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New Music Circle kicks off 2013 concerts at White Flag Projects

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 17, 2013 - Over the past few years, performances of contemporary and avant-garde music have grown dramatically on the St. Louis music scene. New venues such as Tavern of the Arts in the Central West End regularly incorporate new and improvised music into their schedule.

Contemporary music events are also a regular part of the event list at the Pulitzer, the Contemporary Art Museum and the Kranzberg, joining venues such as the Luminary Arts Center and the Lemp Neighborhood Center as contemporary music venues. In addition, the nonprofit HEARding Cats Collective has produced a series of innovative and exciting events since being founded in late 2009.

But in terms of cutting-edge musical concerts, the New Music Circle has set a high standard in presenting contemporary and avant-garde music performances in St. Louis. Founded in 1959, NMC is now in its 54th season of showcasing innovative, cutting-edge musicians in performance.

This Friday, Jan. 18, NMC kicks off the 2013 portion of its season with a concert at the White Flag Projects Gallery on Manchester featuring the combination of Caboladies, a duo featuring musicians Eric Lanham and Chris Bush – augmented by accompanying visuals provided by artist Robert Beatty.

Lanham and Bush are originally from Lexington, Ky., where Caboladies got its start as a trio. Bush and Lanham moved to Chicago in 2009, and have worked together collectively and on their own ever since. In addition to providing visuals at Friday’s concert, Beatty, who still resides in Lexington, also provides graphics for releases by Caboladies as well as Lanham and Bush individually.

According to NMC Program Coordinator Jeremy Kannapell, Friday’s concert marks the first time Caboladies has performed as a duo with New Music Circle.

“They have played here before as a duo, but this is the first time we’ve presented them,” Kannapell says. “And it’s also the first time they’ve worked here with Robert Beatty, who has collaborated with them many times previously. So that should add a whole new dimension to the music.”

The music of Caboladies is improvisational and spontaneous – especially in live performance. And Beatty’s visuals clearly add a touch of psychedelica that harkens back to the trippy light shows that accompanied Sixties era rock bands. According to Kannapell, the musicians do use earlier examples of electronic music as a stepping-stone for what they play in concert.

“To me, they are such a good example of younger musicians who keep a foot in the present and have carved out their own voice,” he says. “Yet they also draw a lot of influences from electronic music's pioneers, like Tod Dockstader, Morton Subotnick, and the whole French/GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales, a French musical collective) school of electronic music.”

The venue for Friday’s concert, White Flag Projects, also served as the site for two NMC concerts in last year’s series by Tony Conrad and Keith Fullerton Whitman. It’s a venue Kannapell sees as a great space for Friday’s concert. And he also sees the NMC/White Flag Projects collaboration as just one example of a win-win effort for arts organizations working in tandem.

“White Flag is primarily an art gallery,” says Kannapell. “But like us, White Flag is interested in presenting events there that might not otherwise make it to St. Louis. Working with places like White Flag Projects, CAM, the Luminary and the William A. Kerr Foundation are good examples of NMC teaming up with another organization or space to make events like this happen.”

As another example of musical organizations working together, Kannapell cites a collaborative effort tied in with Friday’s Caboladies concert. On the night before Caboladies, Thursday, Jan. 17, St. Louis-based musician Darin Gray will perform with Robert Beatty in a free 7:30 p.m. performance at APOP Records (2831 Cherokee St., 63118).

This is another example of a collaborative effort - this time with a record store,” explains Kannapell. “And since Beatty will be in St. Louis to provide visuals for Caboladies on Friday, we thought this would be a way to showcase Beatty as a musician. Darin and Robert have played as a duo before in Lexington, but this will give St. Louis a chance to hear them both. And I think Darin is one of St. Louis’ greatest musical exports, so this is a great musical opportunity. It’s a free event, and if you go, you can also buy discounted tickets to the Caboladies concert at the APOP event.”

In addition to this week’s events, Kannapell is looking forward to the next two concerts of the 2013 NMC season. Both will be at the 560 Music Center ballroom (560 Trinity Ave., University City). The first will feature pianist Kris Davis’ Quintet on Saturday, Feb. 16 and the second Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker’s Trio on Thursday, March 14.

“This season I think there’s a strong emphasis on emerging artists like Taylor Ho Bynum, Lotte Anker, and Kris Davis,” he says. “These are all folks who are making some of their best work right now, and who are really out there trying to actively connect by playing their music. While it's been amazing to bring legendary names in like Wadada Leo Smith in 2010, we equally want to work with today’s visionaries, who are trying to extend upon what some of the pioneers fleshed out.

“It’s a great time for live contemporary music in St. Louis,” Kannapell says. “I moved here in 2002, and I’m continually impressed by the amount of great new music going on here.”

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.