Ever since last Sunday morning, I’ve been trying to find the words to describe last Saturday’s (9 December 2011) show by Dean Magraw’s Red Planet at the Artist’s Quarter in Saint Paul. I don’t have the words—the show completely blew me away.
Dean Magraw is one of the best guitarists on the planet. He studied classic guitar at the University of Minnesota and then at Berklee. He’s serious about his music. In some 30 years, he’s been playing music of all genres, but truth be told, his Red Planet configuration—with Chris Bates on bass and Jay Epstein on drums—is one of my favorites. Because you’re never sure what you’re going to hear or what you just heard. Because it’s informed a whole lot by John Coltrane.
Shortly after the tracks were recorded in 2008 for Red Planet’s first release, Space Dust, Magraw got sick—real sick. Last spring, the trio began performing again and Magraw hasn’t slowed a bit.
Saturday’s show was among the best of the year—and at US$10 (we always pay double because, well, it’s the Artist’s Quarter) it was the absolute standout bargain of the year. The first set was supposed to begin at 9PM, but Epstein and Bates were up the block playing klezmer music, so we got a treat of a brief Magraw solo on the white Strat to open the show. I remember a “Jesus On the Mainline” in there somewhere. I love it when Magraw plays that white Strat, but damned if the weird Jerry Jones sitar isn’t growing on me.
The entire show was incredible, but the standout highlight had to be the second set opener; more than an hour of at least one Magraw original, at least two reading’s of Coltrane’s “Amen,” and I can’t remember what all else. Red Planet’s read of Thelonious Monk’s “Waltz Time”—Monk’s only recorded exploration of waltz time—was also a very pleasant surprise.
Dean Magraw’s Red Planet at the Artist’s Quarter, 9 December 2011.
A special bonus: Claudia Schmidt has been at several recent Magraw shows and says she’s moved to the Twin Cities. This should get really good, really fast.