I Need You Around

Catching up with the World Sax Quartet, atoning for V-Day sins with Stars and heralding the triumphant return of the Smoking Popes

It's not that you forgot Valentine's Day — it's just that, well, you didn't remember. And she knows. The message scrawled on your card reeks of last-minute, and what are those chocolates? Russell Stover? Please. Ordinarily, your case would be hopeless — but not this year, as Montreal's ethereal Stars are playing a show in St. Louis. In fact, with them comes romantic redemption, in just two short days.

Wednesday, February 15: Pick up a copy of Heart, the amazing 2003 Stars album, and give it to your girlfriend over breakfast with a note that says something like "From my heart to yours."

Spend the afternoon pretending to work, and instead create a Stars-esque mix for your lover. Include some Badly Drawn Boy, Beta Band, Doves, Kings of Convenience, Mercury Rev and Stereolab.

Stars: They are trying to un-break your heart.
Stars: They are trying to un-break your heart.
Smoking Popes: Like George Michael, they gotta have faith.
Smoking Popes: Like George Michael, they gotta have faith.

Thursday, February 16: Give her the mix over coffee, and start a casual conversation about Canadian indie-pop. Try: "Isn't it crazy how the Montreal scene has just exploded since Arcade Fire? At least the Bell Orchestre are still somewhat under the radar." This will score you three sets of points: Geographic Awareness, Hipster and Anti-Hipster.

Pack a brown-bag lunch for your girl. and include a note composed entirely of Stars lyrics. For example: "One heart out of two. One life, me and you. Don't go. Say you'll stay. Spend a lazy Sunday in my arms. I'm still in love with you."

Go to the Gargoyle early, when the band will be unloading their gear. Ask lead singer Torquil Campbell if he thinks he could maybe dedicate "Heart" to your girlfriend, because she's so in love with the song, and you're so in love with her.

Listen to Heart on repeat all day, over and over. Stars' third album, last year's Set Yourself on Fire, is good too, but the sentiment isn't quite as romantic. Memorize the lyrics to "Heart" and "Time Can Never Kill the True Heart" in hopes that this will make you a more sensitive, engaging man.

(We said engaging, not engaged. Yeesh. Take the ring back.)

Dine out somewhere chic and overpriced. This will compensate for the fact that the concert is in the basement of a university student center. Remember to have drinks pre-show. The Gargoyle is many things. A speakeasy isn't one of them.

When the band slides into your song, lean forward and wrap your arm around your girl. Whisper into her ear just as Torq croons those magic words: "I'm still in love with you." Consider yourself forgiven. (Until next year.) — Jess Minnen

8 p.m. Thursday, February 16. The Gargoyle (on the campus of Washington University, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards). $12. Call 314-935-5917.

We Are the World

When the World Saxophone Quartet first formed, the notion of four saxophonists performing without a rhythm section was considered a novelty by some and hopelessly avant-garde by others — until listeners actually got a chance to hear the music.

"When we first got together playing, one of the biggest comments we ever got was, 'Damn, there's only four of y'all, but it sounds like a ton of people,'" says baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, one of the group's founders, speaking from his home in Brooklyn, Illinois. "We took four people and turned it into a complete band, a complete organization."

Nearly 30 years later, the WSQ has become one of the longest-running small groups in jazz. And by coming to St. Louis to perform at Jazz at the Bistro, they're returning home, in a way, since Bluiett and fellow founding members Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill were all part of the Black Artists Group here in the late 1960s and early '70s. (By the mid-'70s, all had found their way to New York City, where they joined with tenor saxophonist David Murray to form the WSQ.)

Bluiett says they'll take advantage of the four-night stand in town to dig deep into their extensive catalog of material. "We're going to do a wide spectrum of our music, from some of the newest stuff — some Jimi Hendrix, some blues — all the way back to some of the things we did quite some time ago," he says. Performing in St. Louis will also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to some now-departed locals who were important to the quartet personally and musically. "We're going to dedicate some stuff to Julius Hemphill, [late jazz trumpeter] Lester Bowie and [late jazz drummer] Philip Wilson," Bluiett says. "We're also going to dedicate some things to [late local jazz DJ] Leo Chears, because he was an advocate for us for all those years."

Bluiett and Lake have been constants throughout those three decades, but since Hemphill left in 1989, a number of musicians have filled the alto-sax chair, which is currently held by Bruce Williams. Moreover, Murray had a previous commitment for these particular dates, so Detroit native James Carter will be filling in on tenor saxophone. But after several days of intensive rehearsals, Bluiett seems confident that everyone's in sync and suggests that Carter's presence illustrates that the World Saxophone Quartet is now bigger than any four individuals: "What we're doing is institutionalizing the organization." — Dean C. Minderman

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