Sunday, January 10, 2010

In My Solitude At Jazz Winterlude

An irrational fear of spending two hours in a room full of geriatric fans of Stan Kenton prevented me from seeing The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra until Saturday. The orchestra's rewarding headlining performance at the Jazz Winterlude festival showed that I've been missing out on a good time.

Yeah, it was square. But it was rarely dull. And there were a handful of bold moments of defiance. Lurking underneath artistic director Jim Mair's obsequious demeanor is a subversive hipster. He slipped in the Charles Mingus version of "Moanin'" heard here, a radical act given the sensibilities of many of the organization's financial supporters. The audience of about 700 tolerated it largely because Kerry Strayer's baritone saxophone work on the piece was undeniably thrilling. He did justice to Mingus' legacy.

The members of the orchestra certainly rank among (in Mair's words) "Kansas City's finest musicians." I'd watched Doug Talley and trumpeter Joe Parisi work through a set of Wayne Shorter material earlier in the day. All the notes were right but much of the fiery spirit of Shorter's originals was absent. The pair's concise solos with the orchestra, however, were excellent. The big band context showcases their strengths. Other highlights were Mair's rapturous solo on "Stardust" and a riotous reading of Kenton's "The Peanut Vendor." (Shows what I know.)

I was already familiar with most members of the ensemble but guest vocalist Brienn Perry was a revelation. He looks like a linebacker but sings like a combination of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Joe Williams. Accompanied only by pianist Charles Wiliams, Perry absolutely nailed "One For My Baby."

Original? Don't be silly. Incredibly enjoyable? Absolutely. The same can be said for the orchestra as a whole. It may be an exercise in nostalgia but it's far from anemic. Even the goofy dance routines at the end of the performance served as an appropriate reminder of the roots of the big band sound.

I hope to attend the orchestra's next concert on April 30. Why should I let old folks have all the fun?

Here are five additional things I appreciated Saturday:

1. Sons of Brasil (above) were very fine. Stan Kessler original "If It Feels Good" was particularly funky.

2. Bassist James Albright played with three groups Saturday. He raised the level of play in each one.

3. Young pianist Sean Giddings did some nice things in Doug Talley's group. I don't believe I'd seen him play before.

4. Ryan Lee (above) just dominated James Ward's trio. The drummer overplayed. I liked it anyway.

5. I'd only seen most of these locally-based players in bars. Hearing the musicians in a formal concert setting was a rare treat. All three rooms at the festival offered excellent acoustics and comfortable seating. The ultra-conservative lineup certainly wasn't booked with me in mind, but I'd happily buy into the concept next January.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)


bgo said...

Since when did Mingus compose "Moanin'? The jazz classic I'm familiar with was conceived by pianist Bobby Timmons and recorded and/or performed by hundreds of capable jazz musicians.

Jim Mair is a hipster? Okay. If you say so. Hi Jim, if you read this. Long time no see. Stetch in case you don't recognize the name.

Happy In Bag said...

Edited according, BGO. Thanks for the catch.

Anonymous said...

Mingus did write a tune called Moanin'.

I was at the KCJO concert and there were actually what looked like high school or college students there.

Because of the weather the KCJO only had one rehearsal that morning and had 4 subs in the group.

Happy In Bag said...

I know a few of Doug Talley's students were on hand. I also sat near a group of people in their twenties at the KCJO concert. They were family members of the dancers. Still, it was a very strong turnout Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Nice recap of Saturday's events. I went both days and there were plenty of highlight's on Friday as well, including:

1. The first Interstring gig in seven years... more Todd Strait please!

2. A really fun set from Rich Hill, Charles Perkins, Matt Hopper and Arny Young which kicked off with a hot version of "The Eternal Triangle" by Sonny Stitt.

3. An excellent and varied last set by Tim Doherty's 9 Plus 1 band.

I don't know if I'd consider the lineup ultra-connservative... how about "ultra-good?"

Anonymous said...

My family and I heard The Red Onion Jazz Babies and the Greg Carroll Quartet and they were excellent. All in all it was a fine event.

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for the report, Anon 903. It's a shame that there's not a weekly dixieland session somewhere in KC aside from the very fine Lynn Zimmer's gig at the Gaslight Grill.

I won't argue with ultra-good, Anon 748.