays guitar and Steve Hodgkin is featured on drums. PSO maestro Robert Moody will lead the orchestra. Boucher has been a mainstay of the Maine music scene for many years, performing with many popular groups.

The concert will focus on recordings during the 1970s, when their chart-topping hits were heavy with orchestral inspiration. Plans are to open with one of Joel’s lesser known songs, such as “Prelude/Angry Young Man”; the concert will then alternate between songs of the two composers, including favorites such as “Rocket Man,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Crocodile Rock.”

Boucher is the creative force behind “Piano Men.” The show debuted a few years ago at the State Theatre, with the Southern Maine Symphony and Robert Lehmann on the podium. I attended that concert and was totally impressed by Boucher’s concept and execution. Since then “Piano Men” has been given by several other symphonies and will no doubt be further honed for this weekend’s concerts.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Piano Men” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 23. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

The Press Gang

A trio of Mainers who play Irish music and call themselves The Press Gang will hold a CD release party this Saturday in Portland. As American performers in the Irish tradition, The Press Gang bring a unique perspective to the music, intersperse their repertoire of Irish melodies with related tunes from Quebec, Scotland and Appalachia as well as some fine New England waltzes.

The Press Gang perform instrumental dance music of Ireland on fiddle, accordion and guitar. Based in Portland, these three have become popular over the past four years for their skillful playing and deep understanding of the music, plus their engaging and humorous stage presence. They temper their creative arrangements with an adventurous panache, making each show spontaneous and fresh.

The Press Gang mostly plays around Maine and New England; a recent local appearance was the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival in Portland. “The Happy Days of Youth” is the group’s second CD, following the eponymous 2010 effort.

Catch The Press Gang at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Micah Maurio and Barry Saunders are jazz professors at the University of Southern Maine School of Music; they will join with seven others for this Friday’s Faculty Concert on the Gorham campus.

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