New music at the New American Art Union

matt’s setupStéphane Rives, saxophone virtuoso, and Wade Matthews, laptop virtuoso, came to Portland on the 14th of February this year (2008) via Portland’s Creative Music Guild for a show of virtuosic improv. They were joined for the second half of the show by Matt Hannafin, percussion virtuoso, and JP Jenkins, guitar virtuoso. I’m not exaggerating.

Living in Portland, I have of course heard Matt and JP many times—always good times—but I had never heard Stéphane or Wade before, so this was a real treat. Stéphane specializes in high, single tones made up of complex, various sounds. Introducing electronics into this spare, sparse, rich sound world could so easily be simple impertinence. But Rives and Matthews, having done this before, created a space that included individual, isolated sounds—in all their complexity—and complex interweaving lines and patterns, in all their simplicity.

Most satisfying.

For the second half, Rives and Matthews were joined by old Portlander JP Jenkins and new Portlander Matt Hannafin, who had not only never played together, but neither had ever played with Rives or Matthews. With such sensitive and skillful musicians, that’s almost a guarantee of high adventure. I hope the clip that accompanies this report (courtesy of Mr. Hannafin) gives at least a glimpse of that.

After a brief period of individual proposals by each performer, Rives and Matthews pulled back a bit to let their colleagues shine. But once it was clear how Jenkins and Hannafin would fit into this new situation, all four became equal partners. I hate to overuse the word exhilarating, but that is exactly what master improvisers do, exhilarate.

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