Curator’s notes: Sam Amidon and Tony Barba

Tone Madison presents a folk artist and a solo saxophonist at our August 11 GateSound concert.

Tone Madison presents a folk artist and a solo saxophonist at our August 11 GateSound concert. | By Scott Gordon, Rob Lundberg


Sam Amidon. Photo by Piper Ferguson.

Sam Amidon. Photo by Piper Ferguson.

New York-based folk artist Sam Amidon and Madison-based saxophone player Tony Barba play August 11 at the Gates of Heaven as part of GateSound, an occasional series Tone Madison is hosting there. Series curators Rob Lundberg and Scott Gordon offer a few thoughts here ahead of the show.

I first came across Sam Amidon’s music by way of Ben Frost, who I came to by way of Bora Yoon, who I can’t remember how I came across now. That is to say I was plunging down a rabbit hole of experimental sound artists and composers. Ben lead me to Icelandic record label Bedroom Community, a label of friends centered around engineer Valgeir Sigurðsson, that was also home to Classical wunderkind Nico Muhly.

To come across fingerpicked guitars and banjos, bolstered by lush and emotive orchestral arrangements, supporting an often beautiful (and sometimes beautifully strained) voice singing traditional folk tunes of Appalachia and the British Isles was a shock. But I was immediately drawn in.

Since then I have delved deep into Sam’s music. The orchestrations of his Bedroom Community releases have diversified in recent releases to include collaborations from jazz heavies Bill Frisell and Kenny Wheeler, as well as the ever-present and tasteful Shahzad Ismaily. And then there are the field recording-quality songs of 2015’s Home Alone Inside My Head, featuring off-the-cuff-sounding fiddle tunes and a duet of banjo and (attempted) Tuvan throat singing, amongst others.

I’ve always found Amidon’s variety and pushing of his form exciting and beautifully handled. That is why I jumped at the chance to include him in the GateSound series. Though he is working from a different musical tradition than any of the other artists we have presented so far, I find him to be equally seeking his unique musical vision. His solo performance in the intimate, reverberant space of the Gates of Heaven is sure to be a special one. —RL

Tony Barba moved from Chicago to Madison in 2013, and since then has played saxophone and other woodwind instruments in a rather head-spinning array of settings: Playing sax in jazz outfits ranging from Youngblood Brass Band to Johannes Wallmann’s quartet to big bands, leading small groups of his own in occasional shows at venues including Tempest, lending some bass clarinet to the opening track of electronic project Chants’ latest album.

Most recently, Barba has been experimenting with a new solo setup, running his tenor sax through a chain of loop pedals, Moog effects, and a Micobrute analog synth. He’s currently in the process of mastering a new album that showcases this setup, Winter’s Arms. It won’t be ready in time for this show, but you can hear snippets of what he’s doing on his Instagram. There’s also a video of him using this setup in a duo set with drummer Cory Healey.

What stikes me when Barba plays with this setup is that he’s always sensitive to blending the looped, effected layers with the continuing presence and warmth of the live, non-effected sax in the room. No matter how it’s manipulated by electronics, the varied textures of the sax itself—from rich, mid-range drones to abrasive squawks—are what really drive Barba’s improvised solo explorations. So I’m betting that at this show, Barba will use the acoustic properties of the Gates as deftly as he uses his chain of effects and synths. —SG

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