Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Kate St. John: Beyond the Academy of Dreams


It is near midnight and time to turn off all the lights in your home. Ignite a trio of candles in your gadroon-border candelabra, close your eyes and reflect upon the day. Now the night comes stealing in as a whispering breeze ushers the ghostly melodies of a female chanteuse, alternately warbling in French and English. The lilting vocals gently intermingle with a seductive oboe chased by the jaunty rippling arpeggios of a Concerto DA-10 accordion. The incongruity could prove wrenching or at very least, frivolous, but is instead soothing, spirited, lulling, the notes wistfully enticed by the glorious vision of a doe-eyed, flaxen-haired nymph. The alabastrite clock chimes twelve times as the indescribable night transports you to an earlier day of Salvation Army bands and children's lemonade stands. Hey-oh-ma-ma-ma, hey-oh....

Vocalist Kate St. John, a classically-trained oboist, enjoyed a brief foray into latter-day New Wave pop in 1987 when she, as one third of the aggregate known as The Dream Academy, scored a hit song with Life In A Northern Town, an elegant paean to the childlike innocence and violent disillusionment of late 1963 ("...in Winter 1963 it felt like the world would freeze, with John F. Kennedy and the Beatles..."). Equally as adept and comfortable playing saxophone and accordion, St. John's musical arena is nearly universal, ranging from jazz to classical and the Chanson style of a French bygone era.

Creating live experimental music with Steve Nieve's Pink Orchestra and the Waldorf Salad Orchestra, St. John visited the world of film soundtracks, writing little symphonies for silent films conjunct with her duties as a member of the Dream Academy. St. John, never the audacious diva, is humbly at home as premiere spotlight performer, be it vocalist or instrumentalist, yet equally content as an accompanist for such artists as Van Morrison, Nigel Kennedy, or as director at the Barbican for Nick Drake.

In 1992, St. John's album The Familiar, brought her into collaboration with innovative musician Roger Eno, leading to a business partnership and the birth of the avant-garde Channel Light Vessel collective. The group subsequently released two critically acclaimed CDs, Automatic, and Excellent Spirits.

St. John's continuing evolution as a vocalist soared to higher realms with the release of her decidedly romantic solo album Indescribable Night, upon which she sings, swanlike, affectionately, and plays myriad baroque instruments. Following this artistic triumph with the equally enchanting Second Sight, St. John balanced her successful singular efforts producing two albums for Russian musician Boris Grebenshikov and his band Aquarium, winning Best Russian album of 1995.

In April 2004 she was a featured artist in Hal Wilner’s Nino Rota/Fellini tribute concert at the Barbican. Also at the Barbican she performed as a member of The Magic Bullets, the group of musicians directed by Tom Waits for a production of The Black Rider directed by Robert Wilson, in May 2004 and continued this work in San Francisco August-October, 2004, at the ACT theatre and in Sydney, Australia January 2005.

7 Comments:

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