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Musical genres come together in local Concert for Japan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 8, 2011 - Tragedies such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan often trigger an immediate response from the world musical community. In fact, a compilation of songs by stars such as U2, Bob Dylan, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and 33 other artists is available online and in stores - with proceeds going to the Red Cross.

And St. Louis-based musicians are also responding with relief efforts. This coming Monday, April 11, a wide array of artists ranging from vocalists Erin Bode, Ralph Butler and Audra Angelique; bands such as Dawn Weber's Electofunk Assembly, the Arianna String Quartet and Bridge; and individual musicians like Todd Mosby and Farshid Etniko will all play two benefit concerts at the Chapel, a nonprofit music venue at 6238 Alexander Dr., just off Skinker Blvd., across from Forest Park.

Asako Kuboki, a violinist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and also a founding member of the group, Bridge, organized the Japan benefit concerts. Kuboki was born in the U.S. but spent her early childhood on the island of Sapporo, just north of where the recent tsunami had its greatest impact. Her family in Japan came through the devastation safely, but as she told me during a recent interview, she knew she had to do something to help.

"After watching the news, I felt really helpless," explains Kuboki. "But I knew one thing I could do. I'm a musician, and I knew other musicians from other genres besides classical, so I decided to see if they wanted to participate in a benefit concert. And they all did."

Kuboki found an appropriate venue in the Chapel, a not-for-profit with the mission of being a center for the arts. Located behind Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Chapel has been converted into a performance space and an art gallery - and has hosted concerts several times a month - with all cover charges going to the artists.

Kuboki has long been interested in jazz and other musical styles outside the world of classical music and has expanding her chamber music work to include collaborations with jazz, pop and electronica musicians and bands.

As a result, the lineup of music for the Japan Benefit concerts is eye opening in its diversity.

"We're going to have a fanfare by a trombone quartet from the Symphony, and we'll feature Erin Bode and her Group playing with the Arianna String Quartet," explains Kuboki. "Audra Angelique, who has her own group but also sings with Ralph Butler, asked him to come and perform. We'll have Final Veil, dancers with electronic music, and a lot of other artists. We just added the Japanese drumming group, Osuwa Taiko, so that should be interesting."

Jazz and Classical Combine

Kuboki's eclectic musical tastes should be no surprise to anyone who has heard Bridge, the band that she will be playing with at the Chapel. Bridge is a contemporary string band that combines Kuboki on violin with jazz guitarist Dave Black, Symphony bassist David DeRiso and cellist Ranya Iqbal, who has worked with groups as diverse as Autumn's Child, the Laclede Quartet and Farshid Etniko.

If you haven't been to the Chapel before, it can be tricky to find. Go to www.chapelvenue.com for detailed directions and parking information.

"A couple of years ago, I had the chance to play with Ranya at a wedding, and it was a nice musical feeling," recalls Kobuki. "So I filed that away, because I was really interested in working on improvisation. We ended up playing once a week during the summer on Tuesdays at Everest, but we really didn't improve that much.

"Then I heard Javier Mendoza, and liked the guitarist I heard with him, Dave Black. I found his number and called him and he was interested in trying to do music that was classical but also improvisational. I was also playing chamber music a lot, and really enjoyed working with David, a bassist with the Symphony.

"I really loved John Zorn's string ensemble, Masada. So we all decided to give something like that a try, and play together one night at the Maya Cafe in Maplewood. It was scary - but great."

Although Kobuki states that Bridge is still in its early stages of development, the band will make its debut at Powell Hall later this month after Monday's Benefit performance.

Bridge will share the stage at Powell on Wednesday, April 27, in a free 7 p.m. concert with three other groups - and the audience - in an event billed as A Musical Feast. It's part of the On Stage At Powell series, and will feature, Bridge, vocalist Brian Owens, a bluegrass duo and Kurdish music. For more information on that event, go to www.stlsymphony.org/concert/index.htm.

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who has long covered music. 

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.