Best Of :: People & Places
When T.S. Monk brought an acclaimed ensemble to the Guthrie Theater last winter to honor the compositions of his father, Thelonious Monk, one of his saxophonists fell ill the day of the gig. After a series of frantic phone calls to unearth a local horn player who could read and adequately play some of the most complex and idiosyncratic tunes in the jazz canon, Monk tabbed Kenny Holman for the assignment. Throughout the evening, Holman played the charts with the requisite verve and agility, to the point that Monk singled him out for a solo on a tune toward the end of the show. When Holman held his own among some of the finest musicians in jazz, Monk nodded to him again during the concert's rousing climax. Holman took off, boosting the already high energy level another notch with a scintillating solo that chased its tail into tighter and tighter circles until resolving itself back into the theme. Many in the audience gave him a standing ovation; saxophonist Bobby Watson and tuba player Howard Johnson were among those who congratulated him when the song was over. But those locals who have made Holman one of the most in-demand musicians for both commercial work and concert activity weren't surprised.
If only for a second, every band should get to be the greatest band in the world. And when the Tropicals played "It's a Wild Life" at the Bryant-Lake Bowl on one charmed evening about a year ago, they were that, and then some. Some what? you ask. Well, some strange stuff that makes thee trite ol' Paul 'n' Artie sentiments seem fresh. "It's a wild life/Whatcha gonna do with it?" Craig Wright sang against a spare, sweet melody that turned his impossible ethical question into the stuff of a great children's song--think "Yellow Submarine." Wright and guitar-strumming partner Peter Lawton were believers: in melody for melody's sake; in the transporting power of lyrics about butterflies and city streets; in good-natured pretension. And though they recently broke up, for a year or so there wasn't a better band around at setting page poetry to pop tunes. They never gave a damn about the alt-rock cynics who might have pegged them for wimps: "I'm just more interested in butterflies than Nine Inch Nails," Wright told CP a while back. At their best they made us wish we were too.
It's an interesting moment in local music when the leaders of two of the biggest regional bands of eight years ago--Martin Zellar of the Gear Daddies and Matt Wilson of Trip Shakespeare--simultaneously self-release their deepest works to date. In Matt Wilson's case, his solo debut, Burnt, White and Blue, is a sad beauty of a record that makes good on the musician's five-year underground period of studio experimentation. Here, lush acoustic and electric sounds reverberate around vibrant synth-scapes and the characteristic Wilsonian harmonies and cerebral lyrics. This one-time rock heartthrob with the blue eyes and golden voice seems mellowed by maturity and his time out of the spotlight, and that contributes to the clarity of the new songs. But if the record proves anything, it's that Wilson's star quality remains.
What's worse, a tornado or a Minnesotan determined to do good? As you answer, consider what happened to St. Peter after the Big Wind. Between the town's high ranking on the cuteness scale, the location within easy commuting range, and the saturation TV coverage, the area was the perfect charity-tourism destination. Within days the Red Cross had registered 4,500 volunteers (compared to the 2,400 it needed), and more were pouring in. Their cars clogged up intersections and held up the cleanup crews; entire church-busloads were transferred to holding pens at the edge of town. And in Mankato the Salvation Army's forklift drivers worked around the clock to clear the clothing donations that piled up, unwanted, at the Army's warehouse doors. Maybe people in Phillips and Frogtown should start praying for a tornado.
February's second-to-last official act as a band was to perform at the 1998 Minnesota Music Awards on April 23, where the ambient-rock quartet was up for awards in four categories, including Best Female Vocalist for singer Amy Turany. But for die-hard Februarians, the band's epochal achievement was the October release of the CD Tomorrow Is Today (Carrot Top) and their release-party gala in the regal Music Box Theatre. The young band piqued local interest in atmospheric post-pop immediately upon its formation in 1994, and by 1997 their sonic ambition had spread into techno, noise, and arena-ready pop. The Music Box gig met all these ambitions, and perhaps led the band to realize that they'd achieved everything they had set out to do. Grieving fans can take comfort in the inevitable spin-offs and sequels that should follow; for now, the band's farewell gig is slated for July.