Sunday, July 5, 2015

Grading the 2015-16 Folly and Gem Seasons

While I was thrilled to serve as the host of a pre-concert talk at the Folly Theater in March, the honor hasn’t softened my unflinching analysis in this installment of Plastic Sax’s annual examination of the bookings at the Folly Jazz Series and the American Jazz Museum’s Jammin’ at the Gem concerts.

Bobby Watson Quartet featuring Curtis Lundy
Folly Theater, September 18
Bobby Watson is the Moses of Kansas City’s current jazz scene.  Plastic Sax’s Person of the Decade, Watson is a monumental artist and invaluable educator.
Grade: A

Julian Lage Trio
Folly Theater, November 21
My appreciation of Julian Lage’s appearance at the sorely missed Jazz Winterlude festival in 2013 was tempered by the disgruntled murmurings of audience members who didn’t care for Lage’s adventurous explorations.  His concert at the Folly Theater should attract more attentive listeners. 
Grade: A-

Julian Vaughan
Gem Theater, December 12
The Kansas City smooth jazz bassist Julian Vaughn limits his local shows to prestigious benefit concerts, large theaters and expansive festivals.  The unconventional tactic seems to be working.  Plastic Sax reviewed Vaughn's new album in April.
Grade: B

David Benoit Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown
Folly Theater, December 18
David Benoit was a star in the smooth jazz radio era.  While his light and melodic approach makes him a logical interpreter of Vince Guaraldi’s seasonal compositions, it’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for this booking.
Grade: C

Kim Waters
Gem Theater, February 13
Kim Waters performs a sultry variation on the music associated with Kenny G.  Sweet and Sexy, the title of the saxophonist’s 2014 album, encapsulates Waters’ appeal.  The February 13 booking makes sense as a valentine-themed event.
Grade: C+

Alicia Olatuja
Folly Theater, March 11
Like a young Oleta Adams, the St. Louis native Alicia Olatuja specializes in tasteful, jazz-informed pop.  The appearance by this year’s “Spotlight Artist” in the Folly series promises to be exceedingly pleasant.
Grade: B

Patti Austin
Gem Theater, March 26
I’ve always dug Patti Austin.  Once a genteel R&B vocalist, Austin has gracefully shifted to jazz-tinged fare.  She released a fine tribute to Ella Fitzgerald in 2012.
Grade: B

Christian McBride Trio
Folly Theater, April 9
While I’d prefer a performance by Christian McBride in a context other than an acoustic trio, April's gig should serve as a master class in tasteful swing.  (Docked a notch because McBride seems to perform in the area every year.)
Grade: B

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman
Gem Theater, April 16
The measly turnout for The Bad Plus’ 2010 concert at the Folly Theater was one of the most disappointing debacles in recent years.  A dearth of area bookings featuring other forward-thinking acts ensued.  The Bad Plus’ new album with the exciting saxophonist Joshua Redman is solid.
Grade: A

Dee Dee Bridgewater & Irvin Mayfield with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
Folly Theater, May 21
The controversy surrounding Irvin Mayfield may have died down by the time the final concert in the Folly’s series transpires.   Dee Dee Bridgewater’s African-themed show at the Gem Theater in 2007 is one of the best concerts I’ve witnessed.
Grade: B+

The McFadden Brothers & Ida McBeth
Gem Theater, May 21
The McFadden Brothers may be Kansas City’s most undervalued act.  The duo’s Las Vegas-style razzle-dazzle is charming.  Ida McBeth is a local institution.  Even though both artists are fixtures on local entertainment calendars, the musicians are deserving of a “Lifetime Achievement Award Concert."
Grade: B

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Now's the Time: Ben Allison and Steve Cardenas

Several of the world’s most exciting jazz musicians will converge on Iowa City this weekend.  Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dave Douglas, Julian Lage and Becca Stevens are slated to perform at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.  Locally based jazz fans not making the 300-mile trip won’t be entirely left out.  Ben Allison and Steve Cardenas are playing at Take Five Coffee + Bar on Thursday, July 2, and at the Blue Room on Friday, July 3, before they share a stage with Charles Lloyd in Iowa City on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus notes the homecoming of Steve Cardenas in his latest column.  The Pitch also touts Cardenas’ shows at Take Five Coffee and the Blue Room.

*Charlie Watts visited the American Jazz Museum.

*Joe Dimino’s latest interview subjects include Matt Carrillo and Steve Rigazzi.

*Ensemble Ibérica shared insights into their rehearsal sessions for a concert featuring the music of Matt Otto.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Michael Shults- Tim Ries from the Rolling Stones sat in with us last night. So that was neat. (photo)

*From a press release: The American Jazz Museum in partnership with the ARC recording label will present two free master classes in the Blue Room jazz club on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 from 6-9pm. Admission is free and open to the public. Jazz pianist, composer and ARC cofounder, Sumi Tonooka will present an hour master class. Jazz percussionist, composer and ARC recording artist, Jeff “Siege” Siegel will also present an hour master class. There will be opportunity for Q and A sessions, as well as interacting with the artists in this context.

*From Take Five Coffee + Bar: Thursday, July 2, 7pm:  Steve Cardenas and Ben Allison Trio: It's a tremendous pleasure to welcome Kansas City native guitarist Steve Cardenas back to Take Five, and we're delighted that he's bringing with him superlative bassist Ben Allison for this show. Steve has risen in the jazz world to claim a spot as one of the most influential guitarists working today… (w)ith drummer Brian Steever… $10 cover.  Friday, July 3, 8pm:  Alyssa Murray's AM Trio: Pianist and vocalist Alyssa Murray brings her free-ranging and versatile sense of fun to the Take Five stage along with bassist Joel Stratton and drummer Josh Blythe for a mix of originals and standards. $5 cover.  Saturday, July 4: No music, closed early for Independence Day.  Sunday, July 5, 10am - 2pm:  Sunday Jazz Brunch, Bob Bowman and Friends: No cover.

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated for the new month.

(Original image of the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot at Saturday’s Karl Denson and Tim Ries concert by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Concert Review: Trio Red at the Blue Room

Only a handful of musicians on Kansas City’s vibrant jazz scene overtly reference the European sound associated with the ECM and ACT record labels. 

That’s why I jumped at the chance to hear Trio Red perform at the Blue Room last Thursday. 

Pianist Tom Cawley, drummer Tom Bancroft and a substitute bassist from Scotland whose name I couldn’t make out played two sets of a brand of jazz that’s rarely performed in Kansas City.

About ten talkers and ten listeners were present.

While the influence of the Brad Mehldau Trio was evident, Trio Red's approach reminded me more of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.  A few interesting twists distinguished the ensemble from other piano trios.

Bandleader Bancroft’s playing occasionally evoked Don Moye of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Original compositions with titles like “Don't Break Your Heart (Like Rickie Lee Jones)” and “The Mole of History Takes a Bow (And Trips)” and a mashup of Joan Armatrading’s “Opportunity" and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” further demonstrated Trio Red’s idiosyncrasies.

Bancroft recalled that Ross Russell’s Bird Lives stoked his passion for jazz as he introduced to a rollicking version of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce.”  The trio’s interpretation veered in unconventional directions that might have seemed heretical to many Kansas City based musicians. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Now's the Time: Lisa Engelken

As the embedded video suggests, Lisa Engelken is not a run-of-the-mill  jazz vocalist.  The native Kansan and Bay Area resident will focus on material from her 2013 album Little Warrior at Take Five Coffee + Bar on Saturday, July 27. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The late Kerry Strayer took 19th place in the category of best baritone saxophonist in the 2015 Downbeat Critic’s Poll.  Also of note: Pat Metheny came in fifth in the guitarist category.  Kevin Mahogany was voted the 15th best male vocalist.  Karrin Allyson was named the 13th best female vocalist.  Other musicians with Kansas City connections appeared in the Rising Star subsection: the People’s Liberation Big Band (big band, 21st place) Eldar Djangirov (piano, 20th place), Chris Hazelton (organist, 19th place), Mike Dillon (vibraphone, 20th place).  Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker-inspired Bird Calls took Album of the Year.

*Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle’s Live In Kansas City album is available now.

*The AM Trio’s As of Now album has an official release date of June 30.

*KCUR published a detailed review of Dominique Sanders’ A True Story Based On…

*Joe Klopus runs down the week’s top jazz events in his latest column.

*Chris Burnett interviewed Marcus Hampton.

*”Kansas City’s oldest, most successful and least respected jazz festival" is examined by KC Jazz Lark.  He documented a portion of Saturday’s concerts at Jazz in the Woods.

*A television station produced a report on the Mutual Musicians Foundation’s plans for a radio station.  The station also aired a feature about KC Jazz Tours.

*KCUR reports on the 2nd Annual American Jazz Walk of Fame induction ceremony.

*ARC Label Week at the Blue Room will feature “two 90-minute concerts” on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week. 

*Richie Pratt is memorialized by Chris Burnett.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Wendy Peffercorn- so basically I plan on spending my Saturday afternoon hunting down @MickJagger in Kansas City. First stop, American Jazz Museum.

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous - I hope your lukewarm review of the OJT CD doesn't discourage people from going to the Green Lady to support this great trio. Their live sets are much more adventurous than the CD. It's always a blast. I liked the line in Roger Atkinson's review of this CD (in a recent JAM magazine) where he mentions that hearing the OJT theme at the GL makes him want to grab another drink and stay for the next set. I can relate to that!

*From a press release: Bram Wijnands with Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1.  $7. Bram Wijnands began playing piano at an early age in Eindhoven, the Netherlands... In July 1991, Bram made his debut on the KC Jazz scene at the City Light Jazz Club with Kansas City’s own Richard Ross.

*From Lisa Engelken: This Saturday is the celebration: the CD Release with a live debut of Little Warrior at Take Five Coffee + Bar: Saturday, June 27th… The Band: Kansas City's finest:  Roger Wilder on piano and Gerald Spaits on bass will be joining SF (by way of UK) drummer Matthew Swindells and myself.

(Original image of the salsa band 5ta Eskina busking in Santiago, Chile, last week by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Plastic Sax’s Favorite Performances and Albums of 2015 (So Far)

I’m taking a break from blogging for two or three weeks. Here are lists of my favorite things on the jazz scene during the first half of 2015.

Favorite Performances by Locally Based Musicians
1. Lauren Krum with the Project H- Westport Coffeehouse (Plastic Sax review)
2. Peter Schlamb’s Electric Tinks- RecordBar
3. Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7- Green Lady Lounge
4. Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle- Take Five Coffee + Bar (Plastic Sax review)
5. James Isaac Quintet- Take Five Coffee + Bar (Plastic Sax Review)

Favorite Performances by Musicians From Elsewhere
1. Trio M- Take Five Coffee + Bar (Plastic Sax review)
2. Avishai Cohen, Tal Mashiach and Nasheet Waits- Take Five Coffee + Bar (Plastic Sax review)
3. Max Raabe and Palast Orchester- Helzberg Hall
4. Bill Frisell- White Theatre
5. The Hot Sardines- Folly Theater

Favorite Albums by Locally Based Musicians
1. Dominique Sanders- A True Story Based On… (Plastic Sax review)
2. Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet- Acknowledgement (Plastic Sax review)
3. Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle- Live In Kansas City
4. Paul Shinn Trio- Easy Now (Plastic Sax review)
5. Julian Vaughn- Limitless (Plastic Sax review)

Favorite Albums by Musicians From Elsewhere
1. Rudresh Mahanthappa- Bird Calls (Plastic Sax review)
2. Marc Cary- Rhodes Ahead, Vol. 2
3. Donny McCaslin- Fast Future
4. Terence Blanchard- Breathless
5. Kamasi Washington- The Epic

(Original image of Eddie Moore by Plastic Sax.)