Sunday, April 5, 2020

Album Review: The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra- Rock Chalk Suite

The men’s basketball team representing the University of Kansas was ranked No. 1 when the coronavirus outbreak prematurely ended its season.  The Jayhawks were denied a shot at winning the national championship, but music-loving Jayhawk fans can take comfort in a similarly rarified achievement.

Rock Chalk Suite, a recording by The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, was released on March 20.  The project was “commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Lied Center of Kansas, KU’s performing arts center.”  Each of the 15 original compositions honors a Kansas basketball standout.  The Lied Center provides the “stories behind the songs”.

The hyper-partisan Kansas alumni who make their allegiance an integral component of their identities should be shouting the good news from their rooftops.  Yet I haven’t heard one of them boast about Rock Chalk Suite.  KU boosters aren’t alone in ignoring the recording.  One of four albums released by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in the first quarter of 2020, Rock Chalk Suite has been roundly ignored by the general public and the jazz media.

The neglect is unmerited.  Most of the unflaggingly swinging selections are immediately engaging.  Wynton Marsalis and his all-star ensemble sound fully committed to honoring Kansas’ basketball tradition on Ellingtonian selections like “Passing Game.”  Only three tracks contain overt references to basketball, making Rock Chalk Suite a largely unjarring experience for supporters of Kansas adversaries like Duke and Missouri. 

Switching out Luther Vandross’ “One Shining Moment” for the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra’s Rock Chalk Suite may not placate devotees of sports, but for many jazz fans in Kansas and throughout the world, it’s an even trade.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Now's the Time: Jay McShann and Claude "Fiddler" Williams


Retaining the upbeat tone of last week’s throwback video post, here’s a morale booster from 1979.  Kansas City legends Jay McShann and Claude “Fiddler” Williams join fellow all-stars including Erskine Hawkins and Buddy Tate in a rendition of Hawkins’ “Tuxedo Junction.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City musician Reggie Watkins has died.

*Logan Richardson released a new song titled “Frequency”.

*Matt Hopper and Adam Larson discussed the shutdown of Kansas City’s live jazz scene with Joe Dimino.

*Tweet o’ the Week: KC Kerrie- When you are stuck inside for the umpteenth day and need new ear joy so you open your suggested playlist. Spotify says "I got you" Jazz...who knew??? Thank you @Spotify for hitting a note I didn't know I was missing

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Spot(ify) the Difference

Before the coronavirus epidemic initiated the necessity of social distancing, I intended to meet privately with a Kansas City jazz musician to provide guidance on his approach to music streaming services.  Rather than conducting a Zoom session with the artist, I’ll outline my suggestions in this forum.

I commend him for not joining many of his indignant peers in posting misinformed memes about the ostensible evils of streaming services.  Spearheaded by industry leader Spotify, streaming services paid out $10,000,000,000.00 to musicians and their affiliates last year.  Yes, that’s ten billion dollars.  Artists can whine about penny fractions all they like, but popular musicians are raking in mountains of money.

How can my associate get in on the action?  First, he needs to stop behaving as if interacting with streaming services is beneath him.  While maintaining up-to-date profiles won’t make him a star, his current recalcitrance hinders his career.  In 2020, an artist’s Spotify account is an interactive business card that’s at least as important as a Wikipedia entry.

Adding a photo, biographical information, links to his web presence and maybe even microvisuals to his Spotify account won’t suddenly catapult the musician to fame and fortune, but at least it will provide him with a fighting chance.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Now's the Time: Count Basie


It may not cure the coronavirus, but vintage footage of an all-star band led by Count Basie joyously riffing on Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” is surely good for what ails us.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The American Jazz Museum announced a Charlie Parker Centennial Contest with cash prizes of $500.

*Drone footage created by The Kansas City Star shows a deserted Jazz District.

*Tweet o’ the Week: The Boston Globe- Joe Biden calls Charlie Baker ‘Charlie Parker’ during national address (link)

*From a press release: It’s been said that basketball is like jazz—but Rock Chalk Suite takes the comparison to another level entirely. Written and recorded by the musicians of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, each of the suite’s high-flying 15 movements takes inspiration from a different University of Kansas hoops legend... Rock Chalk Suite was commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Lied Center of Kansas, KU’s performing arts center, and the album utilizes the JLCO’s full roster to honor the university’s rich athletic heritage as well as its cultural contributions to the world.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Album Review: Eldar Djangirov- Rhapsodize

If speed and aggressiveness were the form’s most prized attributes, Eldar Djangirov would be the top pianist in jazz.  When he was a child prodigy living in the Kansas City area, Djangirov was defined by his age.  He’s now associated with his faster-and-louder ethos.

Djangirov acts as the jazz equivalent of a speed-rapper on his frenetic new album Rhapsodize.  Abetted by bassist Raviv Markovitz and drummer Jimmy Macbride, Djangirov seems to be attempting to set a land speed record on “A Night in Tunisia”.  “Variations on a Bach Prelude” is among the additional tracks showcasing his maximalist tendencies.

Rhapsodize is spectacularly impressive as a purely athletic endeavor.  Yet several interesting things occur amid the dizzying blur of notes.  Djangirov’s shifts between acoustic and electric keyboards provide intriguing textural contrasts. 

A reading of the Soundgarden song isn’t as ambitious as Brad Mehldau’s epic 22-minute version from 2008, but Djangirov’s take on “Black Hole Sun” provides an accessible point of entry for headbangers.  Fans of the bombastic prog-rock institution Emerson, Lake & Palmer will be right at home with “Anthemic”.  And “Devotion” successfully merges mainstream jazz with the fresh sounds of innovative groups like GoGo Penguin.

Nuance and restraint may be in short supply on Rhapsodize, but Djangirov’s over-the-top heroics may be precisely what the world needs in this difficult moment.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)