Riverfront Times Music Awards '04

The Maxtone Four

At the heart of all pop, from Justin Timberlake to the Flaming Lips, are hooks, and the Maxtone Four have more hooks than your hall closet. Listening to the band live, you might be fooled into thinking it's a cover band playing songs that you can't quite remember -- the Four's songs are part of that never-ending river of catchy rock that gets tagged with different genre titles every few years but really never changes at its heart. It's pop. It makes you smile, gets jammed in your head and comes back out in a hum. And the Maxtone Four are crafting that simple, joyous sound as well as anyone in St. Louis right now.

The Mega Hurts

With less than half a dozen shows under their collective belts, the Mega Hurts have already emerged as one of St. Louis' most promising new bands. Like an unholy cross between the Muffs and Thee Headcoatees, these three gals and one guy specialize in sweet-but-tough pop songs with a garage-rock edge. Lead vocalists/guitarists Karen and Cory harmonize like punk Shangri-Las, while drummer Jason pounds away with Animal-like abandon. As the Mega Hurts have yet to release a record, you'll have to catch a live show to hear such crowd-pleasing songs as "He's So Mod." Exercise caution, though, or you may find your heart broken by set's end. 8 p.m., Halo Bar

Javier Mendoza

The defending champion returns. The Javier Mendoza Band was crowned RFT's Best Pop Band of 2003, and in case that doesn't constitute a good year on its own, how many of your favorite artists have recorded a Live at Blueberry Hill album? Having long ago charmed females from Wash. U. to Belleville with his soccer-chic good looks, Mendoza has even received airplay recently on MTV's The Real World, which is as much exposure a non-fictitious artist can hope for on that channel. Cross your fingers as the members of the JMB hit the Southeast this fall -- they may return to find that they've become bigger than ranch dressing.

Best Jazz

Willie Akins

St. Louis' reigning heavyweight champion of the tenor saxophone, Willie Akins is an old-school jazzman equally at home burning his way through high-speed bebop changes or caressing a languid ballad with a burnished tone and a lyrical sense of melody. Though his ability equals or exceeds that of many players with national reputations, Akins has been almost criminally under-recorded, releasing his sole CD as a leader a few years back. The talented tenor man may be a well-kept secret to outsiders, but thanks to his regular weekly gigs at Spruill's and elsewhere, local jazz aficionados and the many aspiring young musicians Akins has mentored know him as both a fine player and a generous, classy gentleman.

Hamiet Bluiett

The baritone sax just isn't supposed to be able to play that high. The long horn produces a deep, powerful rumble of sound, and most great players can coax a luscious smooth tone for ballads. While staying in the low registers, Bluiett is at least as incandescent as anybody who's ever played the baritone. But he has extended his reach all the way up to tones normally reserved for soprano sax without giving up either power or control. Bluiett's improvisations have been consistently revelatory, from his days with Charles Mingus to his many projects as a leader to his role in the World Saxophone Quartet. He has returned for the nonce to the St. Louis area he called home in the late '60s, and we are all the luckier for it.

Jeff Lash Trio

Vibraphonist Jeff Lash and his trio have established a niche based on a distinctive repertoire and an approach that emphasizes arrangements and ensemble playing over extended solos. The band's "alt-jazz" aesthetic finds it incorporating cover songs from the likes of Nirvana and Black Sabbath, paralleling currently popular young performers such as the Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau, who have also mined the rock vein in search of songs to interpret through a jazz framework. However apt the comparisons, Lash's musical enthusiasms are indeed very much his own, and his band adds a refreshing variety to the St. Louis jazz scene. 8 p.m., Delmar Lounge

Dave Stone

Regular gigs at venues such as Mangia Italiano and the Delmar Lounge have made Dave Stone one of the favorite local jazz musicians of many younger listeners in our town and helped him to win several RFT Music Awards in years past. Though the saxophonist earned his initial reputation as a fire-breathing free improviser, as Stone has matured he's developed an increasing mastery of more traditional jazz styles as well. Stone's usual trio instrumentation of sax, bass and drums provides him and his musicians with plenty of musical freedom but also places most of the ensemble's harmonic and melodic responsibility on the leader -- a challenge that the resourceful Stone meets head-on and passes with flying colors. 11 p.m., 609

Reggie Thomas

An impressive technical player, sensitive accompanist and probing soloist, Reggie Thomas is something of a rarity among jazz keyboardists, because he plays both piano and organ equally well. Whether he's fronting his organ trio OGD, working with his vocalist wife Mardra in their jazz ensemble or backing a monster soloist like Hamiet Bluiett, Thomas brings serious chops, soul, intelligence and a knowledge of the jazz tradition to whatever he does. With his job as associate professor of music at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville occupying much of his time, Thomas may not gig as frequently as some other local players -- but when he does, he's always worth hearing, regardless of the musical context. 7 p.m., Delmar Lounge

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