Monday, February 22, 2010
Matt Otto: An Appreciation
Kansas City is stacked with good jazz musicians. I'd happily spend my time and money hearing any one of our town's fifty best artists on any given night.
Some of them even specialize in what I characterize as "tourist jazz"- safe and conventional reproductions of what's been played countless times before. There's no shame in that. Several local traditionalists might even have dazzled Pete Johnson and Jay McShann.
That's not, however, what Matt Otto does. Not since Pat Metheny and Bobby Watson lit up Kansas City's clubs a few decades ago has a young locally-based jazz instrumentalist played with such imagination and innovation.
The great Bobby Watson aside, Otto is Kansas City's premier jazz artist.
The saxophonist's gig at Jardine's last week served as further confirmation that Otto is working at an exceptional level. His versatile style acts as a resounding rebuttal to anyone claiming that outside-leaning jazz musicians are unable to play conventionally. Otto possesses an immaculate tone and can deliver ballads with refined beauty. His adventurous attack Tuesday, however, referenced Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy. Otto discusses his approach in an interview I conducted with him a few months ago.
As is usually the case with the best artists, Otto elevates the playing of his peers. I'd never heard saxophonist Gerald Dunn and drummer Mike Warren sound better. Bassist Ben Leifer, as usual, was also phenomenal. Otto didn't draw a big crowd Tuesday, but I'll submit that he and his band are capable of wowing jaded aficionados at the world's most hallowed jazz venues.
I'm not suggesting that Otto is a star in the making. Alas, that's not a realistic possibility for jazz instrumentalists in 2010. But if you care about Kansas City's jazz scene- or even if you just pretend to care about it- then Matt Otto is the name you need to know.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)