Multi-instrumentalist Kane Mathis specializes in Malian music. He plays both traditional material and writes his own. He’s a fluent and often wildly spectacular player on both the spiky west African kora lute as well as the world’s coolest instrument, the oud. A member of reedman Matt Darriau’s wryly titled group Du’ud, he’s winding up his weekly Saturday residency this month at Barbes with a 6 PM show on the 27th. If hypnotically ringing African sounds or the magically resonant low-register tones of the oud are your thing, you’d be crazy to miss this.
Onstage, Mathis is all business. Having studied with griot masters on their home turf in Africa, he comes across as a very serious guy. As with most people who play Barbes residencies, Mathis has brought in a rotating cast of musicians each week. Last night’s show featured percussionist Rich Stein providing subtle variations on animately clip-clop Middle Eastern-inflected goblet drum grooves when he wasn’t delivering a hypnotically muted thud, playing with brushes on a couple of African drums. Meanwhile, six-string bassist Moto Fukushima – of similarly hypnotic hammered dulcimer instrumentalists House of Waters – matched Mathis with his own nimbly scampering low-register lines, adding a couple of brief, serpentine solos, rising from the lowest registers with a bristling, incisive, punchy tone.
Mathis opened the set with a small handful of kora tunes, then went to the oud, then returned to the kora to wind up the set on a dusky, psychedelic note. A couple of those circling epics were originals; Mathis also sang an unexpectedly upbeat traditional elegy, guest alto saxophonist Jessica Lurie adding balmy washes overhead.
When Mathis went to the oud midway through the show, he took the energy to redline, whether with thoughtfully crescendoing improvisational intros, hard-hitting chords and some pretty savage Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking. While Mathis’ compositions on that instrument draw deeply on African and Middle Eastern tradition, they also push the envelope as far as where the oud can go.
Besides the final show of this month’s Saturday Barbes residency – featuring his Indian classical/electroacoustic project with tabla player Roshni Samlal – Mathis is also playing here on March 24 as part of the venue’s second annual oud summit, a five-artist tribute to the late, great Haig Magnookian, one of the most soulful players ever to pick up the instrument in this city.