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Reviews of live performance


  Holland Hopson / James Keepnews with special guests Damian Catera and Tom Chess 

  (Washington Square Church) 


Friday, March 28th, 2003
   review by Phil Zampino
  2003-04-10

Under the arches and pipe organ inside the Washington Square Church, soprano saxist †Holland Hopson and guitarist James Keepnews assembled a collection of powerbooks, rack electonics and pedals, performing for two hours as a duo and in trio with Tom Chess on tenor sax and oud, and Damian Catera on guitar, powerbook and electronics.

Starting with sirens and politically charged samples, the duo- both of whom's racks included anti-war stickers- worked subtle sax riffs and passionate guitar chords in juxtaposition to the samples. †Hopson's playing was generally continuous, twisting around the samples with odd harmonic interactions generated by his computer. The umbilicus of cables trailing from his sax included an altitude sensor with which he could control various aspects of the generated sound, at times creating a chorus of saxes playing in multiple registers and tonalities. †Keepnews jumped between the powerbook, his rack and his guitar, controlling the flow of the samples and occasional sampled rhythms, even dropping in the Casey Casum quotes that caused Negativland so much legal trouble. †The results were a lovely juxtaposition of ugly sentiment and beautiful playing, as the two created a 21st century improvisation, cajoling odd signal twists from their electronics.

After performing two pieces the duo was joined by Tom Chess for two improvisations. †On the first Chess played tenor sax, opening with a powerful tone over which the three developed an abstracted interplay. †Here Chess was an excellent foil for Hopson and Keepnews as his lower register playing†complemented their higher octave strategies. †The piece slowly developed into a duo between Hopson and Chess, an interesting contrast of acoustic tenor and electronic soprano. †For their second piece Chess switched to the oud, playing middle-eastern melodies over which Keepnew s' haunting samples wailed. †The communication between the three was excellent, interacting with each other as Keepnews varied the piece through samples of voices and rhythms, slowly bringing itself to a peaceful and coherent conclusion.

Hopson and Keepnews then returned to duo format with the most structured piece of the evening which they described as having a "modicum of a plan." †They described the piece as taking the audience to the "South East instead of Central Asia (along the axis of evil)." The piece began with samples of traffic noises and a slow tabla led rhythm over which Hopson played clustered figures against Keepnews' distorted guitar riffs, making a meandering journey into a dark world. After the break the two returned for two more improvisations, interactions with squiggly noises and strident distortions, whistful pieces that never completely congealed, but which wafted about the church in interesting ways.

Damian Catera then joined the duo as the final guest of the evening. †This introduced one more powerbook and another guitar to the fold, as Keepnews and Catera built sheets of drones over which Hopson looped sax lines. †A rich, thick noise tapestry was created out of which identifiable beats played forward and backward while samples appeared and dispelled themselves. The music took interesting turns with dense dynamic drops, the three interacting with bold structures and ideas.

The concert ended with a final duo improvisation using no processing. †The subtle interactions between Hopson and Keepnews showed the musicality that provided the foundation for their electronic excursions, a lovely ending to a dynamic and interesing performance.



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