Monday, February 22, 2010

Matt Otto: An Appreciation

Kansas City is stacked with good jazz musicians. I'd happily spend my time and money hearing any one of our town's fifty best artists on any given night.

Some of them even specialize in what I characterize as "tourist jazz"- safe and conventional reproductions of what's been played countless times before. There's no shame in that. Several local traditionalists might even have dazzled Pete Johnson and Jay McShann.

That's not, however, what Matt Otto does. Not since Pat Metheny and Bobby Watson lit up Kansas City's clubs a few decades ago has a young locally-based jazz instrumentalist played with such imagination and innovation.

The great Bobby Watson aside, Otto is Kansas City's premier jazz artist.

The saxophonist's gig at Jardine's last week served as further confirmation that Otto is working at an exceptional level. His versatile style acts as a resounding rebuttal to anyone claiming that outside-leaning jazz musicians are unable to play conventionally. Otto possesses an immaculate tone and can deliver ballads with refined beauty. His adventurous attack Tuesday, however, referenced Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy. Otto discusses his approach in an interview I conducted with him a few months ago.

As is usually the case with the best artists, Otto elevates the playing of his peers. I'd never heard saxophonist Gerald Dunn and drummer Mike Warren sound better. Bassist Ben Leifer, as usual, was also phenomenal. Otto didn't draw a big crowd Tuesday, but I'll submit that he and his band are capable of wowing jaded aficionados at the world's most hallowed jazz venues.

I'm not suggesting that Otto is a star in the making. Alas, that's not a realistic possibility for jazz instrumentalists in 2010. But if you care about Kansas City's jazz scene- or even if you just pretend to care about it- then Matt Otto is the name you need to know.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


The Phonologotron said...

yeah.. i totally love playing with him in the BHIC. He makes me want to be a better player, and to write better music for him to play.

the bass clarinet player

r bizzle said...

Made my first trip to 18th and Vine Jazz district and found myself at the Musicians Foundation. Heard Matt Otto for the first time during the 12 O'Clock Jump. Was VERY impressed with his as well as the talent of ALL of the musicians. Otto's sax playing was superb! Hope to make it to KC in the near future and looking to catch Otto again! What a treasure to walk up the stairs of an historic building and have incredible live jazz welcome me into the room!