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New Music Circle 2014-15 Season to Include Roscoe Mitchell and Craig Taborn, Tim Berne, Thumbscrew, and More


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New Music Circle has announced their 2014-15 season, with seven concerts featuring what looks to be an intriguing mix of edgy jazz and improvised music, electronics, and contemporary composition.

The schedule kicks off with a concert by Thumbscrew, featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, on Friday, September 12 at Joe's Cafe, the “house concert" venue at 6014 Kingsbury Ave in the Central West End.

All NYC-based, Thumbscrew's members first worked together as the rhythm section for trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet, and decided to continue performing together as a trio, with the group serving as an outlet for each member's original compositions as well as improvisation.

The Bynum sextet played St. Louis in an NMC-sponsored show in November 2012, but that date included Ken Filiano on bass rather than Formanek. So, along with the welcome return of Halvorson, one of the more original guitarists to emerge in the last decade, this will be the first chance local listeners will have to hear the three of them together.

They'll be followed a double bill featuring separate sets by another NYC-based musician, drummer and sound artist Eli Keszler, and Berlin electronic musician Rashad Becker on Saturday, November 9 at the new location of The Luminary at 2701 Cherokee St.

Keszler's solo music and installations are said to draw inspiration from sources including free-jazz drummer Han Bennik and composer Conlon Nancarrow, while Becker, known for his work as a recording and mastering engineer as well as his own music, “utilizes realtime synthesis and sampling techniques that set into motion intricate sonic worlds that recall the complexities of human speech and various exotic aural phenomena."

Next up, multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell (pictured, top left) and keyboardist Craig Taborn will team up for a duo performance on Friday, December 5 at The Stage at KDHX, which is part of the station's new HQ at 3524 Washington Ave. in Grand Center.

Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), is considered one of the cornerstone players of the 1960s free-jazz movement. His highly influential 1966 album Sound was one of the first records to showcase the mix of composition and collective improvisation, on both traditional and non-traditional instruments, found in much of the subsequent work by the Art Ensemble and other AACM-affiliated groups.

Mitchell subsequently has led other bands including the Creative Arts Collective, the Sound Ensemble, and Note Factory; and also began teaching, most recently at Mills College in Oakland, where he's been the Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition since 2007.

Meanwhile, Taborn (pictured, center left) has gained a reputation as one of the more versatile keyboardists of his generation, playing piano, electric piano and organ with jazz artists including Chris Potter, Dave Holland, and James Carter as well as with Mitchell's Note Factory and other experimentally inclined players such as saxophonists Lotte Anker, David Binney, and Tim Berne; drummers Gerald Cleaver and Susie Ibarra; and many others.

After the holidays, the schedule resumes in January with the annual “NMC Showcase," which at this point is mostly TBA, though NMC's Jeremy Kannapell tells StLJN that St. Louis pianist Johanna Ballou, a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama who specializes in music by contemporary composers, will be one of the featured performers.

The following month, Lotte Anker, who played with Taborn and Cleaver in an NMC-presented concert here in February 2013, will return to perform on a split bill with cellist Okkyung Lee on Saturday, February 21 at Joe's Cafe.

Lee has collaborated frequently with visual artists and choreographers, as well as with musicians including Christian Marclay, Thurston Moore, Laurie Anderson, Ikue Mori, Jim O'Rourke, John Zorn, Chris Corsano, Leo Wadada Smith and Vijay Iyer. For more about Anker, check out this video showcase post that ran before her 2013 gig here.

St. Louis' own Darin Gray will be featured in the next concert, as the bassist, known for many years as a prolific and peripatetic improviser and more recently as sideman to alt-rocker Jeff Tweedy, will team with drummer Glenn Kotche in their duo project On Fillmore to play Saturday, March 14 at The Stage at KDHX.

The final concert of the 2014-15 season will feature saxophonist Tim Berne's quartet Snakeoil on Friday, May 8, also at The Stage at KDHX.

Known early in his career for drawing significant compositional and improvisational inspiration from former St. Louisan, Black Artists Group and World Saxophone Quartet co-founder Julius Hemphill, Berne has continued to champion Hemphill's legacy while carving out a musical identity of his own via his label Screwgun Records.

Snakeoil (pictured, lower left) which also includes Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Ches Smith (drums, percussion), serves as a vehicle for Berne's original compositions, and has released two albums on the ECM label.

In addition to their concert performances, Keszler, Becker, Mitchell and Taborn, and Gray and Kotche all will take part in some sort of workshop or educational program while they're here, though the details on those events have yet to be finalized.

So what's the takeaway here? As with any season schedule, one can quibble with individual selections, but as a fan of Halvorson and Taborn - neither of whom can be said to be exactly over-exposed - I'm happy to have them back, even if they did play here relatively recently. As for Mitchell, as best I can tell, the last time he performed in St. Louis was in the mid-1980s with the Art Ensemble, so his return is long overdue.

Add in the local debuts of the others - particularly Berne, who's been a noteworthy presence on the music scene for decades now - and all in all, it's shaping up to be the sort of season that induced Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to name New Music Circle as the “Best Place to Hear Jazz" in the paper's recent “Go! List" issue. While other local presenters may have considerably more resources to work with, NMC continues to offer fans of adventurous music one of the best bangs for the buck in St. Louis.

All performances are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.. Single tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 students, for all shows except Mitchell and Taborn, which has a ticket price TBA.

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