Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City Star reports that the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s fall and winter concerts are among the few events still on the books at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

*No musicians from Kansas City are among the more than five dozen winners named in the 2020 DownBeat Critic’s Poll.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Eda Karat- Kansas City you gotta quit sleeping on jazz, it's such an important part of our history there

*From a press release: Over 25 Kansas City-based musicians came together to create Kansas City Syzygy, a compilation of music created during the shutdown of the world in the Spring of 2020… The nineteen songs on the album span the entire spectrum of music… The album can be purchased from Bandcamp beginning July 17, 2020. All proceeds will be donated to KC Tenants… Trevor Turla, Jeff Harshbarger, Robert Castillo, John Kizilarmut and We the People are among the jazz-related artists contributing to the project.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Album Review: Steve Cardenas- Blue Has a Range

Pat Metheny employs a vast sonic canvas on From This Place.  I praise Metheny's evocation of the “incalculable immensity of space” in my review of his new album.  Steve Cardenas, the second most artistically renowned living jazz guitarist from the Kansas City area, takes the opposite approach on Blue Has a Range.  Released on Sunnyside Records on July 10, the album is a dazzling miniature. 

Cardenas and his celebrated collaborators- pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Brian Blade- prove that small-scale refinement can be just as profound as loud flamboyance.  The variations on the blues implied by the title may be subtly articulated, but they express enormous ideas.  Cowherd’s excellent playing emphasizes the influence of Thelonious Monk on Cardenas’ compositions.   All four members of the band leaven their knotty inclinations with thoughtful serenity.

Although “Reflector” is an undeniable earworm, the quiet gracefulness of tracks including “Language of Love” may struggle to capture the attention they deserve in a world dominated by flashiness.  Yet the stunning magnification of intimate beauty will be revealed to listeners willing to pay close attention to the hushed Blue Has a Range.

(Original image of the Mediterranean Sea by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Now's the Time: Born to Swing


What happens when the world moves on decades after you altered the cultural landscape?  The 1973 British documentary “Born to Swing” attempts to answer the question through the prism of the Kansas City jazz diaspora.  Not all 47 minutes of the occasionally grim film are pertinent, but the best segments are essential.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Cardenas’ new album Blue Has a Range will be released on July 10.

*Three news reports- here, here and here- document and analyze recent fatal shootings in the Jazz District.

*A city councilman lobbies for the relaxation of regulations in the Jazz District in an effort to attract party-minded revelers.

*Tweet o’ the Week: James De Noir- I want everybody to tune in this week for the @jazzwalkkc Jazzy Jamdemic Live Stream. I’ll be blessing the stage of the Historic Gem Theater. You don’t want to miss this!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Album Review: Bobby Watson- Keepin’ It Real

Keeping’ It Real arrives as a radiant beacon of hope at a difficult moment.  Bobby Watson’s strongest album in more than two decades offers indispensable inspiration during a time of societal upheaval and lethal pandemic.

Watson’s first release since stepping down as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is a vibrant return to form.  While each of the recordings he made as a leader during the new millennium is good, Keepin’ It Real is on par with the work that made him a vital star worthy of a six-night stand at the Village Vanguard in 1991.

Performing with a new version of Horizon- trumpeters Josh Evans and Giveton Gelin, pianist Victor Gould, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Jones- Watson revives the robust energy and unencumbered joy of his albums for Blue Note Records in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Watson comes out swinging with an incendiary solo on the opening track “Condition Blue.”  His enthusiasm is matched by the fresh-faced pianist and trumpeters and the old-guard bassist and drummer.  Unlike the more innovative faction of Charlie Parker acolytes represented by Rudresh Mahanthappa, Watson sticks with tried-and-true bop.  The conventional approach works.  Watson’s band breathes new life into a stale form throughout Keepin’ It Real.

The album also documents the revival of Watson’s melodic gifts.  The title track and “My Song” (the latter piece first appeared in abbreviated form on 2013’s Check Cashing Day) are among the ebullient compositions likely to join Watson classics like “Wheel Within a Wheel” as modern-day standards.  A pair of ballads provide respite from the frantic pace.  Gould sparkles in Bill Evans’ role on Kind of Blues’s “Flamenco Sketches.”  Watson imbues Donny Hathaway’s gentle protest song “Someday We’ll All Be Free” with a sense of profound yearning.

Watson’s playing is so curative that listeners may wish they could inject it directly into their veins.  Keepin’ It Real may not be a vaccine for the coronavirus or a solution to America’s troubles, but it serves as a wondrous infusion of fulfilling assurance.

(Original image of a Village Vanguard calendar from 1991 by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Now's the Time: Milton Morris


Twelve entertaining minutes of the salty Kansas City raconteur Milton Morris holding court begin at the 1:25 mark of the embedded video.  KC Jazz Lark wrote a fine overview of the colorful character’s ties to Kansas City’s jazz scene.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*UNESCO Creative City KC honored Marcus Lewis with the 2020 American Music International Innovator Award.  The organization cites Lewis’ “leadership and creativity in musical composition, as a creative director for the Marcus Lewis Big Band and for his original compositions fusing the big band jazz tradition of Kansas City with the latest and greatest hip hop from Kemet and Kadesh Flow with Brass and Boujee.”

*A television news reporter previews today’s city council deliberations about the allocation of $7,000,000 additional dollars to the Jazz District.  Tony Botello objects to the prospect of additional government funding for “a doomed district wherein gunfire echoes through the streets far more loudly than jazz.”

*Todd Strait drums on pianist Randy Porter’s new album Porter Plays Frishberg.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Mayor Q- I am deeply disappointed that a festive day ended again in tragedy in my home district at 18th & Vine. Long after establishments had closed, gunfire rang out. We'll pursue every option available to ensure residents and businesses in the area can be safe. (link)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)