Sunday, January 10, 2010
In My Solitude At Jazz Winterlude
An irrational fear of spending two hours in a room full of geriatric fans of Stan Kenton prevented me from seeing The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra until Saturday. The orchestra's rewarding headlining performance at the Jazz Winterlude festival showed that I've been missing out on a good time.
Yeah, it was square. But it was rarely dull. And there were a handful of bold moments of defiance. Lurking underneath artistic director Jim Mair's obsequious demeanor is a subversive hipster. He slipped in the Charles Mingus version of "Moanin'" heard here, a radical act given the sensibilities of many of the organization's financial supporters. The audience of about 700 tolerated it largely because Kerry Strayer's baritone saxophone work on the piece was undeniably thrilling. He did justice to Mingus' legacy.
The members of the orchestra certainly rank among (in Mair's words) "Kansas City's finest musicians." I'd watched Doug Talley and trumpeter Joe Parisi work through a set of Wayne Shorter material earlier in the day. All the notes were right but much of the fiery spirit of Shorter's originals was absent. The pair's concise solos with the orchestra, however, were excellent. The big band context showcases their strengths. Other highlights were Mair's rapturous solo on "Stardust" and a riotous reading of Kenton's "The Peanut Vendor." (Shows what I know.)
I was already familiar with most members of the ensemble but guest vocalist Brienn Perry was a revelation. He looks like a linebacker but sings like a combination of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Joe Williams. Accompanied only by pianist Charles Wiliams, Perry absolutely nailed "One For My Baby."
Original? Don't be silly. Incredibly enjoyable? Absolutely. The same can be said for the orchestra as a whole. It may be an exercise in nostalgia but it's far from anemic. Even the goofy dance routines at the end of the performance served as an appropriate reminder of the roots of the big band sound.
I hope to attend the orchestra's next concert on April 30. Why should I let old folks have all the fun?
Here are five additional things I appreciated Saturday:
1. Sons of Brasil (above) were very fine. Stan Kessler original "If It Feels Good" was particularly funky.
2. Bassist James Albright played with three groups Saturday. He raised the level of play in each one.
3. Young pianist Sean Giddings did some nice things in Doug Talley's group. I don't believe I'd seen him play before.
4. Ryan Lee (above) just dominated James Ward's trio. The drummer overplayed. I liked it anyway.
5. I'd only seen most of these locally-based players in bars. Hearing the musicians in a formal concert setting was a rare treat. All three rooms at the festival offered excellent acoustics and comfortable seating. The ultra-conservative lineup certainly wasn't booked with me in mind, but I'd happily buy into the concept next January.
(Original images by Plastic Sax.)