International Artists Bring Gusts of Ingenuity to Windy City

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A totally different aesthetic reigned at the Hungry Brain a couple of days later with the sublime connections of New York-based singer Sara Serpa and guitarist André Matos, two musicians who hail from Lisbon, Portugal.

Matos had visited Chicago before, with saxophonist Greg Osby at the Green Mill, but it was Serpa’s debut, a low-key CD release for All The Dreams (Sunnyside), which followed the duo’s Primavera on Osby’s Inner Circle label.

After guesting with opening duo Sun Speak (guitarist Matt Gold and drummer Nate Friedman), the graceful Serpa commenced her own set with Matos sans fanfare. Prior shows at the venue were regularly initiated by programmers Mike Reed or Josh Berman demanding audience quiet, but Serpa and Matos simply began in the middle of the barroom chatter.

Their crystalline simpatico almost immediately silenced the room. A husband-and-wife team with a wealth of playing experience, they performed in rapt concentration, Matos striving to keep astute harmony on the move as Serpa zeroed in with pinpoint pitch at apposite intervals, occasionally hovering on unusual, unresolved midrange notes.

Matos’ guitar has something of the mellower lilt of Pat Metheny or the restraint of Bill Frisell, even Ry Cooder, but his echoey settings, sometimes using loops or helicopter pedal, conjured their own sense of place.

He bathed the first two songs—“Espelho” and “Night” (the latter a poem from William Blake’s Songs of Innoncence)—in reverb so that Serpa’s angelic, succinct voice could glide through a resonant soundscape.

Describing the content of All The Dreams (the title derived from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa), Serpa said, “We felt this music was making us dream and disconnect somehow from the reality of the outside world—that seemed to be a positive feeling.”

As the two floated within such enigmatic balms as Serpa’s “A La Montagne,” Matos’ “Estado De Graca” and a setting of Pessao’s “Nada,” the spell of their conception was cast. Toward the end of a 50-minute set, Serpa kicked off the ostinato scat for “Primavera” between which Matos tuck-pointed driving offbeat lines.

The looped, strangely mechanical “Primavera” made a strong statement, and the duo manipulated aspects further on All The Dreams, reprising the opening track “Calma” by playing it in reverse to close the album. That effect is somewhat Bjork-like, and Serpa’s otherworldliness recalls Chicago-based vocalist Grazyna Auguscik.

Intimate, attentive audiences in each venue, together with microcosms of intense creativity—emanating from Vent Fort, Nachoff’s group and Serpa/Matos—provided inclusive shelter from the storms of bigotry and conflict in the maelstrom of American politics.

International flavors from Europe and Canada ameliorated the gloomier vibrations in Chicago at a much-needed moment.

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