Monday, April 24, 2017

Concert Review: Bill Frisell at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Jack DeJohnette Trio at the Gem Theater

Two titans of improvised music performed in Kansas City on Saturday.

Appearing in the Harriman-Jewell Series, Bill Frisell and three co-conspirators provided live accompaniment for a screening of Bill Morrison’s documentary The Great Flood.  Jack DeJohnette closed the 2016-17 season of the American Jazz Museum’s Jazz at the Gem.

How to choose?  I didn’t.  Along with few dozen other zealots who were among both audiences of about 500,  I attended Frisell’s 5 p.m. show and the 8 p.m. concert in the Jazz District.  The investment was significant.  I acquired the last available Frisell ticket for $35.  Day-of-show admission to DeJohnette was $60.  It was worth it.

Frisell, trumpet player Ron Miles, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Gerald Cleaver read from sheet music as they gave voice to the degraded newsreel footage displayed on a screen at the back of the stage of Atkins Auditorium.  I found it emotionally exhausting- not to mention distracting- to study the bleak images.  I often closed my eyes to better focus on Frisell’s gorgeous tones.

Unfortunately, Frisell’s score for The Great Flood is aligned with the most circumspect of the many styles he has recorded on his three dozen solo albums.  While undeniably evocative, the pastoral Americana became wearisome.  I waited for a moment of cathartic dissonance that never arrived.

There was plenty of noise at the Gem Theater.  Of the hundreds of exhibitions of improvised music I’ve attended in Kansas City that have attracted more than 100 people, Saturday’s show was the most obtuse and least accessible.  Only a few ticket-holders walked out even though DeJohnette, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist/laptop-ist Matthew Garrison ((yes- that Coltrane, and that Garrison)) kicked up a daringly dense racket.

DeJohnette sounded like himself- that is, nothing like anyone else- as he played martial patterns.  Garrison created the contemporary sonic landscapes associated with Thundercat.  Like almost every other post-bop reed man, Coltrane couldn't avoid referencing his father.

Working primarily from the prickly material on In Movement, the uncompromising trio’s sinister set might have been intended as a murky reflection on our foreboding times.  Only during DeJohnette’s stints at the piano did glimmers of hope flicker inside the Gem Theater.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Now's the Time: Jack DeJohnette

Hearing bassist Matt Garrison and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane reinterpret their fathers’ contributions to “Wise One” in the embedded video is chilling.  Drummer Jack DeJohnette reworks Elvin Jones’ part on a reading of the track from John Coltrane’s 1964 album Crescent.  The lumintous trio will perform at the Gem Theater on Saturday, April 22.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*John Scott of the Green Lady Lounge spoke to Tim Finn of The Kansas City Star about his acquisition of the Tank Room.

*The American Jazz Museum added the Chick Corea Trio and Lalah Hathaway to the lineup of its KC Jazz & Heritage Festival.  C.J. Janovy updated her story about the troubled rollout of the forthcoming event for KCUR.

*Joe Klopus surveyed the week in jazz for The Kansas City Star.

*Four albums by Matt Otto are examined by Bird Is the Worm.

*Steve Kraske interviewed Hermon Mehari for KCUR.

*The live music component of Corvino’s Supper Club & Tasting Room is featured near the conclusion of a video report about the new establishment.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Steve Paul- Worth the road trip to hear @PatMetheny in Wichita w: @mattwilsonjazz, Martin Wind and 2nd set with symphony players from Wich State. (photo)

*From a press release: The Kansas City Aviation Department… is teaming up with the American Jazz Museum with a welcome mat like no other: live Kansas City Jazz music… The American Jazz Museum will provide Blue Room jazz club artists who will play during peak arrival times on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm. Aviation Department Facilities Maintenance craftsmen built a small stage in Terminal B by the Southwest Airlines baggage claim where Blue Room jazz musicians can play so visitors will be greeted with Kansas City jazz tunes… The upcoming performance schedule is as follows: Friday, April 21st – John Paul Drum; Sunday, April 23rd – Stan Kessler; Monday, April 24th- Everett Freeman; Friday, April 29th – Eddie Moore; Sunday, April 30th – Kenny Glover.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Concert Review: Agora at the Green Lady Lounge

The Green Lady Lounge might consider serving specialty cocktails replete with umbrellas during performances by Agora.  The new group led by guitarist Matt Hopper plays Brazilian-themed retro-lounge tunes.  While decidedly in the louche tradition of space-age bachelor pad music, the output of Hopper, organist Ken Lovern, percussionist Patrick Conway and drummer Todd Strait resembled the sound of Rosinha de Valença more than Walter Wanderley at the venue last week.  Agora returns to the Green Lady Lounge on Tuesday, April 18.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Now's the Time: The Kandinsky Effect

The Kandinsky Effect, a trio with members based in New York and Paris, will perform at the Riot Room on Friday, April 14.  The group suggests that it forges a “sonic journey through 21st century jazz dreamtime.”  Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle and the Xtraordinair$, the production team of Leonard Dstroy & Dominique Sanders, open the show.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Larry Kopitnik reports that John Scott, the owner of the Kansas City jazz venue the Green Lady Lounge, has acquired the nearby Tank Room.

*The text accompanying a photo spread in The Kansas City Star characterizes the Green Lady Lounge as “the epicenter of the city.”

*Pat Metheny is among the marquee acts at this month’s Wichita Jazz Festival.

*Herbie Hancock and an all-star band will perform at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on August 12.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Jon Batiste- I'm honored to receive the American Jazz Museum Lifetime Achievement Award. It is a privilege to represent our culture. (photo)

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- The McCaslin show was outstanding. Thanks for getting the word out.

*From Chris Burnett: We are pleased to announce that the "Live at the Hollywood Theater" artist selections for the 2017 and 2018 seasons are confirmed as follows: 2017 - May: Queen Bey; 2017 - Nov: Megan Birdsall; 2018 - May: Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle; 2018 - Nov: Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Concert Review: Donny McCaslin at the Folly Theater

Donny McCaslin raised the bar at the Folly Theater on Friday.  Receptive members of the audience of about 300 are likely to judge all future jazz performances by the exceedingly high standard set by McCaslin and his three collaborators.

McCaslin, a New York-based tenor saxophonist, keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Jonathan Maron and drummer Mark Guiliana, played two sets of electronica-laced post-bop that made the work of many jazz musicians seem hopelessly passé and stiflingly inhibited.

The group (with Maron of Groove Collective filling in for Tim Lefebvre) became a sensation by providing the core sound of David Bowie’s 2016 swan song Blackstar.  A rendition of the album’s “Lazarus” proved that McCaslin’s ensemble could reproduce the sonic attack without studio trickery.  They closed the transcendent show with a frenetic reading of Bowie’s “Look Back in Anger.”

McCaslin used a number of effects to manipulate his bruising playing, but an extended unaccompanied solo during “Memphis Redux” indicated that his unadorned tone is also astonishing.  Linder’s contributions- an unlikely combination of the electronic funk artist Flying Lotus and Rick Wakeman of Yes- indicated that progressive rock can be surprisingly sexy.

While revelatory, I fear that the decisive concert further diminished my already limited tolerance for cautious, commonplace jazz.

Set list: Shake Loose, Glory, untitled new song, Lazarus, Fast Future, untitled new song, Memphis Redux, Look Back in Anger

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Now's the Time: Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste, 30, will be presented with the American Jazz Museum's 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Gem Theater on Friday, April 7.  A statement issued by the institution declares that "Batiste’s significant strides in jazz at such a young age place him in historic company with other acclaimed artists, like Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald."  You be the judge.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Downbeat reviewed Bobby Watson’s forthcoming Made in America album.

*Jessie Riggins praised a collaboration between the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and the Kansas City Chorale.

*Joe Klopus highlights the week’s jazz events for The Kansas City Star.

*Eater magazine reports on the live music component of Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room.

*The Jefferson City News Tribune interviewed Hermon Mehari.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Urban Music Scene LISTEN To Guitarist Norman Brown’s Duet With Chanté Moore “Holding You” from New Album "Let it Go" Coming April 14! (link)

*From a press release: On April 25 David Basse will begin a year-long weekly engagement on Tuesdays with Jim Lower’s 18 piece Big Band at Jazz Nebula inside Californos Westport. With a full dinner menu and an intimate setting, this new nightspot will provide dinner and a true focus on live jazz, an element that has long been missing from the Kansas City Jazz Scene… David’s long successful run as host of The Jazz Scene on Kansas Public Radio, which also began 16 years ago, now appears to be coming to an end. Due to recent state budget cuts, Saturday, June 24, will be the final day of the popular radio program.

*From a press release: On Wednesday, April 12, 2017, the American Jazz Museum will host a book launch event for local author... Steve Penn’s new book Last Call: A History of the Kansas City CODA Jazz Fund. (T)he program (is) at 6:30pm (and) includes a guest appearance from Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, and performance by Adam Galblum, a Kansas City instrumentalist… As part of the program, Mrs. Blanche Williams, the  widow of Claude "Fiddler" Williams, will officially gift her late husband’s violin to the American Jazz Museum.  Last Call: A History of the Kansas City CODA Jazz Fund features biographies and photos of many of the musicians for whom the organization has provided funeral services and burials. The CODA Jazz Fund pays these expenses for area jazz musicians whose families can't afford the cost.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Charlie Parker had been dead for more than 30 years when the current incarnation of the New York jazz club Birdland opened on 44th Street in 1981.  Even so, I was filled with hometown pride that had nothing to do with Bird as I listened to the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra from a $30 seat at the venue's bar in Manhattan on Sunday.  The three percussionists that propel the accomplished 18-piece ensemble are peerless, but many members of the band didn’t seem capable of outplaying the top Kansas City based jazz musicians. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Now's the Time: Donny McCaslin

Donny McCaslin is on a roll.  The New York based saxophonist’s 2015 album Fast Future and Blackstar, his surprise collaboration with David Bowie that was released in 2016, are among the most bracing albums of the last two years.   The astounding performance in the embedded video reveals why his appearance at the Folly Theater on Friday, April 7., is likely to be a highlight of the 2017 jazz calendar.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Karrin Allyson will perform a free concert during Topeka’s Sunflower Music Festival on Monday, June 12.  Her tour itinerary also includes a date at the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival on Friday, May 26.

*Stereogum included Hermon Mehari’s debut album in a roundup of compelling new jazz releases.

*Steve Lambert performed the National Anthem prior to a game in the men’s basketball tournament at the Sprint Center last weekend.

*Chris Burnett examines his artistic process.

*An Oakland outlet profiled Angela Wellman, a musician once based in Kansas City.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Hermon Mehari- "Bleu" debuts on @billboard Jazz Charts at #22: … #billboard #billboardjazz #bleu

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Thank you for doing this for so many years.

*From a press release: In celebration of Women in Jazz Month, Pablo Sanhueza has invited Jackie Zamora to join the KC Latin Jazz All-Stars at the Blue Room. Jackie is a lead vocalist with the New Mexico Latin Jazz Orchestra... The evening will feature pieces co-arranged by Ms. Zamora… Sponsored by the American Jazz Museum, and led by Pablo Sanhueza, The Kansas City Latin Jazz All-Stars has delivered authentic, traditional dance floor latin music for fourteen years… Free admission, all-ages show. Thursday, March 30, 2017 7pm

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Confessions of a Jazz Blogger

A prominent member of Kansas City’s jazz community recently asked to meet with me.  I’ve created a crib sheet that lays out a few of my core beliefs to make our forthcoming discussion more efficient.

1. Jazz isn’t inherently superior to other forms of music.  I spend at least as much time listening to hip-hop as jazz.

2. Professed jazz advocates who wax poetic about “America’s classical music” and “America’s gift to the world” are either hucksters or dolts.

3. Pleas for jazz education leave me cold.  All forms of music are equally accessible in 2017.  Nothing prevents those who prefer Ed Sheeran and Future from listening to or aspiring to be Brad Mehldau and Ambrose Akinmusire.  People aren’t consuming jazz simply because the music doesn’t move them, not because they don’t understand it or are unaware of its existence.

4. I’m rarely more distressed than when I’m attending a jazz performance that doesn’t appeal to me.  Bad punk rock can be enormously entertaining.  Poorly rendered jazz is insufferable.

5. A member of my immediate family has suggested that my presence acts as a deterrent to younger and more fashion-conscious people who might otherwise frequent jazz clubs.

6. I’d rather read old newspapers at home than attend a reverent tribute concert.

7. Plastic Sax is partly intended to share the good news about Kansas City’s jazz scene.  I’ve failed in that mission.  Attendance at jazz events continues to decline.  Meanwhile, lip service about the city’s jazz legacy is louder than ever.

8. Jazz musicians can be their own worst enemies.  Between unseemly album covers, self-defeating sheepishness, misguided decisions to boycott streaming services and infighting with one another (not to mention initiating feuds with jazz bloggers), it’s a wonder that interest in their music isn’t even lower.

9. The words “workshop,” “clinic,” “pedagogy” and “adjudicate” make my eyes glaze over.

10. Why do I persist?  I’ve posted almost 1,500 times at Plastic Sax in the past 11 years.  I continue to believe that documentation is important.  Besides, no other outlet is covering the scene in a way that reflects my perspective.  I respect the music far too much to treat it like a hothouse flower.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Now's the Time: Sherry Scott

Sherry Scott, a member of an early incarnation of Earth, Wind & Fire, will sing at the Blue Room on Saturday, March 25.  She battles an inattentive crowd in the embedded video.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The American Jazz Museum has modified the price of tickets to its forthcoming Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Single day tickets were originally $50.  Prospective attendees now have an option to buy $25 main stage tickets and $15 passes to the Blue Room for each day.

*Joe Klopus considered the week in jazz.

*George Benson and Kenny G will perform at Muriel Kauffman Theatre on May 24.

*Hermon Mehari’s Bleu and Iberica, a collaboration between Matt Otto and Alaturka, were released last week.

*Jessie Riggins reviewed the Jazz 100 concert at Yardley Hall.

*KCUR aired a segment on Everette DeVan last week.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Brian Scarborough- Just caught Jazz 100 with @DaniloPerezJAZZ and company. Great music with an incredible lineup! Thanks for stopping in KC! #jazz

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Concert Review: Jazz 100 at Yardley Hall

I entered Yardley Hall with a chip on my shoulder on Sunday.  The promotional campaign for the "Jazz 100" concert at Yardley Hall exasperated me.  Instead of highlighting the names of the participants, the front of a postcard mailing for the event read "celebrating 100th birthdays of Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaria and Thelonious Monk.”  Other marketing efforts for the final event of the Jazz Winterlude festival also treated members of the all-star band as irrelevant afterthoughts.

I didn’t buy a $30 ticket to honor the dead.  Instead, I was eager to hear the vivacious work of the all-star band assembled by pianist Danilo Pérez.  Vocalist Lizz Wright, saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, bassist Ben Street, percussionist Roman Diaz and drummer Adam Cruz played as if they were eager to prove that vibrant jazz wasn’t exclusive to the previous century. 

The extended duet between Perez and Cohen that opened the concert dispelled my concerns.  Rather than attempting to evoke Gillespie, Cohen played in the meditative style documented on his most recent album for the ECM label.  His bandmates were similarly unburdened by the format.  Wright sounded nothing like Fitzgerald when she applied her gorgeous voice to selections including the obscure civil rights song ”It’s Up To Me and You”.

Perez’s solo rendition of “‘Round Midnight” contained none of Monk’s idiosyncrasies.  Even if Diaz wanted to approach Santamaria faithfully during his turn in the spotlight, there was no way the band would have allowed it.  The only familiar arrangement of the 90-minute concert was assigned to “Well, You Needn’t”, but Potter’s extended solo pushed well beyond John Coltrane's exploration.

With the exceptions of Street and Cruz, each member of the band had at least one such opportunity to display their core strength.  Rather than clashing, consequently, the radically mismatched frontline of Potter, Cohen and Gordon provided engaging variety.  Anyone in the audience of more than 500 who had hoped to revisit the 1950s was almost certainly disappointed.  I walked out of Yardley Hall on cloud nine.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Now's the Time: Dianne Reeves

The seasoned vocalist Dianne Reeves returns to Kansas City for a concert at the Gem Theater on Saturday, March 25.  Her most recent album includes covers of songs associated with Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Dick Hawk, the jazz enthusiast who owned the Gaslight Grill, has died.

*The announcement and subsequent retraction that Janelle Monaé would be the primary headliner of the KC Jazz & Heritage Festival occurred on February 22.  A statement issued by the American Jazz Museum that day suggested that "(i)t is the Museum's hope to announce the new headliner in the next 3 weeks."  That was three weeks ago today.

*Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott is in town and is sitting in at a few gigs this week.

*DownBeat magazine covered the celebration of Pat Metheny at last weekend’s Alternative Guitar Summit.

*Tweet o’ the Week: KC Parks Board- #KCParks Board approves agreement with @americanjazzkc for Jazz & Heritage Festival on The Paseo from Truman to 19th on #MemorialDayWeekend

*From a press release: The American Jazz Museum is thrilled to welcome nationally acclaimed Louisiana pianist, Jon Batiste, to accept its 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony will take place in the Gem Theater on Friday, April 7, 2017, at 8:00pm... Batiste is currently the house bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert... Batiste’s significant strides in jazz at such a young age place him in historic company with other acclaimed artists, like Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald…  During the ceremony, several notable local musicians will perform to honor Batiste… Tickets are $45 for the Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony…

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Theater Review: Live Bird at the Green Lady Lounge

Charlie Parker was resuscitated at the Orion Room of the Green Lady Lounge for about an hour last Friday.  Unfortunately, the jazz legend didn’t have anything new to say.  Jeff Robinson fully inhabits the character of the troubled genius in his one man show Live Bird.   Yet the lack of dramatic tension in the narrative vignette and the bromidic accolades about Kansas City’s jazz heyday are uninspiring.  The show becomes fully engaging only when Robinson picks up a saxophone.  Four patrons took in the play that was given an inadvertently appropriate soundtrack by the jazz band playing upstairs.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Now's the Time: Jazz 100

The good news: an all-star band consisting of vocalist Lizz Wright, saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist Ben Street, percussionist Roman Diaz  and drummer Adam Cruz will perform at Johnson County Community College on Sunday, March 19.  The bad news: the concert is billed as "Jazz 100," a "celebration of the centennial birthdays of Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaria and Ella Fitzgerald."  The embedded video indicates that the musicians are capable of transcending the dubious concept.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Jessie Riggins critiqued the appearance by Cyrus Chestnut and Warren Wolf at the Folly Theater.

*The week in jazz is surveyed by Joe Klopus.

*Alaturka’s concert at Polsky Theatre was reviewed by Mike Alley.

*Oleta Adams duets with José James on the closing track of his new album Love in a Time of Madness.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Shireen- Got a free ticket to listen to the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra perform at the Kauffman Center tonight. Amazing!!!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Just Another Night

Inspired after updating The Kansas City Jazz Calendar, I went club-hopping along the 18th Street corridor last Thursday.

The outing began at the Blue Room, where the visiting guitarist Anthony Wilson was sitting in with a group led by saxophonist Matt Otto.  Although there was no cover charge, only about 20 people heard Wilson do things with his instrument that may never have been done before. 

My admiration for Otto’s art is well documented, including a rave review for his latest album a few weeks ago.  Vocalist Shay Estes’ impressive delivery of “Old Devil Moon” evoked Marilyn Maye. 

While it was tempting to stick around for the second set, I was eager to check out the scene at Madrigall, the Oak Street venue that’s weathered various incarnations in recent years.  Kurt Wheeler’s band played for about 15 people in the first half of a double bill topped by Robert Castillo’s group.  Wheeler’s quintet sounded like a hard-bop ensemble that had been binging on dusty albums by fusion groups like Spyro Gyra. 

I took a seat in a low slung chair that might have been described as “mod” in 1973.  The orderly rows of throwback furniture caused Madrigall to resemble the world’s most fashionable bus station.

The doorman was flummoxed by my quick exit.   I’d paid $7 to hear only 20 minutes of Wheeler’s band.  I didn’t tell him that I was headed to the nearby Green Lady Lounge, the upscale jazz emporium that never charges a cover.

Danny Embrey, a guitarist capable of putting a scare into Wilson, was in the midst of fearsome solo as I entered.  Powered by drummer Todd Strait, Embrey, second guitarist Brian Baggett and organist Ken Lovern provided a rambunctious soundtrack to the revelry of a few dozen patrons.

My energizing 90-minute outing further verified Kansas City’s reputation as a stronghold of immensely talented but woefully under-appreciated jazz musicians.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Now's the Time: Cyrus Chesnutt

Cyrus Chestnut has replaced Aaron Diehl as the featured pianist for Saturday’s concert at the Folly Theater.  While both men are devoted to honoring the jazz tradition, the pianists have substantially different musical (and sartorial) styles.  Chestnut demonstrates his bluesy approach in the embedded video.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Hermon Mehari’s solo debut album Bleu will be released on March 17.

*Joe Klopus examines the week’s jazz events for The Kansas City Star.

*Project H is on the lineup of NextBop’s “Jazz For the Masses” party in Austin.

*A blogger shared a wishlist of compatible artists capable of attracting the large audiences that would justify the $50-per-day entry fee of the American Jazz Museum’s forthcoming festival.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Roach Ellington- SHAME on KC JAZZ folks lying on Janelle Monae

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated for March.

*From a press release: The University of Kansas School of Music presents the 40th Annual KU Jazz Festival concerts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4 in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union. This year’s featured guest artist is guitarist Anthony Wilson… The March 3 concert features Wilson with the award-winning KU Jazz Ensemble I and the KU Jazz Festival All-Star Band… The March 4 concert will present Wilson in a small group setting, including leading a KU/Kansas City-based version of the acclaimed Anthony Wilson Nonet. KU faculty members Matt Otto, T.J. Martley, Danny Embrey, Jeff Harshbarger and Brandon Draper and graduate teaching assistant Chuck MacKinnon will perform with the nonet, along with Kansas City musicians Brett Jackson, Marcus Lewis and Zak Pischnotte. Opening the concert will be the Matt Otto Combo, the top small group within the KU Jazz Studies Program… Tickets for each concert are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $10 with a KU ID.

*From a press release: In their most recent project, Save Art has partnered with instrument builder Mike Corrigan and members of the New Orleans jazz community to produce a first-of-its-kind trumpet handcrafted with materials sourced from building affected by natural disasters, gentrification and housing redevelopment projects in New Orleans… The trumpet will begin a nationwide museum tour kicking off in Kansas City, the home of the American Jazz Museum.  Corrigan discussed the project with a television personality.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Concert Review: Alaturka at Polsky Theatre

Tenor saxophonist Rich Wheeler opened Alaturka’s concert at Polsky Theatre on Sunday with an incantation that resembled an adhan, the Islamic call to worship.  His conjuring was an exceedingly welcome sound to adherents of the Kansas City based Turkish jazz group.

Alaturka commanded an inordinate amount of coverage at Plastic Sax in the first half of this decade.  Yet the innovative band has been out of commission lately.  Aside from a mention in a review of a 2016 Brandon Draper album, Alaturka hasn’t been cited at this site in a couple years.  About 100 people purchased $20 tickets to attend Sunday's reunion. 

Wheeler’s playing evoked Pharoah Sanders by way of Joe Henderson.  Beau Bledsoe wielded a Turkish oud with his customary fastidiousness.  Bassist Jeff Harshbarger contributed a smoky pulse that contrasted with Brandon Draper’s peripatetic percussion.  The addition of violinist Zsolt Eder on a few intriguing selections transformed Alaturka into a chamber music group. 

Bledsoe joked that he and his colleagues no longer resemble the men in the dated publicity photo on the cover of the program.  Their visages may have changed since the formation of the band in 2007, but the men in Alaturka sound as magnificent as ever.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Now’s Not the Time: Janelle Monáe

The ordinarily forsaken office of the Kansas City jazz blog Plastic Sax has been inundated with inquiries from people who don’t know Ben Webster from Bruno Mars.  Hours after announcing that hometown hero Janelle Monáe would be the primary headliner of its new festival, the American Jazz Museum was forced to issue a retraction.  A press release from the institution insists that "we would never intentionally release false information... The museum takes full responsibility for what happened."  I've been unable to explain the baffling blunder to the associates who have turned to me for insights.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*As first reported by Plastic Sax last month, The Pitch has confirmed that Janelle Monáe will headline the American Jazz Museum’s Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival in May.  Trombone Shorty, John Scofield, Regina Carter, Brandy and the Hot Sardines are among the additional headliners.  Details were published by The Pitch today.  EDIT- From an American Jazz Museum press release dated February 22: This morning we were very proud to announce the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival. Unfortunately, we must retract the statement of Janelle Monae performing at the Jazz Festival. Janelle was not confirmed for the event and was incorrectly advertised.

*Jazz vocalist and social activist Barbara Dane performed at the Folk Alliance conference in Kansas City last week.

*Bird lives?

*Tweet o’ the Week: Mena May- @robertglasper I'm sitting in the audience  at the Folly theater with my jaw wide open! #signothetimes  #genius 😘❤️#love

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dominique Sanders in the Spotlight

Less than 18 hours after flying high at a concert with the jazz titan Robert Glasper for an audience of hundreds at the Folly Theater, Dominique Sanders had a soft landing at the Green Lady Lounge on Sunday afternoon.  The Kansas City based bassist excelled during a lightly attended matinee show as a member of the Paul Shinn Trio.  The setting may have been less momentous, but Sanders demonstrated the formidably versatile talent that helped land him Saturday's prestigious gig. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Now's the Time: Robert Glasper

In a preview for Robert Glasper’s concert at the Folly Theater on Saturday, February 18, a writer for The Kansas City Star suggested that the native Texan is "the most important jazz musician of his generation."  While he’s best known for his forays into funk and R&B, the embedded video demonstrates Glasper’s sensitivity in more conventional jazz modes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The smooth jazz artist Richard Elliot and the Celtic rock band the Elders are the headliners of the 2017 edition of Jazz in the Woods.

*Joe Klopus previewed Robert Glasper’s concert at the Folly Theater.  Also, the venue initially indicated that Glasper would be accompanied by saxophonist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg.  Instead, he’ll be joined by bassist Brandon Owens and drummer Damion Reid on Saturday.

*The Kansas City Star posted a photo gallery of jazz-related images.

*Tweet o’ the Week: American Jazz Museum- Spent the afternoon at Roasterie cupping a new coffee blend for the Museum ☕️

*From the American Jazz Museum: Celebrate birthdays of local and national jazz musicians with the American Jazz Museum on Friday, February 17, 2017 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm. This month celebrates the contributions of local musicians Myra Taylor and Ben Kynard through musical performance and unveils a mini-poster exhibition about our honorees. Join us for cake, music, dancing, and a celebration of Kansas City's unique jazz sound! The program is free and open to the public, and will take place in the Gem Theater…

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Spring Fever

Bobby Watson and Deborah Brown, the King and Queen of Kansas City's jazz scene, are dropping new albums.

Watson’s Made In America, slated to be issued by Smoke Sessions Records on April 21, is billed as "a musical portrait gallery of nine influential African-Americans."  The saxophonist is accompanied by pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Curtis Lundy, and drummer Lewis Nash on the thematic recording.

Brown’s Kansas City, Here I Come, a project recorded last year in Poland with a string section and guest vocalist Kevin Mahogany, is apparently out now.  The American album release show is at the Blue Room on March 11. 

These two albums, along with the recent release of Matt Otto’s Reunion and the Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet’s Echoes of Europe, reflect the ongoing artistic vitality of the area’s jazz community.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Now's the Time: Bruce Barth

Bruce Barth, an accomplished mainstream pianist based in New York City, will perform at the Blue Room on Saturday, February 11.  In addition to contributing to Karrin Allyson's 2006 album Footprints, Barth has played on recordings by the likes of Terence Blanchard, René Marie and Luciana Souza.  Barth will be joined by bassist Dave Baron and drummer Montez Coleman at the Blue Room.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*UMKC recognized Hermon Mehari as an “outstanding” alumnus.

*The Ensemble of Irreproducible Outcomes released Silo City: 20 September 2016 last week.

*From Brian Scarborough: I have been named one of three finalists for the International Trombone Association’s J.J. Johnson Jazz Trombone Competition.  This summer, I will travel to Redlands, California for the live finals round at the 2017 International Trombone Festival.

*A television news team reported on the fire that tore through the Jazz District last week.  The Kansas City Star provided additional information on the status of the damaged buildings.

*Joe Klopus previewed a forthcoming Pieces of a Dream concert at the Gem Theater.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Sigrah- Whiskey neat and jazz in a dark KC club with @onhellmusic and @nataliehandslol this is vibes

*From Paul Shinn: We've got a nice run of shows coming up… I've moved back to KC for a month from Colorado until I'll be moving to NYC Feb. 26th… We will have some new original music to play for you all that we recorded in December of 2016. This music was recorded in a quintet format along with Logan Richardson on saxophone and Gabriel Mervine on trumpet… February 16th--Blue Room; February 17th & 18th--Majestic Restaurant; February 19th 2:30-5:30pm --Green Lady Lounge.

(Original image of a fire-damaged building in the Jazz District by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Album Review: Matt Otto and Andy Ehling- Reunion

The reticent Kansas City musician Matt Otto continues to verify his rarefied talent.  Reunion, the new album he co-leads with the Bay Area saxophonist Andy Ehling, is sublime. 

As on their 2008 album Returning, the duo successfully updates the deceptively transgressive West Coast sound associated with Jimmy Giuffre. 

Thorny tracks including “Twain” and “Lenigh” intimate dissonance, but the insistence of a stalwart rhythm section prevents the saxophonists from venturing too far afield. 

The grooves laid down by bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Brad Williams could be mistaken for the work of internationally acclaimed tandems like Harish Raghavan and Nasheet Waits.  Playing a Fender Rhodes, the New York based keyboardist Leonard Thompson adds complementary splashes of impressionistic colors.

Subtly luminous, Reunion may be even more remarkable than Soliloquy, the excellent album Otto released in 2016.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Now's the Time: The Creighton Organization

Thousands of people know the Creighton Organization only as the conspiracy of jazz cats who entertain passersby on 18th Street during warm First Fridays celebrations in the Crossroads District.  The organ ensemble led by Dave Creighton will play a more orderly gig at The Ship on Wednesday, February 8.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Blue Room has seemingly shifted to a no cover policy for weekend shows by locally-based musicians.

*All About Jazz reviewed Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet’s Echoes of Europe.

*A television station shared a document indicating that officials at Kansas City International Airport are “(w)orking on a plan to bring live jazz performances to the terminals in conjunction with Big 12 Basketball Tourment.”

*Tweet o’ the Week: Marcus Lewis- Thanks to all who came out and showed love last night! We really need a super rich person to fund a tour! LOL…

*Comment o’ the Week: Jeremy- Thanks for the heads up about "The Birth of Cool." I just bought a ticket, and it'll be my first time at The Gem. I wish that it was on a weekend night, but it sounds good enough for the drive from Topeka.

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated with all of the February gigs that have been posted by area venues as of 8 a.m. on February 1.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Janelle Monáe to Headline the American Jazz Museum's Festival on Memorial Day Weekend

Janelle Monáe will be a headliner at a three-day festival hosted by the American Jazz Museum on Memorial Day weekend.

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the institution’s Executive Director, recently shared the big news with a group of Rotarians.  At the 10:00 mark in the embedded video, Kositany-Buckner reveals that “one of the people who are acting in Hidden Figures” will perform at the revived event.  She's correct to characterize Monáe as “a huge, huge headliner.”

The native of Kansas City, Kansas, hasn’t appeared in the area since a concert at the Uptown Theater on November 15, 2013.  The show attracted a less-than-capacity audience of 1,800, but Monáe’s star has risen further in the last three years. 

Monáe may not perform jazz, but the era in which jazz artists headlined popular, ticketed “jazz” festivals in the United States is over.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Now's the Time: The Marcus Lewis Big Band

The big band led by trombonist Marcus Lewis is slated to return to the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum on Monday, January 30.  Lewis introduces the members of the ensemble in the embedded clip.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCPT produced a seven-minute segment about Eddie Moore.

*Tweet o’ the Week: ARC Music- ALERT: Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet's "Echoes of Europe" All About Jazz review is publishing on Jan 26.

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Say what??? Checking the calendar, I see that the Roger Wilder quartet was at the Blue Room last Thursday. I've never been less that thoroughly impressed with any group that Roger is leading. He's so hip, it ought to be against the law! Your dismissive review of his quartet's performance makes me question whether I want to continue reading this blog.

*From a press release: The Birth of the Cool was released in mid-February 1957 as a compilation LP by Capitol Records. the selections come from recordings made by Miles Davis, Max Roach, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz and others in 1949-50. While these tracks had been previously issued as 78 rpm singles, the LP release gave a name to a movement of young musicians who were playing this new "cool" style of bebop… The band for this presentation at the American Jazz Museum includes:Hermon Mehari - trumpet, Marcus Lewis - trombone, Forest Stewart - horn, Bill McKemy - tuba, Dan Thomas - alto sax, Todd Wilkinson - bari sax, Phil Dunlap - piano, Jeff Harshbarger - bass, Todd Strait - drums. Pianist Phil Dunlap will give a short talk on the history of Birth of the Cool during the program. Feb. 16, Gem Theater. Tickets $5 student/$10 general admission. Reception at 6:00 p.m., performance at 6:30.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 22, 2017


 I was pleased with my plan when I left home last Thursday evening.  The idea of hitting a jazz show at the Blue Room after hearing poet Hanif Abdurraqib speak at the Black Archives seemed sound. 

I was wrong.  The author’s electrifying reading made the jazz performance seem grotesquely banal.

Although he employed the cadences associated with jazz poetry, Abdurraqib didn’t make any references to the music.  Instead, his poems mentioned contemporary pop culture icons like Beyoncé, Big Freedia and Kanye West.  He addressed topics like the devastating consequences of the heroin epidemic, the violent action in the pit at punk rock shows and the emotional impact of racial profiling. 

Transfixed by Abdurraqib’s candor, the high school and college students who dominated the audience of about 50 snapped their fingers in appreciation.

One block away at the Blue Room, a mannerly quartet played elegant readings of Miles Davis and John Coltrane compositions for a handful of middle-aged jazz fans.  Courtly rather than contentious, the performance possessed none of the immediacy of Abdurraqib’s poetry.

I’d initially hoped that the poet would join me at the Blue Room.  I'm glad he didn’t show up.  Abdurraqib chronicles the most vibrant aspects of American life.  There was nothing worthy of his consideration at the Blue Room.

(Original image of Abdurraqib at the Black Archives by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Now's the Time: Stan Kessler and Todd Strait

Stan Kessler and Todd Strait, mainstays of the Kansas City Jazz Calendar, give a compelling clinic on the subject of time in the embedded video.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR reviewed Echoes of Europe, the new album by the Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet.

*Ramsey Lewis' concert at the Gem Theater was reviewed by The Kansas City Star.

*Lisa Henry and Ryan Lee discussed the impact of the church on their music with Tim Finn of The Kansas City Star.

*The festival formerly known as Jazz in the Woods is returning to a smooth jazz format in 2017.  Organizers recently made an initial lineup announcement.

*Brian Ellison interviewed Ramsey Lewis for KCUR.

*Jessie Riggins examined the spring jazz calendar.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Moi- Last night I waited on Marilyn Maye and she ordered an apple martini with Citron and called me Honey all night

*From a press release: On Saturday, January 21, 2017, the David Basse-Joe Cartwright Septet, which includes musicians from the UMKC Jazz Studies Program, will present Step-Buddy-Be-Bop at 8:00 p.m. at the MTH Theater…  Originally from St. Louis, Bernard “Step Buddy” Anderson was a colorful jazz figure who helped to change the course of jazz. A multi-instrumentalist, Buddy introduced trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker… We celebrate the Kansas City jazz tradition with the music of the David Basse-Joe Cartwright Septet, and the photography and memorabilia of Bernard “Step Buddy” Anderson… Reserved ticket seats are $20.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Concert Review: Paula Saunders at First Baptist Church

I have an extremely low tolerance for nostalgia.  After Paula Saunders repeated an assertion that the music of earlier eras was superior to the music of today, I walked out on her appearance in the Jazz Vespers series at First Baptist Church last Sunday.  If she didn’t believe in the essential vitality of her renditions of standards, why should I?  Deborah Brown, Karrin Allyson and Marilyn Maye are among the vocalists with area ties who specialize in making decades-old songs seem crucial.  Saunders used her lovely voice to mimic her favorite interpretations of familiar songs including “All of Me,” “Fly Me To the Moon” and “Summertime” in the first 30 minutes of her outing.  Admirable support from keyboardist Desmond Mason, bassist Blair Bryant and drummer Justin McCoy couldn't convince me to stick around.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Now's the Time: The Sextet

There’s a new band in town.  The Sextet plays its first area show at the Tank Room on Friday, January 13, since bandleader Robert Castillo relocated the un-Googleable “groove jazz” ensemble from Portland to Kansas City.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus scrutinized the week in jazz in his latest column.

*Monique Gabrielle Salazar reviewed Megan Birdsall's new Americana album.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Jack Shafer- From Nat Hentoff I learned Charlie Parker's love of country music. He loved the stories.

*Comment o’ the Week: Chris Burnett- Thanks for the note about the release of "Echoes of Europe"!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ready For Eddie

Jazz has returned to the heart of the Country Club Plaza.  The newly opened upscale restaurant Eddie V’s features jazz musicians in its cocktail lounge seven nights a week.

I recently monitored the scene while savoring a couple $11 mulled beverages.  The chatter of patrons who didn’t seem to know or care that a band was playing was disruptive, but the sound was excellent otherwise.  One graceful couple took advantage of the dance floor.  The trio of prominent musicians deviated from a pleasing selection of standards to accommodate a request for a Billy Joel song.

Aside from the incompatible blues-rock that was piped in during the band’s break, every element of the experience validated my investment in the pricey drinks.  I intend to made a beeline for Eddie V’s the next time expendable money is burning a hole in the pocket my dress slacks.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Now's the Time: Ramsey Lewis

Ramsey Lewis, the octogenarian who is one of the most notable crossover artists in the history of jazz, returns to the Gem Theater on Saturday, January 14.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

 *Mike Warren reviewed A La Mode’s new album C’est Si Bon for KCUR.

*Jeff Harshbarger, Hermon Mehari and Dominique Sanders contributed year-end top music lists to The Kansas City Star.

*The Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet’s Echoes of Europe was released on January 2.

*Bob Bowman now has a proper website. 

*Dean Minderman compiled a thorough collection of ”Best Jazz of 2016” lists.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Matt Hopper- My trio has moved to Monday's at @GreenLadyLounge 6-10pm. New year & new tunes!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017


I’ve resolved to become fluent in Spanish for years.  It hasn't happened.  Accordingly, the following jazz-oriented New Year’s resolutions may be little more than wishful thinking.

Jazz and cocktails.  Jazz listening rooms may be scarce in Kansas City, but plenty of jazz musicians find work providing background music in cocktail lounges.  I’ll attempt to overcome my bias against these settings. 

Back to the future.  My left of center inclinations can be a liability in a town that prizes mainstream swing.  I intend to give straight-ahead players more equitable coverage in 2017.

Ballyhoo.  My assumption that everyone with a passing interest in jazz in Kansas City has stumbled across Plastic Sax may be mistaken.  Although it’s against my nature, I resolve to promote Plastic Sax more diligently.

Grooming.  Plastic Sax was the first site in Kansas City to compile a thorough list of jazz-related links when it was founded in 2007.  It’s been some time since I culled the dead, dormant and extraneous links in the column to the right.

Running total.  My compulsion to publish attendance figures continues to irritate musicians and venue owners.  I’ll consider playing down unflattering turnout figures.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)