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Gray and Stone come full circle at the Kranzberg

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 27, 2012 - The New Music Circle has been presenting contemporary and avant-garde music in St. Louis for more than 50 years. Frequently, the performances feature musicians from across the country, and around the world. But throughout its long history, NMC has also provided a showcase for innovative, cutting-edge metro area musicians as well.

This Saturday at the Kranzberg Arts Center, NMC brings together a trio of musicians - one from Chicago and two from the St. Louis area - in what promises to be a memorable, high-energy evening of free jazz fireworks.

Drummer Chris Corsano, a native of New Jersey who has worked with everyone from such pop and rock artists as Bjoerk and Sonic Youth to avant-garde musicians like saxophonists Paul Flaherty and Akira Sakata.

Joining Corsano in the concert will be bassist Darin Gray, who grew up and is still based in Edwardsville. Gray played with the St. Louis band the Dazzling Killmen and with musicians such as Jim O'Rourke before meeting Corsano and working with him in a variety of different musical contexts.

Rounding out the trio is Dave Stone, one of the leading saxophone players on the St. Louis scene and a frequent winner of the Riverfront Times Music award in the jazz category.

Recently, the Beacon caught up with Gray for a discussion of how this trio of musicians came back together for Saturday's concert - and what the audience can expect to hear at the Kranzberg that night.

"I've played many, many times with Chris," says Gray, speaking on the phone from his metro-east home. "We actually first met in 2000, but didn't start playing together until 2005. It's been amazing working with him. There's nobody like Chris in terms of his unique and original approach to drumming. Chris is more than just a drummer - he's a force of nature!"

One of the more consistent working gigs over the past few years for Gray and Corsano has been their membership in Japanese also saxophonist Akira Sakata's trio. Sakata, whom Gray describes as having a sound that captures elements of the musical approach of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, has been a key member of the Japanese jazz avant-garde movement since the 1970s, and has worked with musicians such as Bill Laswell, Anton Fier and others.

"Since we've both been part of Akira's trio," Gray says, "Chris and I have end up going to Japan to play with him once or twice a year. Akira is an amazing musician to work with, and we've recorded six CDs with him as well as a soundtrack recording."

Gray looks forward to having the opportunity to not only play with his musical cohort Corsano in the new Music Circle series, but play in St. Louis again.

"This will be an exciting evening for all of us - in a number of ways," explains Gray. I was thinking back, and I realized with all the touring I've been doing, that this concert Saturday will be the first time I've played in St. Louis in the six years. And it also marks the 20th anniversary of the first time I played with Dave Stone."

Gray had admired Stone's distinctive saxophone style for some time during the early 1990s. He finally decided he needed to call Stone and try to find a way for them to play together.

"I don't usually just call up a musician I don't know and ask them if I can play music with them," comments Gray. "But finally I got my nerve up and got in touch with Dave and asked him to play a gig with me at SIU-Edwardsville. It turned out most of the audience just really hated what we were doing. And that's when I knew I had picked exactly the right musician to work with!"

In terms of the structure of Saturday's concert, Gray provided a brief summary of what those who come to the Kranzberg can expect to hear.

"Chris will open the concert with a solo piece on the drum kit," explains Gray. "As I've already said, he's such an amazing percussionist that it will be something amazing that sets the stage for the rest of the evening. Then Dave and I will join Chris and finish out the concert. I'm very much looking forward to all three of us on stage together for the first time. As a matter of fact, the first time I played with Chris, I told him afterward that at some point, we would have to get together with a great sax player I knew in St. Louis. And I was talking about Dave."

Earlier this Saturday, Corsano and Gray will lead a free workshop on improvisation and extended techniques. This event is open to the public and is scheduled from noon-2 pm. at Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place, 63139.

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who frequently covers music for the Beacon. 

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.