By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
8 p.m.: Mix the guitar playing of Iranian-born brothers Amir and Ali Arab, the eclectic bass style of Charlie Siefert and the New Orleans drumming approach of Drew Weiss. Then add a mix of original tunes that contain elements of Middle Eastern and Afro-Cuban musical traditions, as well as a strong dose of jazz fusion. The result is Sepantha, an Edwardsville, Ill.-based band that's created a strong impression over the past two years. Born from the breakup of the cutting-edge band Acoustic Internote, Sepantha has the same basic cross-cultural, to-hell-with-musical-barriers approach as its precursor. (No surprise, considering that Amir Arab, who writes most of the original music played by Sepantha, was the co-founder of Acoustic Internote.) Despite its diverse influences, the band definitely has an organic feel -- which may explain its presence in the Best Reggae/World category two years in a row.
9 p.m.: Inevitability is usually associated with death and taxes, but a St. Louis variation might link the Soulard Blues Band and the RFT Music Awards. Not only does SBB gain a nomination for Best Blues every year, they've copped the award eight years running. If you're a longtime fan, no one has to convince you to check out their eclectic mix of urban blues, sophisticated R&B and assorted jazz-tinged licks. But if you're not a regular at the SBB's notorious Monday-night jams at the Broadway Oyster Bar or their weekend gigs at B.B.'s and other area clubs, here's a chance to check out the group in the cozy retro-hip setting of the Delmar Lounge. On a bill that features the band in the middle of a lineup of jazz, reggae and fusion/world-music bands, it's a good bet that SBB's eclectic approach will be in full flower.
10 p.m.: Ptah Williams continues to build a reputation as one of the most interesting -- and entertaining -- jazz pianists around. No matter whether he's playing bluesy ballads on acoustic piano or ripping through high-energy, upper-octave runs on electric keyboards, Williams has proved a crowd-pleaser wherever he appears. He's toured in the backing bands of jazz stalwarts such as Lou Donaldson, worked with soul legend Fontella Bass and earned a loud standing ovation that rivaled the response given to big-name acts at last year's St. Louis Jazz Festival. His regular Wednesday-night gigs at Riddle's in the University City Loop have become hugely popular, and Williams has now added Sunday evenings at the Delmar to his schedule. This Sunday, Williams will be sharing the stage at the club with five other bands nominated in various award categories -- but you can bet he'll be doing his best to prove it's his musical stomping ground.
11 p.m.: Other locally based reggae bands may get more publicity -- and more awards -- but the Yard Squad keeps on churning out its inimitable brand of hypnotic, crowd-pleasing island sounds. Together for more than six years now, the band has built on its loyal local fanbase and now performs at clubs in college towns and major cities throughout the Midwest. The Yard Squad has also recorded on the independent Nasheed records label, backing lead singer Krucial on From Babylon to Zion. A perennial nominee, the Yard Squad just might break through one of these years and win an award. Win or lose, though, the band remains one of the most consistently pleasing reggae bands around.
Midnight: Another perennial nominee, Dave Stone wows Downbeat-savvy crowds with his rich intonation and inventive phrasing, then bludgeons them with the unhinged free-jazz Panzer onslaught so popular with the fringe element. Stone's sax is omnipresent, gracing everything from Third Lip Cabaret performances to Western Robot's only known recording to frequent Way Out Club blowouts. His greatness is a poorly kept secret, so pass it around.
6 p.m.: Julia Sets reaffirmed its love for and commitment to its indie fans by releasing a cassette version of its last album, Julia Sets Present an Alternative to Extinction this past winter. Such gestures separate rock careerists from pop ne'er-do-wells, and Julia Sets is surely on the road to ruin. Its spacey excursions to the dark side of the cardigan sound even dreamier when trailing warm clouds of analog hiss, and the occasional crackle adds a patina of gravitas to the proceedings. God bless you, you princes of the Midwest.
7 p.m.: The members of the Highway Matrons are damned lucky they wound up in a rock & roll band. There are few other fields -- pro wrestling, maybe, or Third World politics -- in which they could work that anarchic charm so well. You need to see them perform live, preferably after a few frosty Stags (for yourself and for the band), before you "get" what they do. On disc, their genius isn't always so apparent. After all, it's better to be hoisting a few and dancing rather than sitting in quiet contemplation of a song such as "Heart Full of Pus." Whichever part of the musical spectrum you think the Matrons belong on, be it country, country/rock or just plain rock & roll, you've gotta agree, there's no one on the scene remotely like them.