Nobody struts like the Akropolis Reed Quintet. The ensemble stands up when they play—unusual for wind players—and there are moments when they walk around the stage. Even when they stay in one place, they shake and shimmy and groove with the music. But mainly I mean that they metaphorically strut. When they play, the music has this brisk, bouncy, breezy, easy strolling quality…something the stuffy old term andante is supposed to signify, but usually doesn’t.
Akropolis, a Project Protégé Artist with Chamber Music Northwest, is a pretty ambulatory group in another way. Their October 8 Portland performance was the second time I’ve seen them this year, and they perform in Portland often enough to call it “a second home.” Sponsored by CMNW and Portland5, it was the ninth and final concert of this tour, and they’ll be on the road again next week. I caught them at Mount Hood Community College out on the far side of Gresham over the summer, playing for a bunch of suburban college kids in a venue that could hardly be more different from the Dolores Winningstad Theatre in bustling downtown Portland’s Center for the Arts. The Michigan-based group, which prides itself on reaching out to new audiences (and especially students), seems to love playing just about everywhere they can.
There’s something special about the tour-tightened, battle-sharpened vigor that a musical group acquires when they hang out together, play frequently, and tour obsessively. The Landrys—Matt on sax, Kari on clarinet—just got married, making this tour their honeymoon; the quintet feels very much like one of the vagabonding family bands of old. Yet they are also savvy entrepreneurs who maintain a busy schedule and an engaging social media presence, and they are about to release their third album.
And it’s not just concerts. The Akropolis members are highly focused on their educational outreach endeavors, making clinics and workshops as much a part of their touring priorities as their more conventional concerts. They give workshops about the challenges of the music business in addition to their other outreach programs. In fact, this tour’s ninth concert coincided with the tour’s tenth educational event, a clinic Akropolis gave earlier in the day for local homeless youth advocacy groups New Avenues for Youth and p:ear.
This unity of education, performance, community engagement, and professional development is central to Akropolis’ mission. Despite all this “yeoman’s work,” as saxophonist Landry called it, when they took the stage at Winningstad Theatre, he gracefully thanked us for coming to their concert and not one of the myriad other shows happening nearby (some of them in the same building). “We’re glad you found us!” Landry, said with an easy grin.