Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Lisa Henry and the Kansas City Jazz Quintet at KCKCC

The multi-generational ensemble of saxophonist Jim Mair, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Charles Williams, bassist James Albright and drummer Michael Warren intrigued me, but the real reason I attended the closing concert of the Jazz Summit at Kansas City Kansas Community College was a rare opportunity to hear Lisa Henry. Yes, that Lisa Henry.

The vocalist has appeared infrequently in Kansas City in the last couple years. Her performance proved that area audiences have been deprived of a very fine talent. Approximately 50 people took in the sophisticated concert at the sonically pristine Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 27.

Like Deborah Brown, my pick for Kansas City's best jazz vocalist, Henry is clearly influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. Yet Henry's voice isn't as rich and lustrous as Brown's. Henry compensates with an exceedingly intelligent approach. She knows precisely how to use her airier voice to pull songs through. Her "choo choo" scat on "Take the 'A' Train" never seemed cloying.  A knowing interpretation of "Body and Soul" injected new life into the stale standard.

Henry may have been the featured attraction, but the remainder of the band also shone. Henry repeatedly featured Albright in playfully competitive duets. Warren's elegant drumming elevated every selection. Mair's faultless solo on "Confirmation"- he introduced it as "a tune from Charlie Parker's sacred songbook"- reminded the audience of his immaculate tone. Mehari's brilliantly constructed solo on "Cherokee" proved that the media attention he's received in recent years hasn't impeded his development as an extraordinary jazz instrumentalist. (Here's an early example of the hype surrounding Mehari.) Williams' bluesy solos on "Summertime" opened the evening with flair.

The concert marked the conclusion of the week-long education-oriented Jazz Summit at KCKCC. Henry performs again Friday, May 4, at the Blue Room.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Now's the Time: B.C.R.

Thirty-seven years ago, a kid affiliated with the Kansas City Art Institute created a noisy sound collage. A befuddled blogger listed it as one of the Ten Best Kansas City Jazz Recordings. Black Crack Revue, eventually better known as B.C.R., evolved into a Dada-esque Sun Ra-inspired jazz band in the late '70s and early '80s. B.C.R. then morphed into the arty dance band displayed in the embedded 1995 video. Thomas Aber, Dwight Frizzell, Jazzbo, Stan Kessler and Randy Weinstein are among the featured musicians. B.C.R. performs at the RecordBar on Sunday, April 29.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Doug Ramsey provides an invaluable wrap up of Bob Brookmeyer's memorial service.  John Scofield pays tribute to Brookmeyer in a post by Marc Myers.

*R Bar, a restaurant that regularly featured live jazz, has closed.

*The latest column from Joe Klopus previews a gig by Crosscurrent and reminds readers of this week's Kansas City Jazz Summit at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

*Hearne Christopher reminds readers that Jardine's is still closed.

*The Pitch interviews the American Jazz Museum's Haleigh Harrold.

*The Star reminds readers that the corner of 12th Street and Vine no longer exists.

*Dick Oatts' recent appearance at the Topeka Jazz Workshop is reviewed by Chuck Berg.  (Tip via KC Stage Blog.)

*KCJazzLark remarks on a tool that provides insights into the history of the Jazz District. He also notes an upcoming benefit concert and an International Worker's Day event.

*The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle details the April 29 JazzBEATS benefit for pancreatic cancer research.

*Matt Chalk posted a track at Soundcloud.

*It's no secret that Plastic Sax is infatuated with Krystle Warren.  Here's why.

*Teddy Charles, the vibraphonist who played with the likes of Charlie Parker and Bob Brookmeyer, has died.  The title track of his 1957 album Word From Bird was reportedly inspired by "Parker's Mood."

*Diverse is included in a nice video survey of last month's Middle of the Map festival.

*The American Jazz Museum has announced the ticket prices for the 2012-13 season of its Jammin' at the Gem concert series.

*The author of St. Louis Jazz Notes lists his city's Jazz at the Bistro summer series.  Charlie Hunter and Tim Warfield are among the highlights.

*Tweet o' the Week: Radiovixen- Flirtini time! Kansas City jazz? Great time! @ Phoenix Jazz Club Instagram photo

*Comment o' the Week: Matt Leifer- I only accept two comparisons, and those are Neil Peart and Travis Barker.

*From Dan Gailey: Two University of Kansas music recently took home top awards from the coveted DownBeat magazine’s annual Student Music Awards. This marks the 35th year for the publication’s notable contest. David von Kampen, a doctoral student studying for a music composition degree, won for his original composition/orchestrated work in the Graduate Division for his work “Sneak Out.” Brian Scarborough, an undergraduate student pursuing a trombone performance degree, received the Outstanding Performance distinction in the Jazz Instrumental Soloist/Undergraduate Division. Both students study with Professor Dan Gailey, Director of Jazz Studies at KU.  Gailey added that the "KU Jazz Studies Program has now been the recipient of 12 of these awards since 1992."

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Revisiting The Majestic

"We heard you had some good steaks here," a jovial patron told a waiter as he and a large party were being seated Sunday at The Majestic

The restaurant's emphasis on fine dining is precisely why I hadn't patronized the downtown establishment in months.  Sadly, I'm not in the market for a dry-aged porterhouse.  Sunday's visit proved that I can (not) have my steak and eat it too.  With the closure of Jardine's at end of 2011, The Majestic moved up a notch in the hierarchy of Kansas City's jazz establishments.  Many would suggest that it trails only the Blue Room as the most important jazz venue in town.

Others have accurately observed that The Majestic's basement resembles a speakeasy.  The candlelit room's excellent sound is less frequently noted. It's a decent spot for jazz.  And should the tables fill up- as they almost did at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday- there are six stools at the bar for listeners who don't want to invest in dinner.

Sunday found three of Kansas City's smartest and most creative musicians- Mark Lowrey, Sam Wisman and Ben Leifer- playing top-flight renditions of jazz standards.  While all three bearded men regularly play in other contexts, each obviously relished the opportunity to perform with like-minded jazz-based musicians.  Although it took liberties with "Body and Soul," the trio played classic material by the likes of Bill Evans and Charles Mingus in relatively straightforward fashion.

The retrenchment of Kansas City's jazz venues saddens me.  Yet the prospect of spending a few summer evenings listening to jazz in the basement at 931 Broadway alleviates some of my sorrow.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Max Berry: The Documentary

It's premature to memorialize the very vital Max Berry, but this 13-minute documentary will serve as a fine tribute to the versatile Kansas City musician long after he's gone.  Berry is best known for his work in support of Oleta Adams and Ida McBeth and as a studio whiz.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if more Kansas City jazz musicians were the subjects of similar films?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A trio fronted by Logan Richardson received three minutes of airtime on a television morning show.

*Joe Klopus' latest column focuses on Bill Crain and on the Jazz Summit at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

*KCUR's Central Standard previewed a tribute to Etta James that will be held April 18 at the Marquee Lounge. Several jazz-oriented musicians are participating.

*KCJazzLark examines an underappreciated component of the Jazz District's history.

*The Star offers reviews of concerts by Stefon Harris and Blackout and the John Pizzarelli Quartet.

*The Black House Improvisors Collective offers an update and a sound clip.

*Robert Trussell suggests that theater is the new jazz in Kansas City.

*A Springfield newspaper endorses the American Jazz Museum.

*Pan Cure is hosting a jazz brunch benefit at Just Off Broadway Theatre on April 29. Performers include Diverse, the Joe Cartwright & Duck Warner Duo and the duo of Millie Edwards and Michael Pagan.

*The Prairie Village Jazz Festival has announced that Karrin Allyson will serve as its headliner on September 8.

*Karrin Allyson and Pat Metheny are among the nominees of the 2012 Jazz Journalism Awards.

*Phonologotron blogs.

*A discounted ticket deal for the American Jazz Museum is available at Google Offers.

*Tweet o' the Week: Hermon Mehari- About to play a house party in KC with Logan Richardson. Peter Schlamb Trio to play first around 10:30! Stream link up soon.

*Comment o' the Week: The Phonologotron- Like I said in my post. I wasn't being sarcastic. I wasn't belittling. I was expressing my genuine appreciation for Mr. Harris. But knowing the interwebz like I do, I felt the need to specifically say, this is not sarcasm. Take your reading between-the-lines and judgement-calling and shove it, thank you very much.

*From JCCC: The Performing Arts Series and Jazz Winterlude are teaming up to bring lunchtime concerts to Johnson County Community College in early May. The performances, which are free and open to the public, will be held at noon in the Regnier Center Atrium. Five jazz combos will be featured: May 2- Tyrone Clark Trio; May 3- Matt Hopper Trio; May 4- Joe Cartwright Trio; May 7- The Beach Nuts; May 8- Gerald Spaits and Charles Perkins Duo. The series serves as a preview for next year’s Jazz Winterlude as well as an opportunity to share information about the 2012 campaign for the ArtsKC Fund which supports the performing arts throughout the metropolitan area. Also taking place in May, The T.J. Martley Duo will perform from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5, Barnes and Noble in Town Center, Leawood. This performance is part of a Book Fair to benefit the Performing Arts Series.

*From KC Youth Jazz: Due to circumstances beyond the organization's control, we must postpone the April 22 Big Band Dance & Fundraiser. The new date will be in June and we will let you know as soon as we can confirm it. We are truly sorry for the inconvenience.

*From David Basse: On the evening of Saturday, May 5, Kansas City will tear down a wall by celebrating a bridge. For decades, Troost Avenue has been known as Kansas City’s de facto segregation line. But on the first Saturday in May, the wall between black and white Kansas City comes down with the dedication and celebration of the new Troost Avenue Bridge over Brush Creek. All of Kansas City is invited to Meet Me at the Bridge. Following the 5 p.m. bridge dedication with U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II and other civic leaders, Troost Avenue between 48th Street and Volker Boulevard will be the site of a free street festival featuring Kansas City jazz greats and hosted by Mayor Sly James. Meet Me at the Bridge stars David Basse, Bobby Watson and Book of Gaia with Nedra Dixon, Angela Hagenbach, and Pamela Baskin-Watson. They will perform until 11 p.m. amid other festival activities including recognition of neighborhoods and leaders who have embraced a core issue in order to break down barriers and build bridges in the urban core.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: The Project H- Become Light

"Saturday's Back," the fourth track on Become Light, the terrific new release by trombonist Ryan Heinlein's The Project H, is the sort of joyous groove-oriented song that once led off classic jazz albums by the likes of Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock.

There's a good reason the album opens with the unaccompanied drumming of Matt Leifer on "The Revisionist" instead. He's the band's most valuable player. Without his fresh approach, the album's clever charts and terrific solos might have fallen flat. Every time the recording begins to veer in an excessively academic direction, an innovative rhythmic concept from Leifer and bassist Dominique Sanders negates the infiltration of unwanted fustiness. "Murphy's Law," for instance, might have become a typical hard bop blowing tune were it not for the engaging textures laid down by the rhythm section.

Become Light, consequently, is the most accessible album by Kansas City-based jazz musicians since the release of Diverse's debut in 2009. (Here's The Project H's EPK.)

Just because Become Light is entertaining doesn't mean it's not loaded with impressive chops. Clint Ashlock's passionate trumpet solos are in the fiery tradition of Arturo Sandoval. Keyboardist Andrew Oullette's elegant intro to "Become Light" evokes Chick Corea's "Spain." Surprising arrangements, including a chart that allows the horns to circle back to one another on "Water Torture," display the sophistication associated with acclaimed jazz masters like David Binney. The reggae flavor of "The Vibe Out" isn't going to scare Antibalis, but it's extremely encouraging to hear young Kansas City-based jazz musicians experimenting with new styles.

Heinlein composed all of Become Light's selections. The Project H is clearly his band. Yet The Project H can also be viewed as an indirect result of Bobby Watson's outstanding jazz program at UMKC. I believe that every member of The Project H- Ashlock, Heinlein, saxophonist Brett Jackson, Leifer, Oullette and Sanders- is either a current or former Watson student or has professional ties to one or more of Watson's concerns.

Become Light serves as further evidence that Kansas City's jazz scene is experiencing a post-Watson Watson-fueled renaissance.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Now's the Time: Stefon Harris & Blackout

I'm pleased that Black Radio, Robert Glasper's vital new fusion of jazz, funk and hip hop, is garnering positive attention. I'm less certain that it's any more innovative than Urbanus, the 2009 album by Stefon Harris & Blackout. Harris may lack Glasper's marketing savvy, but anyone who's caught one of his frequent performances in Kansas City knows that he's an exceptional artist. Harris returns to the Gem Theater on Friday.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Plastic Sax is gently chided by KCJazzLark as he deplores the absence of a major jazz festival in Kansas City.

*Kristin Shafel reviewed a concert by Bobby Watson and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

*Michael Shults took 3rd place in the 2012 NASA Jazz Artist Competition.

*Clips from the American Jazz Museum’s John H. Baker Archives Jazz Film Collection are featured in the AMC Theatres Kansas City FilmFest.

*David Basse is among a handful of jazz-based acts scheduled to perform at Salina's Smoky Hill River Festival in June.

*Tweet o' the Week: Todd R. Wilkinson- Playing at Take Five Coffee Bar tonight from7-9PM. Won't you come down and save the lonely ten-piece jazz band? :(

*Comment o' the Week: Bob McWilliams- …the contrast between the very buttoned-down Basile and the over the top energy and emotion from Scheps was rather stark…

*From Michael Pagan: Kansas City Youth Jazz organizers have set their annual Masters of jazz fundraiser for 6:30 PM on Sunday, April 22nd 2012 at the Madrid Theater... The event will include dinner and music provided by the Abel Ramirez big band and KCYJ groups for listening and dancing. Tickets cost $75 per person. A Patrons’ Party/reception will take place at 6:00 PM for donations of $150 or more. Dance/cash bar only tickets will be available for $20.

(Original image of Frank Basile and Rob Scheps at Take Five Coffee + Bar by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: The Chris Hazelton Trio at JCCC

Many of the most meaningful moments of my jazz initiation occurred while I sipped illicit cocktails at Milton's on Main Street when I was an insubordinate teen. The jazz club's bartender introduced me to the music of Shirley Scott, Big John Patton and Jimmy McGriff by means of a turntable that was prominently positioned alongside the bottles behind the bar.

The experience provided me with invaluable context. The jazz organ is meant to be heard in dark, smoky rooms filled with booze-addled revelers.

I found myself in a setting completely antithetical to Milton's during lunch hour last Tuesday. Under harsh lighting that illuminated neatly arranged rows of chairs, I was one of about 100 people who heard Chris Hazelton's band revive the classic organ trio sound at the Carlsen Center Recital Hall at Johnson County Community College.

Hazelton, guitarist Danny Embrey and drummer Kevin Frazee were on fire. Concentrating on material from the very fine new album Peregrination, the trio burned through an hour of greasy, sin-soaked organ jazz. Hazelton's impeccable work on his Hammond B-3 was thick and fearsome. Frazee played with an innate funkiness. Embrey's presence on the gig and on Peregrination, however, make the project truly memorable. He's a phenomenal musician.

Had it transpired in a late night dive, the performance would almost certainly have been one of my favorite gigs of 2012. Even in the unlikely setting, it was one of the most rewarding lunch hours I've enjoyed in ages.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Now's the Time: The Rob Scheps/Frank Basile Quintet

I'm not ashamed to admit that Rob Scheps intimidates me. In addition to his imposing physical presence, Scheps brings a Bobby Knight-style intensity to the bandstand. He can be a scary dude. Scheps is also one of the greatest mainstream saxophonists I've encountered. He duets with Oregon bassist Glen Moore in the embedded clip. As Joe Klopus notes in his weekly column, Scheps and baritone saxophonist Frank Basile are touring with Kansas City-based musicians Roger Wilder, Bob Bowman and Brian Steever. The quintet perform Thursday, April 5, at Take Five Coffee + Bar and Saturday, April 7, at the Blue Room.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Tim Finn checks in with BCR on the band's 30th anniversary.

*KCJazzLark laments the premature death of Bill Caldwell and the absence of Jardine's in a typically excellent post.

*The Wichita Eagle notes the passing of Bill Caldwell.

*Bobby Watson, Book of Gaia and the David Basse Orchestra are scheduled to perform at the Meet Me at the Bridge Street Festival at 48th & Troost on May 5.

*The 2nd Annual KCKCC Jazz Summit at Kansas City Kansas Community College will conclude with a concert by Lisa Henry and an all-star band.

*A new Ella Fitzgerald-themed exhibit at the American Jazz Museum is noted by The Star.

*The People's Liberation Big Band's score for Battleship Potemkin will be performed on May 1 at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library.

*A critic declares that Chris Hazelton's new album is the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Link removed at request of critic.)

*KJHK's audio archives include a few jazz sessions. (Tip via Lucas Homer.)

*Kansas City native Halbert White has died. The noted economist performed with Eddie Baker's New Breed Orchestra in the '60s.

*Black House Improvisors' Collective is hosting a "sound painting" workshop.

*A publication in Iowa notes the current Midwestern barnstorming tour of the Rob Scheps/Frank Basile Quintet.

*Doug Ramsey reports on plans for a memorial service for Bob Brookmeyer.

*A few jazz-related acts are participating in KKFI's band auction.

*Hey, Ted Nash! What's the big idea of naming your new record label Plastic Sax?

*Tweet o' the Week: Alaadeenswife- Thank you Bobby Watson for honoring Alaadeen last night at the Spring Concert of your Concert Jazz Band - University of Missouri-KC

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous- we all know what happens when you assume things dont we?

*Don't forget about the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Hole in the Middle of the Map

At 2 a.m. on Easter I'll be in a basement in Westport listening to the jarring attack of Acid Mothers Temple. The experimental Japanese band will be the last of over 75 acts scheduled to perform at this week's Middle of the Map festival.

The inspired rock and electronic-oriented three-day event is the brainchild of a handful of passionate, hard-working music lovers. Although only one of the bands performing at the eight participating venues has enjoyed an actual hit, the second edition of the festival is almost assured of being a commercial success. Sponsors include a brewery, a professional sports franchise, a car dealer, a law firm and several distilleries. The institutional support is a reflection of the organizational prowess of the festival's planners.

What if the entirety of Kansas City's jazz community worked together to create a similar event? My experience at the Portland Jazz Festival in February showed me what's possible in a metropolis that's just 10% larger than Kansas City. I caught a sold-out performance by Enrico Rava and well-attended sets by a couple regional acts. Spread out over nine days, the event also included appearances by the duo of Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Bill Frisell, Charles McPherson, Charlie Hunter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Haynes, the Jazz Passengers, Vijay Iyer's Tirtha, Ben Williams and dozens of Portland-based musicians.

By incorporating everything that's already happening on the Kansas City jazz scene over a two-week span, a new festival would complement rather than undercut existing programming. The Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Jazz In the Woods, Rhythm & Ribs and Jazz Winterlude are terrific events that receive my enthusiastic support. The new concept would be an all-encompassing city-wide jazz festival that could take place at Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, UMKC, the Folly Theater and Helzberg Hall. Established jazz venues would also be a crucial part of the mix.

In addition to Kansas City-based talent, performers might include the likes of Brian Blade, David Sanchez, Medeski Martin & Wood, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, the Soul Rebels, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Cuong Vu, Flying Lotus and Matana Roberts. Kansas City's event could be timed to pull in artists performing at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival.

Ambitious? Sure. But with Kansas City's jazz scene undergoing an artistic renaissance, the time is right to think big. And Kansas City boasts several established institutions that should be able to provide logistical support. In addition to Bobby Watson's jazz program at UMKC, fine collegiate programs are thriving at JCCC, KU, KCKCC, Ottawa and UCM. Prominent area institutions include the American Jazz Museum, KC Youth Jazz, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the Jazz Ambassadors, the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, the Folly's jazz series and the Artists Recording Collective. Perhaps most importantly, many locally-based musicians might be compelled to call in favors. Heck, there are even a couple jazz bloggers who might be eager to get their hands even dirtier.

All of these organizations and musicians are already doing great things. If they pooled their resources for an annual event, everyone would win. I'm assuming, of course, that the dysfunctional and ruthlessly territorial reputation of a few of these entities is unmerited. Furthermore, I'm operating under the assumption that there are at least 2,500 people in the Kansas City area willing to purchase tickets to hear serious music performed by the world's most important jazz-based artists.

If you share my enthusiasm for returning Kansas City to the center of the jazz universe for a couple weeks every year, let's talk it over on Sunday morning. You can find me here. A note to smart alecks- I realize that I riffed on a similar proposal eleven months ago. And no- this post is not an April Fools' Day gag.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)