Salting: Shao Way Wu, Randy Porter, & Gabe Porter
Friday, April 19th, 8 p.m.| Morris Graves Museum of Art
Listening to the music of Shao Way Wu, one feels at its core a genuine openness; a patient, frank, even vulnerable honesty. So it may be shocking to learn that Wu’s latest works are all about deception.
The name “Salting,” Wu says, refers to “salting the mine,” the practice of surreptitiously adding gold or silver to an ore sample in order to deceive land buyers and investors. In these parts, during gold rush days, the ruse lured prospectors into buying barren claims (see Mark Twain’s Roughing It), and in the 1970s the practice was purportedly revived by back-to-the-landers trying to keep the government from seizing their homesteads on some of those same lands (see Malcolm Terence’s Beginner’s Luck).
Asked by Douglas Detrick on a Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble podcast what this confidence trick has to do with the music, Wu suggested, only slightly disingenuously, maybe, that “the arts are all lies to try to get to the truth.”
Indeed, the compositions on Salting’s self-titled album seem to toy with our very expectations of music. Each piece presents itself as one thing before suddenly changing scene entirely, not once but multiple times, turning seemingly minimalist statements into complex locutionary structures that coyly point behind the curtain of our preconceptions of jazz. Wu’s bandmates, pianist Randy Porter and drummer Jason Palmer—“great, creative, open-minded, and generous players,” he says of them—are expert co-conspirators in this game.
Wu and Porter, who has toured extensively with David Friesen and Charles McPherson, among others—and whose latest album, Porter Plays Porter, with legendary singer Nancy King, was up for a Grammy this year—have their own (post-goldrush) history in Humboldt County, having met as students at HSU. For two decades Wu was a pillar of NoHum’s jazz community, and his departure to Portland six years ago was a loss for the local scene. On balance, though, it's an evident gain for music at large, as his artistic spirit appears to be thriving in Portland, where he’s released a handful of albums and collaborated with a swath of northwest creatives. Wu and Porter’s previous collaboration, “Tar Beach,” was here in 2016, and we’re happy to have them back with another Portlander in tow, Gabe Porter, filling in for Palmer on drums.
Explaining the nominal subject matter of this latest project, Wu baulks: “I’m not good at writing love songs, so I had to pick something to write about. I thought maybe that’s a topic…it’s loosely examining the process of deception.” Wu’s modesty itself seems like a bluff, for like those salted mines, there are pieces of expertly-laid gold in his music. The question is: what do we find beneath the crust once we really buy in, open our ears, and start to dig?
Salting will also
present an open, pre-show public workshop at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, April 19th, in Music 131 on the HSU campus (across the walkway, opposite the lobby of Fulkerson Recital Hall). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
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Audio (see also at left):