Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Portland funk and jazz fusion band, Mr. Vale’s Math Class, is a rip-roaring romp of a musical project. The troupe of musicians that make up this seven-plus-member group are celebrating the release of its first EP, Show Your Work.
Started in 2016, in “the sweaty basements of Portland” near Portland State University’s campus, Mr. Vale’s Math Class gets it name from founding member Jordan Vale. He was inspired to form the band while working as a math tutor and instructor -- a dayjob he still has at the Mathnasium in Northeast Portland -- and he contemplated how mathematics and music can interplay.
“The songs aren't explicitly to teach math,” Vale told Curbside Press. “But more to allow people to have fun with math and … realize it's more than just a class in school but a topic and theme that can be fun and whimsical.”
This scholastic and arithmetic focus is present in nearly every track title on the EP.
“Add It Up” is the album’s bouncing, funky single that warms the listener up to the kind of experience the band delivers.
The organ, played on this track by Kim Vi, adds a sort of ragtime feel to the single, and the group showcases its deep percussion roster of David Hagen and James Ford on drums, cymbals and chimes of all kinds.
The band’s deep lineup of musicians and instrumentalists allows for each track to feature the influence of different members.
The grooving funk sounds on tracks like “The Task” and “Multiplicar” highlight the bass work of Matt Holmes, as well as the riffing of dual guitarists Austin Christ and Nick Hammel. Bluesy and old school rock solos are features of several tracks, like “Add It Up” and “The Square Root of 2,” as well.
Vale, aside from being the lead vocalist, also plays trumpet and even provides a jazzy motown solo and Latin-sounding horn arrangement on “Multiplicar.” Nicole McCabe lends her talents on alto sax for “The Task” and clarinet accompaniment from James McDonald can be heard on other tracks.
Backing vocals by Cliff Jones and Edan Krolewicz work perfectly for call-and-response moments on tracks like “The Task” and “Walkin’” and provide hype moments in songs with whoops, hollers and “hey!”s punctuating moments of transition into groovier segments.
The band isn’t just musically driven, either. The EP features vocal riffing, comedy bits and acted-out performances that make clear what the band describes as the sounds of a “funky, math-themed party.”
“The Square Root of 2,” the penultimate track off of Show Your Work, begins with vocalists bantering back and forth about “What the square root of 2 is.” Everyone concludes that it “isn’t rational” and Vale makes jokes throughout the song about how irrational or disagreeable certain numbers can be.
“The square root of 5 is so irrational, it’s afraid of bald people!” one line goes, cutting through the jazzy accompaniment like a stand-up comedian riffing with the band at a comedy club.
“Make Tens First” is a innuendo-heavy satire of a romance number, with Vale’s deep voice setting the tone for flirtatious back-and-forth in the verses between him and Jones.
“Hinting at adult themes is a huge part of what having fun with math is for the group,” Vale explained. “I would never be able to sincerely sing ‘I wanna be with you baby.’ But if (it’s) something like ‘I wanna multiply with you all night,’ or ‘Baby, let’s make tens first,’ that's more my style.”
There’s even an interactive component to live performances. During the song, “The Task,” for instance, the band acts out different math problems or objectives onstage each night.
The band started out playing jazz compositions together, but as it grew towards playing parties and not wanting to just be a “jam band,” the group started playing around with more than one sound.
“We (wanted) to feel free to play any style or groove we wanted as long as it got people moving and put a smile on faces,” Vale said.
He describes a very collaborative songwriting process as a result, and the EP features music that is one part jazz, one part funk and a grab-bag of other sonic choices depending on what the band feels works for a particular track or performance.
“The writing is generally a group effort where I'll bring in either a concept, riff, melody, rhythm, or groove and everyone has the freedom to build that up and figure out what twists and turns we take with it until it becomes a cohesive song,” he said.
The recording and mastering for the EP was an in-house process, too, with Vale and drummer Hagen coordinating the production elements in their living room and in Mathnasium classrooms.
“We chose those locations not because they were the best sonically but because I knew that it would be a great time and we'd have a lot of fun,” Vale said. “And I really wanted that infectious fun vibe that we bring live to come out in the recording.”
Show Your Work is available for purchase and download online. The band is currently getting ready for upcoming shows in Portland, including a brunch affair at the 1234 House on Oct. 20.
Mr. Vale’s Math Class will also be releasing a new music video in the coming months for one of the singles off of Show Your Work, “Walkin’.” In the meantime, here's a video of the band recording "Make Tens First."
For more information on the band and to stay updated on releases and shows, connect with the group on social media.
For more featured artist reviews, become a subscriber today! Connect with Curbside Press on social media to stay up-to-date on all arts news coming out of Oregon.