Keith Porter & the Itals In This Time: previewing the Aug. 21 show at BB’s

Keith Porter - "Ital is vital."

by Michael Kuelker

It’s 2013 and so much has changed in roots reggae music, but some things remain the same: The Itals mashing it up in St. Louis.

Keith Porter, lead singer and prime mover of The Itals, returns for a performance at BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups on Wednesday, August 21. Porter will be backed by Yard Squad of St. Louis, and his hand-picked backing vocalists will be St. Louis’ own Irie Trinity – Sherita Edwards, Desirae Dobbins and Franny Taylor.

Sav-la-Mar, Jamaica native Porter headlines, but the St. Louis-based artists behind him and on the undercard are well worth the trod on their own terms: Aaron Kamm & the One Drops, Mario Pascal, Konchus and in a separate opening set, Irie Trinity, who are also producing the BB’s concert.

Longtime reggae fans know that The Itals’ relationship with St. Louis stretches back more than 30 years, when the St. Louis-based Nighthawk label began working with three singers from Sav-la-Mar on Jamaica’s southwest coast. Since forming in 1976, Nighthawk had released 10 blues reissues but in the late seventies it delved into reggae-Jamaica. Wiser Dread, the first Nighthawk reggae release (1981), was a potent various artists anthology which contained The Itals’ “In a Disya Time” and “Don’t Wake the Lion.” The Itals would soon be Nighthawk’s flagship artist. New original reggae would quickly eclipse pre-WWII blues as the label’s focus.

It bears noting that Yard Squad and Irie Trinity are singers and players of instruments whose talents have been tapped recently by a host of artists including Zion, Everton Blender, Frankie Paul, Kenyatta ‘Culture’ Hill and Warrior King. Yard Squad backed Porter for a series of dates in spring 2013 and he called again for shows this month in Missouri, Texas and Louisiana. In September Dobbins will fly to Phoenix, Arizona to do a solo set on a bill with roots legend Don Carlos. An Irie Trinity album is in the works.

And how about the other talents on this bill and the fine music they are making for any ear which will hear. Aaron Kamm & the One Drops are among the region’s hardest working and most popular jam bands, playing the reggae in a very satisfying post-Sublime; AK1D’s music is also very blues-infused and ultimately quite original. Mario Pascal plays original compositions, too, a reggae/world fusion. His 2012 song “Stand Ya Ground” gets a lot of airplay on my radio show because it’s topical and timeless – it definitely pertains to the Trayvon Martin case but it’s ultimately about more than perpetrator/victim; it’s about consciousness itself and how we educate ourselves. Mario Pascal is building a catalog of noteworthy songs. The only one in the mix I haven’t yet seen perform is Konchus.

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St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 12, 2013

Highly Distracted Productions presents Asperger’s: A High Functioning Musical Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, August 16-18. “Back by popular demand after three sold out performances at the St. Lou Finge Festival, Asperger’s: A High Functioning Musical tells the story of six young adults with Asperger’s attending a support group as they face the problems of entering adulthood and leaving the pain of childhood behind. The songs can be rollicking and tender. Come celebrate the geek in all of us.” Performances take place in the Little Theater at Clayton High School, 1 Mark Twain Circle in Clayton. For more information: aspergermusical.brownpapertickets.com.

Moonlighting Theatre presents Charles Mee’s Big Love, based on The Suppliants by Aeschylus, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, August 16-18. Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information, visit moonlightingtheatre.org.

The Pub Theater Company presents Bye Bye Liver: The St. Louis Drinking Play, a comedic romp through the joys and pitfalls of The Gateway to the West’s favorite pastime. Performances take place on Saturdays at 9 PM at Maggie O’Brien’s, 2000 Market Street. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185, email stlouis at byebyeliver.com, or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Dead Like Me through November 16. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

Peter Wochniak

Stages St. Louis presents Legally Blonde, the Musical through August 18. Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. “Sorority sister Elle thinks she has her future all tied up with a nice, little pink ribbon, until her boyfriend suddenly dumps her for someone more “serious.” But don’t break out the tissues just yet! This is one girl who doesn’t take “no” for an answer as she sets out to prove that being true to yourself and going after “what you want” never goes out of style.” For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Encore! Theater Group presents John Logan’s two-character drama Red, about 20th Century abstract painter Mark Rothko. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8, August 16 and 17, at the Warehouse at All Trades Supply located at 10 Kirkham Industrial Drive, Webster Groves. “Mark Rothko is at the height of his powers. His work, long rejected by critics, is suddenly hailed as some of the most important of this century. He is the new king of art in New York, and his coronation will be the flashiest commission in the history of painting: $35,000 for a series of epic murals at the Four Seasons restaurant. But…canvases this large cannot be lifted by a single man, not even a titan. So he hires an assistant (Ken). This young artist and his fiery ideas force Rothko, the surest thing in the world of modern art, to question everything. John Logan’s 90-minute intellectual thrill-ride serves as a puzzling reminder of how difficult and dangerous the climb towards an artistic vision can be, and how worthwhile. “ The cast includes 88.1 KDHX theatre critic Steve Callahan as Mark Rothko. For more information: email encoretheatergroup at gmail.com, call (314) 329-8998, or visit squareup.com/market/noxp-entertainment-corp/red-tickets.

Photo: John Lamb

The Theatre Lab presents Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited through August 17. “The play involves only two nameless characters, designated “White” and “Black”, their respective skin colors. Offstage, just before the play begins, Black saves White from throwing himself in front of a train. The title, The Sunset Limited, is derived from the name of a passenger train that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles. All of the action takes place in Black’s sparse apartment, where the characters go (at the behest of Black) after their encounter on the platform. Black is an ex-convict and an evangelical Christian. White is an atheist and a professor. They debate the meaning of human suffering, the existence of God, and the propriety of White’s attempted suicide.” Performances take place at the Gaslight Theater on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: (314) 599-3309

Insight Theatre Company presents Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies August 15-25. Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Shakespeare’s Two Noble Kinsmen August 16-25. “During a war waged by Theseus of Athens against Thebes, two Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite are captured and imprisoned. Their lifelong friendship is disrupted when first Palamon, then Arcite, sees and instantly falls in love with Emilia, sister to Theseus’ wife Hippolyta. Meanwhile their jailer’s daughter has fallen in love with Palamon. When Arcite is freed and exiled, she helps Palamon escape. Lost, knowing the hopelessness of her love and fearing the consequences of her actions, she goes mad. Palamon and Arcite’s conflict over Emilia is resolved by Theseus’ decree that the two will fight a public duel; the winner will receive the hand of Emilia; the loser will be executed.” Performances take place in the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner’s Die Walküre, the second of the four “Ring” operas, in a condensed and reduced version by English composer Jonathan Dove, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 16-24. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Ebb tide

When most folks think of cabaret, I expect the image that comes to mind is that of a single performer backed up by a piano, possibly augmented with bass or percussion.  That’s certainly the most common arrangement but, as singer (and visual artist) Dionna Raedeke and guitarist Mike Krysl will be demonstrating this Friday, it’s by no means the only one.

A relatively new addition to the St. Louis cabaret scene, Ms. Raedeke has garnered raves for her singing and musical taste.  “Dionna is one of my new favorite singers,” says actor, singer and teacher Jason Graae. “Her voice has such a haunting beauty and it comes directly from her soul.”  New York-based singer, songwriter and music director Rick Jensen—who accompanied Ms. Raedeke for her 2011 show Sight – Sound—agrees, describing her as a “vocally compelling and consistently original in her performance.”

For her new show, titled Ebb and Flow, Ms. Raedeke has put together an evening in which the sound will be acoustic, the mood mellow, and the song choices rather different from the Great American Songbook standards that are so often associated with cabaret.  Expect 70s rock, contemporary singer/songwriters, and even some new tunes.  Ms. Raedeke, with a nod to her visual artist side (and with tongue somewhat in cheek), describes the evening as a “carefully curated” one that features “everything from Pink Floyd to PINK.”

Expect arrangements that will make you re-think familiar songs as well.  An inventive musician who lists influences as diverse as Robin Trower, Django Reinhardt and Leonard Bernstein, Mike Krysl has often impressed me with both the ingenuity and virtuosity of his inventive and original takes on rock and pop standards.  I remember being particularly blown away by what he and singer Shauna Sconce did with some of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at their recently concluded monthly sessions at The Wine Press.

“Mike Krysl’s sound is taut, deep and brilliantly soulful,” says local cabaret artist Katie McGrath. “Dionna’s voice is plaintive, joyous and straight-arrow true. My favorite musician with my favorite singer. And the angels smile.”  As someone who has been both a critic and performer on the local cabaret scene for many years and who has had the pleasure of seeing both Ms. Raedeke and Mr. Krysl in action, I heartily concur.

The one and only performance of Ebb and Flow is this Friday, August 9th, at 8 PM at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive at the intersection of Skinker and Wydown.  A not-for-profit music venue, performance space and art gallery, The Chapel has played host to a number of cabaret shows over the last few years.  It’s an attractive, unconventional space in a quiet residential neighborhood that provides its services free to local musicians as part of its mission to support the arts in St. Louis.  I think that’s pretty admirable and worth supporting.

Tickets, which are available at the door and at ebbandflow.brownpapertickets.com (along with some free sample music tracks), are $20 and include two free drinks.  Parking is free as well.  Come on down Friday and smile with the angels.

Justin Hinds: Postcards from the Idren

1950s postcard of the Jamaica Hilton on the island's north coast

by Michael Kuelker

Independence for Jamaica arrived on August 6, 1962. The island’s music industry then was in its infant bloom, and a new original music called ska was moving the youth. Sometime in the autumn of 1962, a young man made the journey from his little north coast village home to the sprawling capital city of Kingston to cut a record, “Carry Go Bring Come.” It became a ska sensation, and the tune set in motion a recording career for Justin Hinds (1942-2005) not only in ska but also in rocksteady, reggae and nyahbinghi, producing a musical legacy which brought Hinds wide renown.

In Steer Town, where Justin lived all of his life and where many of his family and friends remain, his memory remains as strong as a phantom limb.

This is a special artist to me. I listen to Justin’s music at home and jam it on “Positive Vibrations,” and the three occasions in the late 1990s when I saw Justin and his fabulous band perform in St. Louis are among my top-shelf reggae experiences. I’ve trod to Steer Town twice and spoken to many of Justin’s musical compatriots and family. Below, you’ll find excerpts from 11 of them.

A year ago, I found a new angle of vision to Justin’s depth and timelessness when I participated in a symposium in Jamaica titled “Justin Hinds @ 70.”

The St. Ann Heritage Foundation staged the symposium on the long wide verandah of the Seville Great House in St. Ann’s Bay. Across an expansive lawn, the Caribbean Sea is in full view. The venue is not far from Steer Town in the parish of St. Ann, a place rife with cultural history and famous sons (Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Burning Spear – and Justin Hinds, who deserves mention in the same breath).

The August 5, 2012 symposium coincided with celebrations island-wide of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. Outside our mellow gathering, the island was feting itself loudly and inna fine style, flags flying high. The same afternoon, one of the biggest television events of the year was taking place: Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt racing in London. Given the near-synchronous Olympic dash and the start of the symposium, some of us were left wondering whether anyone would show at all. But 50 people attended and lingered for both the program and informal chat-and-jam time.

 

Justin Hinds in 1999 in St. Louis (photo by Michael Kuelker)

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On the other hand

Photo: Joanne Savio

The history of pianist Leon Fleisher’s career is one of the great comeback stories in American life.

His genius was apparent as early as age 9, when he became the youngest pupil ever to be taught by the great Artur Schnabel. By age 16 he was appearing with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Monteux. When he signed a deal with Columbia/Epic in 1954 to record every major piano and orchestra work from the standard repertoire with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, it was a bit of musical history in the making—and he was only in him mid-20s. The recordings he made for the label between 1954 and 1963 are still considered classics.

Then, at the height of Fleisher’s career, disaster struck in the form of focal dystonia of the right hand in 1965. Undaunted, he continued to record and perform, concentrating on works for the left hand alone. There’s more of that than you might think thanks, in part, to the many works written for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein (older brother of famed philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), who lost his right hand in World War I.

By the early years of the 21st century, though, Fleisher began to recover the use of his right hand as a result of botox injections and the system of soft tissue manipulation known as Rolfing. In 2004 he made his first two-handed recording in forty years and continues to concertize today. In a review for 88.1 KDHX of his performance of Ravel’s “Concerto for the Left Hand” with the St. Louis Symphony last April, I described his playing as “both powerful and elegant.” “Mr. Fleisher may walk like an octogenarian,” I wrote, “but he doesn’t play like one.”

In recognition of Fleisher’s fifty-five year career, Sony Classical (which now owns the Columbia/Epic library) is issuing a 23-CD set titled “Leon Fleisher: The Complete Album.” It’s scheduled for release on July 16th, in anticipation of Fleisher’s 85th birthday on the 23rd. Fleisher himself will observe his birthday year with a concert tour that will include a performance with the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on July 28th.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously claimed that there were “no second acts in American life.” Leon Fleisher is one of the more famous examples of how wrong that assessment can be.

Spring Forward

Jerome Elliott

Palm Springs-based cabaret artist Jerome Elliott is making his St. Louis solo cabaret debut this Saturday (June 29) at 8 PM at the Chapel with “My Favorite Springs,” produced by Mariposa Artists. But Mr. Elliott’s relationship with St. Louis goes back several years. He sees St. Louis, in fact, as “the birthplace of my work in cabaret” due to his participation in the St. Louis Cabaret Conference in 2007.

“Prior to the 2007 workshop,” he said in an email interview, “I had done a couple of cabaret shows in Palm Springs, going by instinct only. The first St. Louis year propelled me to dig deeper into the craft and led me to the Yale Conference in 2008. In turn, the Yale Conference made me want to investigate even more, which brought me back to St. Louis in 2009. Since then I’ve created five original shows that I have performed in Palm Springs, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. I would not have accomplished that without the work I did in St. Louis.”

Mr. Elliott also appreciates the vitality of the St. Louis cabaret scene. “I look at the St. Louis cabaret community,” he notes, “as a model for keeping this art form moving forward. As a direct result of the annual workshops, you have created a very supportive and nurturing environment for cabaret. Through social media, I’ve kept up with many of the friends I met during my two visits and I admire how many of you have continued to study and grow. I am amazed at the breadth and frequency of cabaret activity that goes on in St. Louis.” Indeed, he asked Katie McGrath (of Women Under the Influence) to do an opening set for his show here precisely “because she exemplifies what I like to call the Spirit of St. Louis.”

Based on an earlier Palm Springs show, “My Favorite Springs” pays homage both to the season spring and to the famous hot springs of his hometown in the California desert. The eclectic song list spans eight decades and includes works by Noel Coward, Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hart, Harry Chapin, William Finn, Amanda McBroom, Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Marzullo, Mark Campbell and Jerry Herman. There’s even a number (Coachella Valley Blues) with lyrics by Mr. Elliott himself.

Music director and pianist for the show is Jasmine co-founder and Webster University faculty member Carol Schmidt, whose work is frequently scene on local cabaret stages. Carol is also the music director for The Cabaret Project’s monthly open mic series at Tavern of Fine Arts

Mixing a rich baritone with a sly wit, Elliott has received accolades for his performances in New York (The Duplex), Los Angeles (M Bar), Seattle (Julia’s and Egan’s), as well as at many cabaret venues in the Palm Springs area. His work in Southern California music and theater has garnered seven nominations for the Desert Theatre League’s annual Desert Star Awards.

Mr. Elliot, though, says he thinks of himself primarily as “an actor who sings” rather than a singer per se. “I’ve learned that one of my natural abilities is story-telling. I like to give myself leeway to improvise within the patter. I love to write patter and a good third of my show consists of talk.”

“My Favorite Springs” bounces on to the stage at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton, on Saturday, June 29, at 8 PM. As its name implies, The Chapel is a converted chapel that now serves as both a performing arts venue and a gallery space, which makes for a very friendly and mellow vibe.  For more information: brownpapertickets.com; look for event 365191.

A league of their own

The view from the stage

If the rest of the League of American Orchestras conference here goes as well as the special St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert they saw tonight did, it will certainly be a week to remember. Maestro David Robertson conducted a very full program (two and one-half hours with intermission) that showed off the orchestra’s versatility: arias and overtures by Mozart and Wagner (with powerful performances by bass-baritone Eric Owens) along with Sibelius’s 7th symphony (which still sounds strikingly original nearly 90 years later) and John Adams’s flashy but (to my ears) rather empty “Doctor Atomic” symphony.

There was heroic work by the brass and percussion in the Adams and fine playing all around.  The string sound in the Sibelius was particularly striking.

After a week in Fort Worth for the Cliburn Competition and another week in Boston for the Boston Early Music Festival, it was nice to settle back with the home town band at Powell Hall—even if I am more aware of its acoustic shortcomings as a result of my travels over the last twelve months.  It’s still a lovely space and, to quote a Tom Lehrer lyric, “what the hell, it’s home.”

Boston Early Music Festival, Day 4: A Mighty Wind

The biennial Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF), which ran June 9 through 16 this year, is an annual cavalcade of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music featuring top early music performers and ensembles from around the world. I covered it along with a raft of other critics from the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA), which had its annual conference this in conjunction with BEMF.

The fourth and last day (Sunday, June 16) was a one-concert day for me, but it was a good one: “Angeli, Zingare e Pastore: Symbols and Allegories in Italian Renaissance Music” by The Royal Wind Music, a recorder ensemble created by Paul Leenhouts, the director of early music studies at North Texas University and a professor for recorder and historical development at Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam. The program apparently draws from their CD of the same name on the Lindoro label.

It’s a big family

Most recorder ensembles I’ve heard have been small—maybe three or four players—and limited to the higher-pitched members of the family. The recorder clan, however, is actually quite a large one, ranging in size from the twelve-inch sopranino to the massive sub-contrabass (over 10’). The thirteen members of The Royal Winds play all of them, producing a sound that is organ-like in its depth and sonority.

The parallel isn’t exact, of course. The Baroque organ had a much more varied sound, with stops that imitated other instruments. As an all-recorder band, The Royal Wind Music produces a wide range of pitches (several octaves worth) but a relatively limited tonal palette. When I think of Renaissance and Baroque wind music, I tend to think in terms of mixed groups like the late Noah Greenberg’s New York Pro Musica or contemporary ensembles like Piffaro that augment the recorders with shawms, sackbuts, crumhorns, and bagpipes. The Royal Wind Music tends to sound a bit monochromatic by comparison.

Paul LeenhoutsPhoto: Toon Vieijra

That said, there’s no denying that, taken on its own terms, The Royal Wind Music does itself proud. It’s clearly a virtuoso assembly of versatile players, nearly all of whom appear to be comfortable with multiple members of the recorder family. Whether performing in trios, quartets, or quintets, or as a full ensemble, the sound they produced was uniformly pleasing. Mr. Leenhouts’s arrangements showcased the instruments and players nicely.

The program, while varied and interesting, did not strike me as being structured as effectively as possible. In the first half, for example, four slow, reverential late 16th-century religious works were grouped together in a way that threatened to produce what Peter Schickele (in a radically different context) describes as “a confused slumber.”

The second half of the concert changed things up a bit more, though, with some dance-inspired works by (among others) Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605) and Giovanni Maria Trabaci (ca. 1575-1647). A set of galliards by the latter brought the concert to a lively conclusion, followed by a standing ovation and a full ensemble encore.

Taken as a whole, this was a satisfying way to end my four-day immersion in early music. After being immersed in the 19th and early 20th century piano and orchestra repertoire at the Cliburn Competition the week before, the music of the 16th and 17th centuries made for a pleasant contrast.

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