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BISTRO BOOKINGS: The 1998-99 Jazz at the Bistro season ended last Saturday, but next year's schedule is already about 70 percent complete. Gene Bradford, the energetic new executive director of Jazz at the Bistro, has moved quickly to fill the void left by the death of Barbara Rose. And judging by the musicians and bands confirmed for the 1999-2000 season, Bradford appears to be doing an excellent job balancing old favorites with new talent. Next season's season kicks off Sept. 15 with piano legend McCoy Tyner and concludes on May 24 with a return visit by the John Pizzarelli Trio. In between, familiar names such as Ahmad Jamal, bassist Ray Brown and Cyrus Chestnut reappear on the schedule, but there's also a welcome emphasis on new names -- and larger ensembles led by sax players Bobby Watson and Joe Lovano and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

"We wanted to build on the Bistro tradition of piano-trio performances," explains Bradford, "but we also wanted to add variety with quintets and sextets. We're featuring pianists McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal and Cyrus Chestnut, and we've booked a great piano trio featuring James Williams, backed by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins. But with Watson and Lovano, and musicians like violinist Regina Carter, we're adding some other interesting musical combinations."

Other changes for next season include moving up starting times for Wednesday and Thursday sets to 8:30 and 10:15 p.m., from 9 and 10:45 p.m., and adding a new "Spotlight Series" -- which will bring in rising young talent for sets on selected Fridays and Saturdays throughout the season.

"The new series gives us the opportunity to expose up-and-coming musicians and also provides us with added flexibility in booking," Bradford says. "For instance, Diana Krall wants to come back and perform here, but she can't really confirm a date now. So we've given her a list of open dates, and we'll wait for her to call and then fit her into the schedule." For more information about 1999-2000 season tickets to Jazz at the Bistro, call 531-1012. (TP)

DALLE PARTS: It's no surprise that Larissa Dalle's publishing company is named Bleak Music. Their (Dalle collaborates on all the music with Timothy Gregory; the pair has performed in the past as both Collaborateur and Crushed) new EP, Piscean, is a truly bleak affair, one in which desperation and universal loneliness are the ropes connecting the songs. Whether it's the alienation of being the "Flowergirl at a Wedding" ("Just let me/stay outside by myself, by the lake/in the park, in the fog/by myself/with my flowers") or the elusive agony of searching for "Somewhere" ("Somewhere there is an ocean/to swallow this pain"), the six originals and two covers (one of which is a dirge rendition of the Handsome Family's "Last Night I Went Out Walking") paint a world that seems to lack any hope or happiness whatsoever.

The two -- vocalist/acoustic guitarist Dalle and instrumentalist/producer Gregory -- create music that's stark and nearly uninhabitable. Instrumentally, Dalle quietly strums her acoustic, and Gregory builds ambient bumps and echoes in the background that render the already dark atmosphere even darker. Over the course of nearly 40 minutes, this tone does wear thin at times; you want both of them to at least toss us a crumb of optimism and a few major chords. But they don't, preferring to, well, wallow in the mood. That said, they've got a focused vision, one that, though at times a tad overly dramatic to these ears, is at least consistent and uncompromising (something that can't be said about most bands in the area). This is serious music and should be treated as such.

You can grab the CD at Vintage Vinyl, or online at Three of the songs on Piscean are also available as MP3s at the Web site. (RR)

SPRING RANT: The Side Door, along with the Hot Locust Cantina, has been sold, though rumors surrounding a threatened change of format from rock to jazz and blues are just that -- rumors. According to folks at the Side Door, the club plans to stay the course for at least the time being.

Let's hope so. It seems as if decent touring rock gigs coming through town have slowed to a trickle in the last six months. With the closing of Mine! Productions; Cicero's recent shift toward hippie jam bands; the Galaxy's focus on punk, ska and shock-rock; and the Hi-Pointe's hit-and-miss approach to booking, gone are the days of at least one interesting, adventuresome rock gig somewhere every week. The only one even trying is Karma -- more power to 'em.

Perhaps this is because underground, or indie, or "experimental" rock bands are few and far between these days with the shift toward all things electronic, but it'd be tough to name five to-die-for rock shows so far this year. It makes me think someone's dropping the ball, or, perhaps more likely, no one's interested in booking the exciting rock acts. Either way, it's been a slow year, and there's not much on the horizon.

See you at the movies (or at the Science on Friday nights at Blueberry Hill, the Upstairs for a few good evenings of electronic antics or the Way Out Club). And here's hoping that the new owners of the Side Door stay the course, or even guide the venue in unexplored directions. The last thing this city needs is another blues place. (RR)

QUICKIES: St. Louis choppy post-punk band Five Deadly Venoms celebrate the release of their debut full-length, Shape Shift, put out by Chicago's Thick Records, at Karma on Saturday, May 29. The record was produced by Dave Trumfio of the Pulsars and, recently, the Mekons. Also on the bill are Chicago's Dirt Nap and Collinsville's revelatory Mei Ling.

As mentioned in "Night & Day" (see p. 26), the Washington Avenue Street Festival is Sunday, May 30. Bands performing during the day include Stir, Toledo (who play at the Delmar Lounge later in the evening), Pave the Rocket, Vitamen A, Bellyfeel and My Blue Life.

Publication of issue No. 3 of St. Louis-centric zine Silver Tray will be celebrated at the Side Door Thursday, May 27. Featured performers at the event are a reunited Boo Rays, the Wingnuts (featuring St. Louis musical stalwarts Tony Fafoglia, Mike Martin, John Ferber and Danny Hommes) and Tinhorn. The issue, "on a diet" at 16 pages, features stories on the Bishops, the Tics, Solarcane and Peter Lang (of Danger Girl, Corporate Humour and E.J. Quit) and is published by the RFT's Thomas Crone. (RR)

FRESH PHOENIX: Vince Bell died in 1982, but that hasn't stopped him from writing songs so lively and wise they'll be remembered long after we're all gone. After a session with Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan in December '82, Bell was driving down the Texas roads he explores in song, broadsided by a drunken driver and pronounced dead at the mangled scene. He was, however, revived, only to spend a month in a coma, but it took 12 years of physical and psychological therapy before he began performing and recording again. You might know Nanci Griffith's ethereal take on his "Woman of the Phoenix" (from the first Other Voices, Other Rooms album -- the good one), and I'd say you should hear Bell's own version, except that his remarkable post-crash album Phoenix (Watermelon) has vanished. But Bell has resurfaced on Paladin with Texas Plates, a suite of soulful, elliptical homages to Texas and the phoenixlike force of love. Produced by Robin Eaton (who has also worked with Tommy Womack and the Haynes Boys), the album was cut in just two days in Nashville. Its surging, lush, acoustic sound owes much to the studio smarts of Elijah Shaw, formerly of Enormous Richard and Three Fried Men and now a much-demanded engineer in Nashville (Shaw also shaped Steve Forbert's weird, recent Rocking Horse Head). After all Vince Bell's been through, he may be forever coming back -- he's worth following all the way. (RK)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts

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