Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Against the Crosscurrent

Sam Wisman calls Crosscurrent a "nerdy little jazz band." I beg to differ.

I last raved about Crosscurrent in January. I suggested that they're "fiendishly good" and that they perform "music from a cocktail lounge that specializes in absinthe." And in his preface to a stunning photo essay of Crosscurrent, KCJazzLark called them "one of the best jazz groups in town." He's right.

I caught Crosscurrent last Wednesday at the Power & Light Grill. The establishment's enormous glass windows and concrete floor played cruel tricks on the band's sound. Their interpretation of Lennie Tristano material lost much of its nuance. The sound of saxophonist Matt Otto, one of Kansas City's most significant voices, almost resembled the processed style of David Sanborn. Weird.

Steve Lambert's reeds, T.J. Martley's keyboards, Zach Beeson's bass and Wisman's drums also echoed around the large room. There simply weren't enough bodies to absorb the sound. In the ninety minutes I spent at Power & Light Grill, the audience bottomed at 15 and peaked at 30.

Why were there so few people there? It was like a secret gig. Outside of Otto and Lambert's sites and the members' Facebook accounts, Crosscurrent is invisible on the internet. It's staggering that such brilliant musicians can't bring themselves to provide even a bare minimum of self-promotion. They're heard it from me before- I've addressed the matter privately and publicly with some of the guys. Their music- and Kansas City's jazz audience- deserves much better.

Crosscurrent plays Jardine's on September 24. You'll find the date listed on the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

(Original images of Crosscurrent at the Power & Light Grill by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The 2010 Charlie Parker Gravesite Memorial Service at Lincoln Cemetery

About 75 people, not including the six musicians in my embedded video and a large contingent representing the Dirty Force Brass Band, were present at the annual Charlie Parker gravesite service at Lincoln Cemetery on August 29, 2010. Dennis Winslett led a rendition of "Now's the Time." The event marked the 90th anniversary of Parker's birth.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mashup! Plastic Sax vs The Jazz Session

Exclusive preview of a Steve Cardenas podcast (MP3).

Jason Crane of The Jazz Session has provided Plastic Sax readers with an exclusive preview of a forthcoming interview with guitarist Steve Cardenas. The entire podcast will be available September 6.

West of Middle, Cardenas' intriguing new trio album, features Ben Allison on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. While the former Kansas Citian has developed a unique approach, fans of Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny will find a lot to love in Cardenas' adventurous sound.

Plastic Sax readers are also encouraged to check out Crane's extensive archive. Podcasts-on-demand include interviews with Karrin Allyson, Eldar, Christian McBride, Sonny Rollins and Henry Threadgill.

Thanks Jason!

Update: Here's the entire Steve Cardenas podcast at The Jazz Session.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Now's the Time: Charlie Parker at Ninety

Sunday is the 90th anniversary of the birth of the late Charlie Parker. The annual grave site salute takes place Sunday at 1 p.m. Here's Dean Hampton's guide to finding Lincoln Cemetery.

GiGi's Jazz Inn and Art Gallery, 3226 Troost, is hosting a Parker-related function on Saturday. And 12th Street Jump honors Parker with a guest appearance from Bobby Watson at midnight Saturday.

The Mutual Musicians Foundation hosts a Parker-related "festival" on Sunday. From a Foundation press release:
The festival features: Lloyd Anthony and Eli; Smooth Groove, culture/environmentally conscience sounds of Sahja Kaya, and 4-year old drummer Wrenardo Williams, Jr., help round out the day’s activities.
I'll see you at the cemetery Sunday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Marc Myers chats with Phil Schaap about Charlie Parker's 1945 "Ko-Ko" session. Schapp goes on to suggest that Parker's institutionalization in 1946-47 extended Parker's life by eight years. The story behind Parker joining Miles Davis' band is told here.

*"Who is Charlie Parker?" asks a columnist in the Carolinas.

*I like it when KCJazzLark gets angry. The hot streak by the "other" Kansas City jazz blogger continues.

*Steve Penn reports that a bakery and coffee shop will soon open near the corner of 18th and Vine.

*A popular blogger wonders why a proposed building on The Plaza is the subject of intense debate while the Jazz District "crumbles."

*Candace Evans possesses "a sweet, yet sultry voice that pours into a room like rich, warm cognac coating the inside of a wine glass," according to a profile of the artist in The Lake Today.

*Joel Francis chats up The Budos Band.

*"Jazz is dead," writes an angry commenter in a vulgar dismissal of Kansas City.

*Accomplished jazz drummer Allison Miller performed in Kansas City as part of Brandi Carlile's band Thursday at the VooDoo.

*Megan Birdsall, on behalf of her MBird project, is featured at an NPR blog. (Tip via AZ.)

*The Phoenix is hosting an outdoor "block party" on September 18. Jazz-related performers include D.J. Sweeney, the Wild Women of Kansas City, Tim Whitmer, Eboni Fondren, The Scamps and Lonnie McFadden.

(Original image of The Dead Kenny G's performing at The Uptown Theater by Plastic Sax. Mark Southerland is to the left and Mike Dillon is to the right.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Grading the 2010-11 Gem Theater Season

I'm impressed. Very impressed.

Branford Marsalis Quartet- November 6
Marsalis fatigue is a common ailment among jazz fans. I'm immune, however, and welcome all things Marsalis. Branford Marsalis' energetic quartet is excellent. Here's an example.
Grade: A-

Dave Holland Quartet- January 22
If the American Jazz Museum hoped to impress jazz nerds by booking Dave Holland, well, they succeeded. The British bassist and former Miles Davis sideman is far from a household name, but he's revered in experimental jazz circles. Here's a sample of his high concept. I'm positively giddy.
Grade: A+

Bobby Watson and Horizon- February 4
I'm a little biased. Bobby Watson is Plastic Sax's Person of the Decade. Watson and Horizon thrilled me January 2 at The Blue Room. Here are my notes on that gig. My only reservation about this booking is scale. Only about 125 saw Watson and Horizon that snowy January night. Here's an amusingly dated clip of Watson playing "Spain."
Grade: A

Dianne Reeves- March 25
Which Dianne Reeves will appear at The Gem? Will we see the impeccable jazz vocalist who's released at least one stunning album of standards, the tasteful crossover pop singer or the bluesy shouter seen in this footage? Whatever- it's all good.
Grade: A-

Terence Blanchard- April 16
Since composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard appeared at the Folly's jazz series in 2009, his reputation as one of the most intelligent men in the music industry has only risen. Here's a music video from 1990, an era in which straight-ahead jazz artists still recorded for major labels and were accorded video budgets.
Grade: B+

Jonathan Butler- May 21
Most every Jammin' at the Gem series has at least one overtly commercial artist. This time around that role is filled by Jonathan Butler. I can't say I'm a fan of his hybrid of gospel and smooth jazz, but as long as his concert fills the theater with paying customers, Butler will have served his purpose.
Grade: B-

I conducted similar exercises for the Gem's 2009-10 and the 2008-09 seasons.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Now's the Time: The Budos Band

I love The Budos Band and I'm looking forward to their show Wednesday at The Record Bar. But I'll admit that they're even less of a jazz ensemble than Kansas City's like-minded Hearts of Darkness. I'm featuring them only because there's an alarming dearth of locally-produced jazz video. I'm not asking for much. The New York band's embedded video is nothing fancy. Last week I showcased a static shot of Michael Pagan at the piano. Step it up, please.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus recommends the August 22 gig by Black House Improvisors Collective. The ensemble's Rich Wheeler is the subject of a "criminally brief" interview at the collective's site. Derek Worthington is interviewed here.

*Snuff Jazz (best jazz ensemble) and Mark Lowrey (jazz solo artist) were recipients of Pitch music awards.

*KCJazzLark offers stunning photographs of Hermon Mehari and Megan Birdsall at The Drum Room. He also applauds the 2010-11 Jammin' At the Gem schedule.

*Exceedingly rare recordings of Count Basie, Herschel Evans and Lester Young are in the process of being reclaimed by the American Jazz Museum in Harlem. Snippets are available here. (The first of many tips came from KCJazzLark.)

*Bobby Watson is praised by a journalist in Connecticut. And a commenter heaps lavish- and entirely appropriate praise- on Bobby Watson in response to A Blog Supreme post on "great unknown" jazz musicians.

*Tracy Allen of The Call previews the Rhythm & Ribs festival. Here's Joe Klopus' take.

*Dan Thomas joins the UMKC staff.

*The 2010-11 season of the Columbia, Missouri, "We Always Swing" series has been announced. Highlights include Stanley Clarke, Anat Cohen, Danilo Perez and the husband and wife duo of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes.

*The Topeka Jazz Workshop's 2010-11 season emphasizes Kansas City talent.

*Doc Severinsen and Gary Foster are among the musicians planning to visit a 99-year-old music teacher in Clay Center, Kansas. (Tip via KC Stage.)

*Karrin Allyson is interviewed by a Massachusetts publication.

*Jazz photographer Herman Leonard died August 14. He was 87.

*I'll continue to add updates related to the passing of Alaadeen to the previous Plastic Sax post.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ahmad Alaadeen, 1934-2010

Kansas City jazz saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen died Sunday. He was 76. Here's the notice in The Star.

I have yet to see any mention of his work with The City Light Orchestra, so I'll start there. I included the band's 1984 release Raised Spirits in my listing of "The Ten Best Kansas City Jazz Recordings". The selection was partly sentimental. When I moved to Kansas City's Waldo neighborhood in the 1980s, the group was serving as the house band at City Light Restaurant. Alaadeen, one of the group's elder members, was the primary draw for me. I've been a fan ever since.

I shot the embedded video at the annual Charlie Parker gravesite service at Lincoln Cemetery in 2008. Alaadden is wearing a white hat and dark suit. Here's the best performance video online. This interview footage is also wonderful.

In my review for of Alaadeen's final public performance in April, I wrote "The saxophonist was also presented with the museum's Lifetime Achievement Award. His heartfelt acceptance speech was touching, but Alaadeen was even more eloquent during his stirring solo on "Full Moon At Midnight." The effort reminded the audience of about 200 of Alaadeen's lyrical gift. (The Star review is no longer online.)

Of the in-print Alaadeen albums I've heard, the post-Coltrane sound of New Africa Suite most appeals to me.

Alaadden has, of course, been referenced dozens of times at Plastic Sax. Here's a compilation of mentions at this site.


*Joel Francis eulogizes Alaadeen.

*Andrew Zender shared his thoughts on Alaadeen's passing.

*Here's The Pitch's notice. The publication also took pictures at a May 1 tribute to Alaadden at Salaam Cafe.

*Here's Alaadeen's Wikipedia entry.

*Details on this morning's service are here.

*Here's a set of KCUR features on Alaadeen.

*Chris Burnett writes about his relationship with Alaadeen.

*The Star provides photographs of Tuesday's memorial jam session at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*Gerald Dunn and Dennis Winslett spoke with Steve Kraske about Alaadeen on Tuesday. Their discussion is available as a podcast.

*A television station provides a bit of footage shot at Tuesday's memorial jam session.

*KCUR offers a remembrance.

*An examination of Alaadeen's musical legacy is published by The Star.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dreaming of Rhythm & Ribs

"You WON'T BELIEVE who's coming!"

I made the mistake of reading those words on the invitation to the next morning's press conference immediately before falling asleep Thursday. The odd capitalization and emphatic exclamation point inspired fanciful dreams about who would be announced as the headliners of the 2010 edition of the American Jazz Museum's Rhythm & Ribs Festival.

Would I hear the revered name of Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins or Cecil Taylor called out Friday morning? Or maybe the museum booked a crossover hero like Stanley Clarke, George Duke or Ramsey Lewis. Could they have snagged an undefinable genius like Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny or Wayne Shorter? And wouldn't it be great if they featured fresh faces like Erykah Badu, The Roots or Esperanza Spalding? Such sweet dreams!

Alas, the air went out of the room when Greg Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of the American Jazz Museum, announced the headliners. The journalists and bloggers at the press conference, myself included, weren't exactly overwhelmed. After further consideration, however, I've decided that the lineup is fine. Here's my take:

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton is a robust jazz trumpeter and entertainer. I recall enjoying his Louis Armstrong-themed concert at the Folly Theater several years ago. Payton will also serve as the museum's "artist-in-residence."

Tribute to Donny Hathaway: featuring Kirk Whalum and Lalah Hathaway
Although the soul singer died in 1979, Donny Hathaway currently enjoys cache with a certain type of hipster. I don't listen to him often, but I know a few people who swear by Live. Unfortunately, this concept is inspired by a new Kirk Whalum album. And based on 30-second samples, it sounds as if Whalum focuses on the saccharine side of Hathaway's style.

Hopefully, the presence of Lalah, Hathaway's daughter, will help. She sounds fantastic on a live gospel version of "The Thrill Is Gone" on Whalum's Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter 3 release. Whalum's solo on that piece, however, makes me long for Kenny G. Lalah's most recent solo album, Self Portrait, is very solid.

The Ohio Players
I wore out my copy of "Fire" as a child and I still love '70s-era funk. Still, I'm skeptical about the 2010 version of the band. Its "official website" only sells t-shirts and caps. It refers back to a MySpace account where they have only 602 friends. I'm unable to find a current listing of band members. That leads me to believe that guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner is the sole original member in the band.

Carroll suggested that the presence of the Ohio Players might boost attendance to 12,000-15,000. I'm not so sure. Funk stars Cameo attracted 4,000 to Parade Park at the American Jazz Museum's tenth anniversary street festival three years ago. (Here's a review and a photo essay.) That excellent event was free, however, and Cameo is probably a bigger draw than the Ohio Players. Advance tickets to this year's event are $18.

Talented blues and jazz acts drawn from the region will undoubtedly provide additional balance and appeal to this year's bill. And most importantly, the festival is back after a year's hiatus. That alone is reason enough for celebrating.

Here's The Star's report. Here's a television station's interpretation of the press conference. Here's another one. KCJazzLark weighs in here.

(Original image of Michael Pagan at Friday's press conference by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Now's the Time: Michael Pagan

Kansas City composer and pianist Michael Pagan plays Lee's Summit native Pat Metheny's wonderful "James" in the embedded clip. Metheny reportedly named the song for James Taylor. The singer-songwriter performed a sold-out concert at Sprint Center in May. Metheny drew an audience of about 900 to The Uptown Theater the same month. This correspondent also saw Metheny thrill a crowd of about 2,800 Italians earlier this year. Although Pagan recently assumed the position of Director of Marketing and Communications at the American Jazz Museum, this performance was filmed at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Pagan is the featured performer at Saturday's 12th Street Jump. The weekly radio program recently moved from the Foundation to the downtown Marriott. Does your head hurt yet? Mine does.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Jazz Masters concerts at Crown Center featuring George Benson, David Sanborn, Manhattan Transfer and John Pizzarelli have been canceled. Billboards like the one pictured above apparently didn't create enough demand.

*The Mutual Musicians Foundation is hosting the "2010 Charlie Parker Festival and Memorial Tribute to Edward B. 'Eddie' Baker" on August 29.

*Bobby Watson's long-awaited The Gates BBQ Suite will be self-released on September 14, according to a press release.

*The Majestic finally has an online entertainment calendar. It's viewable as a PDF under the "special events" tab. (Tip via KCJazzLark.)

*The Dead Kenny G's played to one of the largest audiences any jazz band has enjoyed in Kansas City all year at The Uptown Theater on Tuesday. Here's a review. The band is at the Czar Bar tonight, August 11.

*Bob Brookmeyer is interviewed by a journalist in Rhode Island.

*Jazz fans will have tough decisions to make on September 11. In addition to the Prairie Village Jazz Festival and the Wynard Harper Sextet's gig at The Blue Room, it's the date of the 2010 edition of the Crossroads Music Fest. Diverse, Hearts of Darkness and Mark Lowrey are among the jazz-related artists scheduled to perform. Here's Wayward Blog's notice.

*Joe Johnson, the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Institute’s Composers’ Competition, is interviewed by Andrew Zender. Johnson attended Rockhurst High School.

*Analogue Sounds of Salina, Kansas, is one of the subjects of a New York Times article about jazz reissues on vinyl.

*Kansas City native Frank Wess is honored by Saint Peter's Church in New York City.

*The Star offers a remembrance of Ruth Rhoden.

*KKFI radio personality Barry Jackson has a blog titled Fusion Funk Radio.

*The Star featured the KC Strip trolley service.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Jay McShann's Kansas City

I'm proud of the contributions Plastic Sax has made to the Kansas City jazz scene since its inception in 2007. KCJazzLark, the "other" Kansas City jazz blog, celebrates its first anniversary today.

While the commentary and historic documentation provided by the site's author are invaluable, the videos he's unearthed are international treasures. Long after we're gone, the footage KCJazzLark has brought to light will continue to be viewed by grateful music lovers and scholars.

The forgotten documentary on Jay McShann he uploaded last week is absolutely stunning. With the blessing of KCJazzLark, I'm featuring the second of two clips. (The first segment of the thirty-minute film can be viewed here.)

Although it's ostensibly an intimate portrait of McShann, the film's subtext is the tragic decline of the importance of jazz in Kansas City. Here are a few of my favorite segments: At 0:01 and 4:35 McShann points out shuttered clubs; at 2:04 and 2:46 McShann explains jazz's irresistible siren song; the earthy banter that begins at 5:18 is a joy to behold.

Thanks again, KCJazzLark.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Now's the Time: Fourplay

Smooth jazz supergroup Fourplay is scheduled to perform Saturday at the 40 Acres and a Mule campus as part of the Family Reunion Festival. The band's current members are Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb and Harvey Mason. Former Kansas Citian Kevin Mahogany and Makuza are also on the bill. The price of a ticket is an astoundingly low ten dollars.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCJazzLark makes another invaluable contribution to the jazz world by unearthing an obscure documentary on Jay McShann. It serves as a sequel to The Last of the Blue Devils.

*So, it's come to this- California hip hop artist Planet Asia is featured in the first professional music video shot in Kansas City's Jazz District.

*Many of William Gottlieb's jazz photos have entered the public domain and are posted at Flickr. This famous shot of Charlie Parker is among the images in the collection. (Tip via A Blog Supreme.) Kansas City jazz advocate Lee Ingalls shares his thoughts on the news.

*Steve Penn reports on Alaadeen's health issues.

*"(A) large volume of Kansas City's formative jazz comes from (Vic) Damon's studio, including early music from Charlie Parker, Tommy Douglas, Julia Lee, Sandra Steele, the Scamps, Jay McShann and Marilyn Maye," according to this interesting story.

*Karrin Allyson recently participated in a "Jazz for the Gulf" benefit concert.

*The Star examined the Atlantic Diaspora exhibit at the American Jazz Museum.

*Mary Lou Williams is honored in Chicago this week. (Tip from Rick in PV.)

*Mouth's new album is available as a free download at their revamped site. It contains two-and-a-half hours of live jams. Airhorns aside, I like it.

*The Omaha World-Herald describes Grand Marquis as "a hard-core Kansas City jazz band" in a show preview.

*Doug Ramsey reminds jazz fans of the contributions Mitch Miller made to Charlie Parker's career. Miller died July 31.

*Nora Hulse, an "advocate of female ragtime composers," is profiled by Lawrence's Journal-World.

*Here's a direct link to an MP3 download of a track from Miles Bonny's forthcoming German compilation.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Alatuka's Tamam Abi

As with most acts of artistic consequence, the live performances and the recorded work of Kansas City's Alaturka offer two entirely different experiences.

I happen to wholeheartedly agree with The Star's assessment of the Turkish jazz quartet's July 25 appearance at Jardine's. Sait Arat's darbuka and Jeff Harshbarger's bass became almost tangibly physical presences in the small room. The night's biggest revelation was the playing of Rich Wheeler. He's received little attention at Plastic Sax, but I now realize that he's one Kansas City's premier saxophonists.

While Wheeler's saxophone dominated the sound field at Jardine's, it's Beau Bledsoe's guitar that shines brightest on Tamam Abi, the band's debut recording. His remarkably light-fingered playing sets the tone. Tamam Abi is a tasteful but never benumbing document.

I was alone the first couple times I played the album. I couldn't imagine any broadminded listener not enjoying the immaculate recording. I was later disabused of that notion. Although it contains a wide variety of moods and melodic hooks, Tamam Abi is capable of repelling conservative advocates of mainstream jazz. Conversely, I've found one listener without any allegiance to jazz who adores it.

Alaturka fits in well with the musical space I already inhabit. New recordings of the Ethiopian jazz of Mulatu Astatke and the Afrobeat of Kansas City's Hearts of Darkness are two of my top picks of 2010. Tamam Abi will almost certainly claim another spot on my year-end top ten list.

Additional insights may be gleaned from my Plastic Sax interview with Bledsoe and this performance footage. Alaturka's next performance is August 19 at Crosstown Station.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)