Music » Critics' Picks

Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura with Darin Gray, Chris Smentkowski, Eric Hall, Ben Hanna and Tobi Parks

Sunday, February 2; Galaxy

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In tiny avant-music circles and among experimental improv scholars and aesthetes, Keith Rowe [pictured] is one of the kings, the Coltrane of the tabletop guitar, whose innovations stretching back to the late '50s, both solo and with the trio AMM, have expanded the canvas of musical improvisation.

Big deal to you, though, right? As is the case with most innovators, Rowe's work is much less well known than that of artists he's inspired, and therefore you may need a little nudge: tabletop guitar, experimental improv, avant aesthetes -- these are definite warning signs to anyone in need of a beat or a melody.

To that end, we present a list of people with whom Rowe has collaborated: Syd Barrett, madman of Pink Floyd, who referred to Rowe as "his teacher" (although, perhaps tellingly, Barrett soon thereafter went insane); German minimalist techno producer Marcus Schmickler (a.k.a. Pluramon); Jim O'Rourke, producer/composer extraordinaire (he produced Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and bassist for Sonic Youth; Christian Fennesz, whose 2001 recording Endless Summer is one of the most profound ambient-noise compositions of the new century; Lee "Scratch" Perry, the Jamaican king of dub who worked with Rowe in the early '80s; Brit saxophonist Evan Parker, whose blurts and chirp on the horn expanded the language of the instrument; and, of course, Eddie Prévost and Lou Gare, who formed AMM in 1965 and have intermittently regrouped and recorded over the past 35 years.

Rowe will perform here in St. Louis with equally out-there musician Toshimaru Nakamura, one of the leading improvisational voices of Japan. Take heed, though: The pair's music, at least on their collaboration Weather Sky, is pretty rough on the patience if you're looking to groove or get all funky. Much of Weather Sky consists of single high-pitched tinnitusesque tones, the kind of sound you hear after a show, not during one. Other Rowe works are less annoying and more expansive, especially his work with M.I.M.E.O. (Music in Movement Electronic Orchestra), which features Schmickler, Fennesz and a half-dozen others in collaboration -- the sound is overwhelming.

Opening are a quintet of St. Louis improvisors: Darin Gray and Chris Smentkowski will perform as a duo, and Eric Hall, Ben Hanna and Tobi Parks will work as a trio.

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