BRAIN TRUST: That the St. Louis music community is, understandably, relatively insular makes it both frustrating and exciting: frustrating because, occasionally, I learn of great music and performances after the fact by stumbling across an old flier or during a conversation; exciting because so much is happening in little corners of the city with little concern for fanfare or publicity that whenever I want to throw in the towel and deem the whole region devoid of pure inspiration, along comes a little peck on the cheek in the form of a basement community that has been making remarkable music just out of my reach.
For example, Brain Transplant sent me an e-mail the other day notifying me of their music, making passing references to some loose association with Panicsville (as if that's gonna get them any bonus points) and Drew St. Ivany of Laddio Bolocko and informing me that a sample of their music can be found on their Web site. What I found on visiting the site was perhaps the most fascinating and durable locally based electronic creation I've ever heard (granted, that's not much of a compliment in and of itself), a linear drive-by that sounds so nice coming out of puny Real Audio-fed computer speakers that I can only imagine the depth of the cut in true-blue digital sound. It's called "Greffe du Cerveau" (that translates as "Brain Transplant," for you non-Francophones) and can be heard with Real Audio at ajay.simplenet.com/stlsnd/braintransplant/. It's not electronica but an experimental examination that, though beat-based, combines soft beats with frazzled distortion and a complete lack of preconceived direction. The cut simultaneously roams and stays on track, and the result is a wonderful tension.
"Greffe du Cerveau" is from a forthcoming full-length by Brain Transplant, their second. The band is the brainchild of Chris Smentkowski on computers and synths, Dave Stone on treated sax, Ajay Khanna on computers and loops, and Jeremy Melsha on frequency generators. The first, titled Live Halloween, was recorded -- surprise, surprise -- live on Halloween and is much more free-floating than the cut mentioned above: fewer beats, more anxiety. By all means, visit the Web site (ajay.simplenet.com/stlsnd/ is also the home of stl/snd, a St. Louis-based improv Web site -- much more on that soon) and check out the song. E-mail is included on the site, if you wanna try finagling a CD/headphone/very freaky floppy-disk kit out of them. (RR)
HARP ATTACK: Arthur Williams, who has made his home in the St. Louis area since 1972, is one of the acknowledged blues-harp masters of our era. Born in Tunica, Miss., in the Mississippi Delta, Williams grew up in Chicago and served his blues apprenticeship during his teens, sitting in with masters like Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Junior Wells at South Side clubs such as Smitty's Lounge and the Green Door. His dynamic harp work has been acclaimed on recordings with Frank Frost and Sam Carr that go back to the 1960s, and the group still records and performs as the Jelly Roll Kings. Now, Williams has finally released his first recording as a leader, Harpin' on It, recorded on the Fedora label, and the CD-release party is set for this Friday, March 26, at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups. If you haven't been exposed to Williams' harp skills, don't miss this one. (TP)
MANGIA MONDAYS: It's not as if you're ever pining to get out of the house on a Monday night; usually you don't need an excuse to stay in -- it's just the way it is. But occasionally we all look for an excuse to venture out in that little corner of the week, and these days there's a damn good one every Monday night at Mangia on South Grand: Bob Dylan songs played on acoustic guitar, along with an occasional Velvet Underground cut -- last week it was "Who Loves the Sun" -- and an occasional country-blues or folk tune.
The singer/guitarist is Tim Garrigan -- if you know him, it's probably from stints with Dazzling Killmen, You Fantastic!, Sad Lewis or any number of improv gigs around town -- and he doesn't do your average coffeehouse folksinging. Rather, he's right there with you at the bar, walking around as he belts out "Forever Young" at the top of his lungs in his strong voice. He'll jump from there to a remarkable version of Bascom Lunsford's "I Wish I Was a Mole" -- I was stunned that (a) he knew it and (b) he sang it with such drama and passion. He'll take your requests for Dylan songs, and if he doesn't know them -- who could remember all the words to "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"? -- he'll at least give it a try. Most important, though, he's there, he cares and he'll stand there next to you as he moans the lyrics to "Delia" (from Dylan's underappreciated album World Gone Wrong), "All the friends I ever had are gone." I can't recommend it enough. (RR)
JAZZ SYMPOSIUM: There's a reason famed director Robert Altman featured plenty of jazz musicians in his recent film Kansas City. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing through the next couple of decades, Kansas City became a thriving center for jazz that rivaled anything New Orleans, Chicago or New York City had to offer. The great bands of Bennie Moten and Andy Kirk served as the breeding ground for musicians such as Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, Ben Webster and singer Jimmy Rushing. The driving rhythms and strong blues feeling of the Kansas City sound brought a new energy and drive to the big-band sound of the '30s. And the more open improvisational approach of these groups also became a stepping-stone to bop, best exemplified in the soaring flights of Kansas City alto-sax player Charlie Parker. Appropriately, Parker is being honored in Kansas City this Thursday-Saturday, March 25-27, with a symposium featuring such musicians as Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Milt Jackson and Kansas City natives Jay McShann, Bobby Watson and Claude "Fiddler" Williams. Sessions will cover a variety of topics, from Parker's performance style and his influence on vocal jazz to his recording career and a roundtable discussion featuring his contemporaries reminiscing about Bird. The event is being hosted by the American Jazz Museum -- known until last week as the Kansas City Jazz Museum, located at 1616 E. 18th St. in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District (an area that began being restored during the filming of Altman's movie). The name change indicates an ambitious wider focus for the institution, and the Parker symposium certainly is an ideal beginning for this effort. Tickets to all events of the Parker Symposium are $30 ($15 for students), including what promises to be the highlight of the event -- a Friday-night concert at the restored Gem Theater featuring McShann, Taylor, Watson, Roach and many others. If you only want to attend the concert, tickets are $20. For a complete list of events or to order tickets, call the museum at 816-474-VINE. (TP)
Contributors: Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts