Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review: Diverse

Diverse. What an atrocious name for a band! Not surprisingly, the group's song titles are similarly lame.

Those two objections aside, I absolutely adore the self-titled debut album by Diverse. In fact, it's my favorite jazz album recorded in the Kansas city area since Passages, the 2006 release by the late vocalist Gregory Hickman-Williams.

Diverse recalls the pleasant grooves of seventies albums by the Blackbyrds, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. Yet Diverse is anything but a throwback act. The rhythm section, for instance, often implies an keen awareness of hip hop.

Not every note in Bobby Watson's hands-off production is perfect, but everything seems entirely heartfelt and completely honest. It's the musical equivalent of a veteran basketball coach doing little more than tossing a ball on the court and telling his team to play hard. And the five young members of Diverse do just that. Each is an outstanding player, but it's the inventive efforts of drummer Ryan Lee and keyboardist John Brewer that contribute the most to the band's unique identity.

Diverse works best as a cohesive whole; no one moment is definitive. Still, fans of the classic Blue Note sound will be impressed by the opening line of "Vitality." It sounds as if it was pulled from an unreleased Kenny Dorham date. The melodic "B-Day Song" could be mistaken for a Robert Glasper cover of a Chick Corea tune. And Najee would applaud the breezy "Sojourner." The cumulative effect makes Diverse an ideal soundtrack for both backyard barbecues and intimate candlelit dinners.

Diverse doesn't play smooth jazz. But their jazz goes down smooth.

(Original image of Diverse trumpeter Hermon Mehari by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lester Young Centennial

Lester Young was born in Mississippi on August 27, 1909. He became a cultural icon after moving to Kansas City in the 1930s. This distressing 1958 clip shows Young near the bitter end. Although it's artificially stitched together, this stunning footage from 1938 demonstrates that jazz was once an incredibly vital form of popular music. (The best shot of Prez is at 1:38.) And lest we get overly sentimental, this audio interview is a fascinating reminder of Young's salty persona. Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat.

This weekend's Charlie Parker tributes in Kansas City and Blue Summit are previewed by Joe Klopus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR's The Walt Bodine Show focused on Charlie Parker earlier this week. Dennis Winslett and Walter Coppage were the guest experts. Download the broadcast here.

*A feature at the The Smithsonian notes that August 27 would have been Lester Young's 100th birthday. The author wonders why there's no statue of Prez in Kansas City.

*This weekend's Charlie Parker-related events are run down by Mark Edelman.

*Chuck Berg raves about a Topeka Jazz Workshop event.

*Diverse is profiled by Joe Klopus. They also have a great new site. And the group's debut album received a positive review at All Music.

*Here's an extensive interview with Karrin Allyson.

*I'm told that saxophonist Matt Otto has moved to Kansas City.

*Here's a newsworthy Tweet from ARCMusic : Loren Pickford joins ARC... more to follow... (Tip via AZ.)

*I spend a lot of time monitoring Miles Bonny's seemingly constant multimedia attack, but the Pitch featured a wacky live performance video from Berlin that I somehow missed.

*I'm rather embarrassed that I didn't know that Kansas City was hosting the forthcoming Second International Conference on Minimalist Music until today. (Tip via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Big-time jazz writer Howard Mandel reached out to Plastic Sax to solicit support for a forthcoming Twitter and Facebook campaign to counter recent reports suggesting that the audience for jazz is aging and declining. I told Mandel that while I'd link to his effort, I'm afraid I don't see many people under the age of forty at jazz events. Mandel's jazz blog is Jazz Beyond Jazz. (EDIT: Mandel asks fans to Tweet #jazzlives from jazz performances.)

(Original image of last Saturday's Stories On the Vine at the American Jazz Museum by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review: HoraceScope at Jardine's

Joyous and bluesy, the compositions of Connecticut-born Horace Silver have a great deal in common with the soulful swing associated with Kansas City jazz. So it makes perfect sense that several of Kansas City's elite jazz musicians regularly perform Silver's songs under the auspices of HoraceScope.

The group includes trumpeter Stan Kessler, saxophonist Dave Chael, pianist Paul Smith, bassist James Albright and drummer Zack Albetta. (The ensemble lacks a dedicated site, so I'm not entirely certain.) Saxophonist Matt Otto sat in with the band when I caught the group last week at Jardine's.

Silver classics including "Peace" and "The Cape Verdean Blues" were respectfully rendered. But there was a problem.

I had hoped that Jardine's new modest cover charge policy would dissuade idle chatter while musicians were on stage. I was wrong. Many of the 35 people in attendance simply couldn't stop talking.

The cacophony sounded exactly like this. Kessler's solo in the video is lovely. I imagine it would have been even better had he been able to hear himself think.

I would have loved to hear HoraceScope take on "Senor Blues," my favorite Silver song. After thirty minutes, however, both my cash and my patience were depleted.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Social Media Killed the Jazz Film Archive

I've previously expressed skepticism regarding the John Baker Film Collection. The stuff has been moldering in storage for decades. Next month, however, some of the material will finally go on display at the American Jazz Museum.

It would have been a really big deal twenty years ago. Today? Not so much.

Since the acquisition of the collection by the government of Kansas City, Missouri, a virtual revolution has entirely upended the old way of preserving and disseminating media. YouTube is one example. Another, of course, is Plastic Sax, an ad-free blog created by a passionate Kansas City jazz fan.

It's not as if the art documented in the John Baker Film Collection has lost any of its value. Quite the contrary. In 2009, however, people don't need to visit a museum to access similar material. Gems like the clip featured here are available to anyone with an internet connection.

On a related note, a friend of Plastic Sax just forwarded me an email about an intriguing event scheduled for this Saturday, August 22 August 29. The "1st Annual Yardbird Jazz & Film Festival" will take place in the jazz district.

Who knew?

Because the festival doesn't have a site and there's literally no information online, I've uploaded the festival's flyer myself. Grab it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A friend of Plastic Sax contacted both myself and Tony's Kansas City with information indicating that the celebrated jazz program at Lincoln Prep was in jeopardy. Here's Tony's take. A television station seemed to verify the news. This afternoon, Tony suggested that "the jazz director who was cut was reinstated today." Tony takes credit for the good news. And why not?

*Walter Coppage, one of my favorite actors, will portray Charlie Parker in a presentation at the Kansas City Library Tuesday, August 28. Here are the details.

*Hunter Long, a self-described "saxophone/laptop musician" is getting the word out about Black House Improvisors' Collective. Here's a portion of a note he sent me this week: "The Charlotte Street Foundation has recently awarded me the year long use of a large rehearsal space in downtown KC. My proposal was to use the space to hold weekly workshops/rehearsals for area improvisors in an effort to nurture the local jazz/improvised music scene... I want to provide a place for local artists to experiment and take risks without having to please a club owner."

*I'm delighted to have stumbled upon a new Kansas City jazz blog. KCJazzLark features only three entries but I hope she (?) keeps at it. One essay takes Terry Teachout to task. Another celebrates young Kansas City talent. (EDIT- the KCJazzLark is a guy.)

*Megan Birsdsall and the Wild Women of Kansas City were the jazz winners at the Pitch Music Awards. Here's Myra Taylor in action at the event.

*Lee Ingalls was kind enough to alert me to an interview with Rudder. The jazz cats talk about their affiliation with the jam band community. One member of the group suggests that there's a "disregard that some jazz musicians have for their audience."

*Miles Bonny is on tour in Europe again.

*Here's Mark Edelman's weekly jazz column.

*Was Les Paul indirectly responsible for Claude "Fiddler" Williams losing his spot in Basie band? Andrew Zender could probably answer that speculative question. He pays tribute to the late innovator here.

*Jazz fans in Michigan received some bad news. It's another reminder of the need to support Kansas City's three remaining jazz-oriented clubs. (Tip via AZ.)

*Look at the incredible lineup for the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival! Frank Wess, Gary Bartz, Aaron Parks and Cedar Walton are among the luminaries booked at this year's festival. I can't wait! What? Oh- that's right. The annual event is in New York.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grading the 2009-10 Folly and Gem Seasons

Joe Klopus' synopsis in the Star revealed the complete lineup for the new jazz seasons at the Folly and and the Gem theaters.

Rather than fuss about what's not coming to Kansas City, I've elected to grade each booking on its own merit. My entirely arbitrary system is primarily based on my own tastes, but I've also taken each act's commercial viability into account.

Feel free to check my track record. I conducted this exercise with the Folly in 2008 and in 2007. And here is my preview of the Gem's 2008 season.

Eldar- Folly Theater, October 10
In my lukewarm review of an Eldar show four months ago, I indicated that Eldar and his cohorts failed to find their footing. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't think the former Kansas City resident isn't capable of blowing my mind on any given night. I'm a little concerned about empty seats- Eldar's recent run at Jardine's did not sell out.
Grade: A-

Edward Simon- Folly Theater, October 31
Known primarily only to jazz geeks, Edward Simon is an extremely tasteful and stylistically diverse pianist. Unless I'm mistaken, Simon has previously appeared on the Folly's stage as a member of one of Bobby Watson's groups. Artistically, this is a solid booking. Yet I question Simon's ability to fill seats. Not sure about Simon? Check out NPR's stream of a recent Simon concert here. (It's very good.)
Grade: B+

Ken Peplowski- Folly Theater December 18
Expect to see Kansas City's eldest jazz fans turn out en masse to hear Ken Peplowski. He represents the conventional swing-oriented music favored by the sorely missed KCUR radio staple Just Jazz. The clarinetist is an exceptional talent, but he doesn't inspire much passion in these quarters.
Grade: C+

Mark O'Connor- Folly Theater, January 23
Fiddler Mark O'Connor came from the bluegrass world. He's since demonstrated his expertise in classical, country and jazz music. Let's hope he doesn't limit his presentation to the night's ostensible Django Reinhardt theme.
Grade: B+

Dave Frishberg- Folly Theater, February 27
Dave Frishberg is an acquired taste. Sometimes he seems worthy of comparisons to Hoagy Carmichael and Sammy Cahn. Sometimes he's just plain annoying. Honestly, I'm not sure I can make it through a full evening of solo Frishberg. But I'm eager to find out.
Grade: A-

Trio Da Paz- Folly Theater, March 13
I'm an Antonio Carlos Jobim freak. I know, consequently, that his brilliant but delicate compositions can easily turn treacly. This tribute features Trio Da Paz, Harry Allen and Maucha Adnet. This fan footage of the ensemble does nothing to alleviate my skepticism.
Grade: C+

Christian McBride- Folly Theater, April 24
The Folly saves the best for last. The acclaimed bassist Christian McBride is the subject of Downbeat's current cover story. Whether he's playing straight-ahead jazz, funk or fusion, McBride's work is almost always infused with a melodic sense of adventure. McBride will be joined by the top-notch band featured on his new album Kind of Brown.
Grade: A

Jimmy Cobb- Gem Theater, October 17
Call it tribute fatigue. In a recent column, Joe Klopus bemoaned the glut of tributes. (There are way too many here.) I share the sentiment. So forgive me if I fail to contribute to the considerable hype surrounding Jimmy Cobb's celebration of Kind of Blue.
Grade: B+

Maysa and Bilal- Gem Theater, February 13
Line up a date for Valentine's Eve. The double bill of Maysa, perhaps best known as the voice of Incognito, and Bilal, the man behind slow jams like "Soul Sista", should inspire all types of romantic thoughts. Of course, this booking is entirely unrelated to jazz.
Grade: B

Oleta Adams- Gem Theater, March 20
It's about time! Oleta Adams hasn't played a proper show in her hometown in years. Her new album is in the same vein as her tasteful pop hits. Expect a great show. Just don't expect to hear jazz.
Grade: A

The Clayton Brothers Quintet- Gem Theater, April 17
Veterans of the Basie organization, the Clayton Brothers play unassuming mainstream jazz. I'm receptive to a Plastic Sax reader to convincing me otherwise, but my initial expectations for this booking aren't high.
Grade: C+

Clark Terry- Gem Theater, April 30
Eighty-eight-year-old trumpeter Clark Terry is universally beloved. The previous appearance in Kansas City by the Basie and Ellington veteran was canceled due to health issues. This night will be a true celebration.
Grade: A-

The 18th & Vine Big Band with Bobby Watson and Ernie Andrews- Gem Theater, May 8
Bobby Watson is the closest thing Plastic Sax has to a sacred cow. Almost everything he does is wonderful. This night should be no different. The presence of vocalist Ernie Andrews, 81, is a nice touch.
Grade: A-

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Roll 'Em Pete: Remembering Pete Johnson

Boogie-woogie, anyone? Kansas City native Pete Johnson was among the form's premier practitioners. His good-time music was a primary building block in the creation of rock and roll. Here's Joe Turner's hit version of "Roll 'Em Pete." The fatalistic lyric- "you're so beautiful but you got to die someday"- always disarms me. The beautiful (and still living!) Lena Horne introduces Johnson and Albert Ammons in this wonderful video.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Pitch gets the scoop on the Bird Lives Festival. The best news for most fans is that the Mutual Musicians Foundation will host "two outdoor stages with jazz & blues performances" on August 29.

*The Star reports that R Bar, a venue in the West Bottoms, is slated to open later this year. It "will feature jazz and bluegrass bands."

*Jazz blogger Peter Hum riffs on previous Plastic Sax editorials. Our friend Andrew Zender also figures prominently in the Canadian's musings.

*Former Kansas Citian Terry Teachout recently asked "Can Jazz Be Saved?" in an essay published by The Wall Street Journal. Several commenters on the piece cite the lack of radio support and formal music education as culprits in jazz's declining popularity. I don't buy it. Just last night I stood amid of crowd of 2,000 people at Crossroads listening to a bluegrass band. Ticket prices began at $25. The night's headliners receive no commercial radio play. And as far as I know, bluegrass isn't taught in school. The same is true for thousands of extreme metal, gangsta rap, conscious hip hop, jam band and electronica acts that enjoy massive underground support. My point? Fans manage to find the music that is most relevant and compelling to their lives. Jazz, by and large, doesn't rate.

*The Long Beach Press-Telegram chats with Norman Brown.

*The Chicago Tribune appreciates its city's Charlie Parker tribute.

*I failed to link to Joe Klopus' excellent editorial about jazz tribute shows in last week's News & Notes post.

*It's the talk of the town. In a music trivia match Monday at the Record Bar, my teammates and I failed to identify a Charlie Parker track. How humiliating! My excuse? DJ Robert Moore seemingly used a remastered mix that sounded too contemporary to be a Parker recording. Still, I'm deeply shamed.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Moment

Mark Lowrey's set at the Pitch Music Showcase was going well Thursday. He opened with a convincing round of acid jazz, highlighted by vocalist Shay Estes' creative reading of "How Deep Is the Ocean."

Then it happened- the single most encouraging moment of 2009 on Kansas City's jazz scene.

Sephiroth, a guy I only recognized as a regular attendee of hip hop shows and as a sometime employee of area clubs, grabbed a microphone. He freestyled at length- he even joked that he might be setting a Guinness record- as drummer Zach Albetta, percussionist Miguel "Mambo" DeLeon and Lowrey reacted to the twists and turns of Sephiroth's flow. The linked video captures only a portion of Sephiroth's quick-witted effort.

In terms of both conception and execution, it's nothing short of brilliant. This sort of forward-thinking collaboration is precisely what I have in mind when I lobby for new developments capable of keeping jazz fresh and relevant.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Wynton Marsalis On Bill Basie

Wynton Marsalis offers a preview of a Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute to the Count Basie Orchestra. "We're here to have a good time and not get in our own way," Marsalis pledges. The program has a three night run in February 2010.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Pitch tells the sad and exceedingly difficult story of a prominent Kansas City jazz musician.

*Jason Harper wholeheartedly embraces 12 O'Clock Jump. The last time I recall Harper writing with such unbridled enthusiasm was his synopsis of a Motorhead show. (You're scaring me, friend!)

*The Chicago Tribune takes note of Joe Segal's annual tribute to Charlie Parker.

*"The Fine Art of Jazz", a collection of photographs featuring Kansas City jazz musicians, is on display in Alexandria, Virginia.

*Pat Metheny's longwinded explanation of a forthcoming project inspired me to restock the Plastic Sax bomb shelter. The screed by the unpredictable Lee's Summit native freaked me out. (Link found via NPR's jazz blog.)

*Mark Edelman implies that Bram Wijnands secured a regular gig at the Raphael.

*St. Louis Jazz Notes reminds its readers that ticket sales for Sonny Rollins' September 19 show began earlier this week.

*From an American Jazz Museum press release: Beginning August 14, 2009, the American Jazz Museum will display in its Changing Gallery “Jazzin’, Jammin’ & Jivin’: The History of Jazz on Film,” an exhibit developed by Separate Cinema that features 50 film posters highlighting a three decade period during which some of the greatest jazz music appeared on film.

(Original image of Los Angeles by Plastic Sax. I've been out of town for ten days.)