Friday, October 29, 2010

Now's the Time: Christian Howes

No one will ever mistake the playing of jazz violinist Christian Howes with that of the late Kansas City jazz legend Claude "Fiddler" Williams. A new-school technician, Howes' approach is far more aggressive than the relaxed swing associated with Williams. Even so, Howes clearly has a tremendous grasp of jazz tradition. He returns to Jardine's for two shows on Friday, October 29.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCJazzLark offers an account of the October 18 performance of Bobby Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite at the Blue Room. I wrote about the event here.

*An Arkansas newspaper covered Doug Talley's recent trip to the Natural State.

*Here's a new interview with Marilyn Maye.

*The sordid saga of alleged fraud perpetrated by Petro America has a Kansas City jazz connection. The Pitch and the Star relate the shocking story.

*Here's the latest dispatch from Black House Improvisors' Collective.

*Tweet o' the week: KCJazzLark: At Marquee Lounge earlier tonight for Crosscurrent, one of KC's best jazz groups. But the place needs to figure out what it wants to be....

*While it doesn't have any Kansas City-specific content, I highly recommend The Revivalist to forward-thinking jazz fans. The new site has a feature on Ben Williams, the young bassist in Nicholas Payton's band at the Rhythm & Ribs festival earlier this month.

*From a Johnson County Community College press release: A new CD, Live from JCCC’s Yardley Hall, featuring the late Kansas City jazz pianist and band leader Pete Eye along with three other musicians, will be released during a jazz concert and party from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the Atrium in the Regnier Center, Johnson County Community College... The CD was recorded at Eye’s final major concert on March 3, 2009, part of the JCCC Jazz Series. Eye died April 8, 2010.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Harold O'Neal- Whirling Mantis

Whirling Mantis, the new release by pianist Harold O'Neal, has served as my default background music for the past two weeks. It's provided my soundtrack as I've trudged on a treadmill, prepared meals and read newspapers. Even my associates who ordinarily claim to detest jazz have been drawn in by Whirling Mantis' obvious charms and immediate accessibility.

I first raved about O'Neal, 29, at Plastic Sax three years ago. He was born in Africa and raised in Kansas City. He's recorded with Greg Osby, Bobby Watson and Ahmad Alaadeen. He currently resides in New York. Whirling Mantis was recorded in Brooklyn in 2008.

Listening to the album is akin to overhearing an erudite discussion between O'Neal and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw as bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Rodney Green whisper thoughtful commentary. Both O'Neal and Shaw pose their intriguing arguments with charm and finesse.

My sole complaint with Whirling Mantis could be a personal problem. Perhaps I've been listening to too many albums on the ECM label or maybe I'm overly accustomed to Jon Brion productions, but I just don't care for the way O'Neal's piano was recorded. It's a minor concern about an otherwise entirely delightful album.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pearl Thuston-Brown Takeover

Because I arrived an hour after the scheduled start time of the official public debut performance of The Gates BBQ Suite, I was forced into a far corner of the packed Blue Room on October 18. Adding insult to injury, the complimentary barbecue provided by Gates was gone.

All was not lost. I closed my eyes and blissfully listened to Bobby Watson, his current UMKC students and a few alumni impeccably perform the second half of Watson's exceptional new album.

After he noted that the project had peaked at #6 on JazzWeek's airplay chart, Watson was quick to dampen unrealistic expectations.

"I'll be driving the same car next week," he laughed. "What part of number six don't you understand?"

Watson assured the audience that a brief intermission would be followed by a jam session. It never happened. Pearl Thuston-Brown, 83, commandeered the piano during the break. And that was that.

She performed an impressive array of jazz standards and bawdy blues. I blushed when "A Good Man is Hard to Find" became "A Hard Man is Good to Find." Transport this woman to Paris and she'd be the toast of the town within weeks.

Intimidated and respectful, the other musicians didn't dare interrupt Thuston-Brown. As her impromptu recital continued, they shrugged their shoulders, packed their instruments and left. By the time she finished playing, less than two dozens people- Ollie "O.G." Gates among them- remained.

(While I'm reluctant to feature this home footage of Thuston-Brown, no proper performance documentation is available.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The trip Bobby Watson and his UMKC students are taking to Japan is detailed by Steve Penn.

*Greg Carroll of the American Jazz Museum discusses his career path in a lively video profile.

*Steve Penn cites the official head count for the Rhythm & Ribs festival. (The "paid attendance" was 4,000.)

*Sue Vicory and her film are praised by KCJazzLark.

*Megan Birdsall alludes to her plan to travel to Europe with Hermon Mehari.

*Nightclub owner Bobby Dobson has died.

*Bill Blankenship previews a Topeka performance by Grant Geissman and Jerry Hahn.

*Pianist and composer Michael Pagan has released two albums in 2010. His Three For the Ages album was reviewed by an Italian critic. The second title, 12 Preludes & Fugues, received a thoughtful analysis here.

*An interesting post at the site of the Black House Improvisors' Collective touches on naming compositions, Dave Douglas' recent concert at the Blue Room and the politics of jazz programming.

*Jordan Shipley has a "case of the Mondays".

*Alice Thorson examines the "Evolution of Jazz" art exhibit.

*Tweet o' the week: 12THSTREETPETE: The salute to Dizzy went well. Thanks Cal, KB, and Jenn for being part of such an A+ night. I get rewarded now with football and laziness.

*Black Friday, an event billed as "The History of Jazz Meets Hip Hop," takes place November 26 at Crosstown Station. Featured jazz performers include Hermon Mehari, Mark Lowrey and Logan Richardson.

*From the city of Leavenworth: Jazz at the Hollywood Theater is a concert series that was developed to present performances in the community by world class talent that is based in the Kansas City metro area. The concerts are recorded for broadcast by Kansas Public Radio. This year's event, held on Nov. 13 at 8 p.m., will feature the Sons of Brasil and the Roger Wilder Quartet and proceeds will go to benefit the Parks and Recreation Department.

*The Marquee, a new venue at the AMC Theater at 1400 Main, occasionally features live jazz. Its sales manager sent me her club's live music listing: Oct 20- Mark Lowrey and Shay Estes 7-10pm; Oct 22- Crosscurrent- 7-10pm; Oct 23- TBA 9p-12a; Oct 27- Mark Lowrey and Shay Estes 7-10pm; Oct 29- Retro Inferno 7-10pm; Oct 30- TBA 9p-12a. The jazz acts are listed on the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sitting In On the JCCC Jazz Series

Anyone who thinks that old folks can't move quickly should have seen how briskly dozens of senior citizens sprung to their feet at the conclusion of the Steve Rigazzi Trio's set last week at Johnson County Community College.

The trio was rewarded with a hearty standing ovation after performing an hour of solid melodic swing on October 12. Although I was a quarter-century younger than most of the 100 people in attendance, I had no trouble admiring the old-school playing of bassist Rigazzi, drummer Ray DeMarchi and pianist Paul Smith.

While Smith's reassuring work was the clear audience favorite, DeMarchi's jittery accompaniment on an oddly upbeat rendition of "'Round Midnight" thrilled me. A nasty unaccompanied four-minute bass solo that evoked Charles Mingus may have unsettled some in the audience but it served to remind me that Rigazzi merits consideration alongside Bob Bowman and Gerald Spaits in any serious discussion of Kansas City's elite straight-ahead jazz bassists. Kim Sivils, Rigazzi's regular musical partner, replaced Smith for one number. Her lyrical touch offered fascinating contrast to Smith's more assertive playing.

The free noontime concert was part of the Ruel Joyce Series. I've been aware of the series for some time, but it took an appearance by Matt Otto's quartet on October 5 to first attract me to one of its events. The Otto-led combo of Gerald Dunn, Jeff Harshbarger and Mike Warren is one of the premier groups in the region, if not the world.

Their adventurous set didn't disappoint me, although the unflaggingly polite capacity audience didn't even consider offering them a standing ovation. Even so, I felt guilty about claiming a spot that would have otherwise gone to another jazz fan. I sense that the Ruel Joyce series represents the sole opportunity for many people to hear live jazz.

Besides, after witnessing both their passion and quick reflexes, I'm now reluctant to antagonize elderly jazz fans.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Captured: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at Jardine's

Steve Paul wasn't the only person wielding a video camera during the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's appearance October 9 at Jardine's. Someone affiliated with the band created the embedded montage of the show. Additional footage is here. Both videos show Kansas City-based bassist and newly minted JFJO member Jeff Harshbarger to good advantage. If you like what you see and hear, feel free to revisit the 2009 interview Plastic Sax conducted with JFJO's Brian Haas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A surly weirdo caught Bobby Watson jamming with his UMKC students at GiGi's Jazz Inn last week. Here are his notes and photos.

*Common posted performance footage of Diverse and Les Izmore at his blog. That's the good news. The bad news? The rest of the world will hear how many people in Kansas City (don't) listen to live music.

*KCJazzLark has the "Saturday Night Blues".

*Ben Ratliff of The New York Times reviewed the new album by pianist Harold O'Neal.

*The Pitch gave Diverse and Les Izmore the "Best Tribute" award for their Common collaboration. Mark Lowrey was acknowledged for "Best Collaboration."

*This footage of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's performance Saturday at Jardine's is just one of several fine videos recently uploaded by Steve Paul.

*Here's Downbeat's review of Bobby Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite. Audiophile Audition also evaluates the release.

*Hermon Mehari and The Sound are hosting a block party in front of the Mutual Musicians Foundation on Friday, October 22, from 8 p.m. to midnight. KCJazzLark commends the initiative.

*The new roster of the Black House Improvisors Collective is announced in an amusing post.

*KC Free Press investigates the possible presence of a ghost at the Phoenix.

*A critic in Syracuse mentions that "Kansas City" is in the repertoire of Max Weinberg's big band. The ensemble performs at Jardine's on Halloween.

*Hermon Mehari assumes the role of Dizzy Gillespie Saturday, October 16, at 12th Street Jump.

*Renee Fleming performed jazz last week at The Folly Theater. Sort of. Here's The Star's review.

*Tweet o' the Week: kcrhythmandribs: Thanks to everyone who came out for the fest on Sat! Keep an eye on this space for an upcoming Twitter account for AJM events year-round!

*From a KCKCC press release: Kansas City Kansas Community College Jazz Band Director Jim Mair is going home to conduct the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. Canadian born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mair will direct the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra in two performances of the “Kansas City Suite” on Nov. 7, 2010.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Rhythm and Ribs Festival

Saturday's Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival seemed like two separate and entirely unrelated events. The first one ran from 11 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Less than 1,000 people were on hand to hear a dozen local and regional acts. Attendance exploded immediately after the jazz and blues portion of the festival concluded.

"This is what I envisioned when I took the beating I did when I tried to get this area up and going again," Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, said in his introduction of Kirk Whalum as he looked out at an audience of about 4,000 at 7: 40 p.m.

When I departed at 9:30 p.m., it looked as if 5,000 were on hand. The enormous VIP section in front of the main stage, painfully vacant all day, filled up during Whalum's set. Many of the fresh VIPs toted lawn chairs, leading me to speculate that the passes were being freely distributed at the gate.

Cleaver called Whalum "one of the greatest saxophonists to ever put a reed in his mouth." The Reverend and I will just have to agree to disagree about that assessment. The audience, however, didn't share my skepticism of Whalum's smooth gospel caterwauling. I may have been embarrassed when Whalum told the audience that he was the saxophone player on "I Will Always Love You" (yes, that's him at the 2:10 mark), but I was obviously in the minority. I also didn't appreciate that Whalum's set felt more like a Sunday morning than a Saturday night. He closed with "Falling In Love With Jesus". Thank heaven for Lalah Hathaway's appearance midway in Whalum's set. She doesn't try to be sexy. She just is.

Whalum's music may not be my thing, but an unlikely collaboration between Whalum and Nicholas Payton was the undeniable highlight of the festival. After momentarily riffing on "A Love Supreme," Whalum explained that he'd invited Payton to sit in on his set. Their rendition of "Giant Steps" was a symbolic triumph. While no sparks flew, the pairing epitomized what the festival organizers surely hoped to prove- that fans and musicians representing disparate styles can find common ground.

It's a nice thought, but very few people seemed to appreciate Payton's intriguing set. (Note the empty VIP seats as Payton performs, above.) Sounding like a fresh update of Miles Davis' "Ife" from the 1972 album On the Corner with a pinch of Fulfillingness' First Finale thrown in as a sweetener, it was real back to the future stuff. Yet most of the meager audience greeted the experimental sound with insolent chatter or expressions of disgust. I loved it. Only the intrusion of a traditional New Orleans swing number late in the set disappointed me. It felt like a jarring repudiation of everything that had preceded it. Save that misstep, Payton's application of impeccable bop chops to gauzy outside jazz made for the day's most interesting music.

I'd been looking forward to hearing Queen Bey. (In light green, above.) She recently returned to Kansas City and I hadn't heard her in years. I wasn't sure I'd get the chance Saturday- the long-winded introduction by Howard Hesseman seemed like it would never end. Her all-star band consisted of saxophonist Gerald Dunn, trombonist Jason Goudeau, guitarist Will Matthews, bassist James Ward, drummer Ryan Lee and pianist Otis Hays. I don't know that I'd ever heard the latter musician. His bluesy but elegant playing floored me. (He's just one of several musicians mentioned in this review without any online presence.) In spite of this stellar support, Bey confessed that her appearance was plagued by "technical difficulties." Maybe next time.

The set by the so-called "Elderstatesmen of Jazz" was also a letdown. The music played by vocalist Patricia Lyons-Cox (above), flugelist Ronnie Reed, saxophonist Michael Herrera, pianist Donald Cox, bassist Joe Straws and drummer Sam Johnson was fine, but the average age of the band was a youthful 55 or so. I'd been hoping for the likes of Ben Kynard and Sellie Truitt. I guess it's just a sign of the times.

Blues-bangers Trampled Under Foot did their thing from the main stage for a small but enthusiastic audience. (Above.)

The refined piano-and-bass duo of Michael Pagan and Steve Rigazzi sounded splendid in the high-ceilinged atrium of the museum complex. Horace Washington's quaint set also succeeded in the same space. (Above.) I liked the veteran's joke about changing the name of Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple" to "Grapes On the Vine." Others preferred the Wes Blackman Trio's lounge-friendly versions of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love" and Anita Baker's "Rapture." The "B-3 Party" in the atrium, however, represented an audiophile's nightmare.

Back in the Blue Room, Heat Index preserved the fusion-funk of the mid-70s. A straight-ahead jazz band led by Nebraska-based trumpeter Darryl White featured beautiful contributions on vibraphone from Greg Carroll.

Blues veteran Millage Gilbert's take on "Kansas City" was the first rendition of the song I heard Saturday. Alas, it wouldn't be the last one. I call for a moratorium on the tired standard. I have a few other quibbles about Saturday:
*Why were festival goers forced to show their ticket and/or hand stamp as they moved between the three stages? Unnecessary and annoying, the pointless process created logjams.

*Before the grounds filled for Whalum's set, the sound on the outdoor stage echoed off the back wall of the museum complex. The resulting reverb was awful.

*The decision to conclude the music on the two indoor stages at 6 p.m. was baffling. The odd oversight was made even worse by the horrid boogie recordings heard between live acts on the main stage. Would it have killed the sound man to play Jill Scott or Teddy Pendergrass?

*The food offerings (above) were a disappointment. I've sworn off one prominent restaurant after purchasing its inedible fare Saturday.
The latter two issues forced me to bail on the festival before seeing Sugarfoot's Ohio Players. While I hope festival organizers take this constructive criticism to heart, they're to be commended for successfully reviving Rhythm & Ribs after a one-year hiatus.

Rhythm & Ribs in 2011? I'm already there.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Now's the Time: Kirk Whalum and Lalah Hathaway

The real wild card at Saturday's Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival is the appearance of Kirk Whalum and Lalah Hathaway. Everyone knows the game plan of Sugarfoot's Ohio Players. Nicholas Payton is a regular visitor to Kansas City and the regional acts are known commodities. But Whalum and Hathaway? Their collaboration could go either way.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR conducted an instructive interview with bassist Jeff Harshbarger. Download it here.

*In a Wall Street Journal essay, Will Friewald detects the influence of Benny Carter in Bobby Watson's compositions. I referenced the same thing in my review of The Gates BBQ Suite.

*The Mutual Musicians Foundation is hosting a "Welcome Home" reception for Queen Bey on October 6.

*Matt Otto is the subject of a Joe Klopus profile.

*Tim Finn notes the 25th anniversary of Chuck Haddix's KCUR program "Fish Fry." Steve Penn quotes Haddix as he praises the LaBudde Special Collection Department at UMKC.

*I saw the new cut of Sue Vicory's Kansas City Jazz & Blues: Past, Present & Future at a screening hosted by BB's Lawnside BBQ last week. The film is much improved.

*The Good News Jazz Festival will be held October 15-16 at the Liberty Performing Arts Center. The Christian-themed event features Euge Groove, Marcus Johnson and the Wild Women of Kansas City.

*In a fascinating and very personal blog post, Chris Burnett examines the role the military played in his life.

*Jeff Harshbarger, Mark Southerland and Sam Wisman are mentioned in The Star's review of The Golem.

*KC Metropolis offers a review of the September 25 concert by The Bad Plus.

*Wonderful photos from previous Rhythm & Ribs festivals are offered by KCJazzLark.

*A few citizens of Marshall, Missouri, are planning a jazz festival.

*Here's an interesting new interview with Pat Metheny.

*Steve Paul reveals Renee Fleming's flirtation with jazz.

*Marilyn Maye's extended run at Quality Hill Playhouse begins October 29.

*The Pitch named an obsessive-compulsive weirdo "Kansas City's Best Blogger" of the year.

*Organizers of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival are attempting to win a Pepsi-sponsored contest. Votes may be cast here.

*Here's a note I received on October 3: My parents owned The Orchid Room on 12th and Vine from 1957-1962. I am desperately looking for any photos of the club (interior or exterior) and have hit a dead end. If you have or know of anyone that may have some, PLEASE contact me. Thanks. Here's hoping a Plastic Sax reader can help this person out.

*Tweet o' the Week: djjazziedeb: Wish I could own my own jazz club. Hate it when the Blues and R&B bring in the bucks and jazz clubs stop booking jazz.

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar is loaded for October. As I've previously suggested to musicians and club owners, if a gig isn't listed, it's either because I don't consider it "jazz" or because you haven't let me know about it.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: Killer Strayhorn- 80/20 Blue

Butterflies no bigger than dimes fluttered in my face as I lay in the grass when the Prairie Village Jazz Festival commenced on September 11. Warm sunshine and a cool breeze gave the perfect day a southern California feel. Similarly, the poised performance by Killer Strayhorn was more akin to the west coast jazz associated with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan than the bluesy fire of Kansas City jazz.

80/20 Blue, the Kansas City-area ensemble's second album, mirrors that tried and true approach. A head is followed by a round of solos on most of the twelve tracks. Familiar but impeccable, the album is a sophisticated blowing session. The contributions of Bob Harvey (trumpet and flugelhorn) and James Isaac (saxophone and flute) are particularly noteworthy. Only "Damage Control" and "A Mile In Yo' Shoes pts. I-IV," tracks with arrangements that deviate from the standard pattern, stand out.

Then again, perhaps context is everything. 80/20 Blue may not rank among my favorite albums of 2010, but Chris Lewis' piano solo on Pat Metheny's "Timeline" goes down perfectly while sipping coffee on a Sunday morning. The insistent groove of"Whits-Up?" works well while tossing meat on a grill. And when tiny butterflies are around? Forget about it!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Now's the Time: Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas, one of the most creative and compelling figures in jazz, appears with his group Keystone at The Blue Room on Friday, October 8. Although his most recent project is the Frankenstein-inspired Spark of Being, the music Douglas will perform in Kansas City probably sounds more like this. The soulful rendition of Rufus Wainwright's "This Love Affair" embedded above is indicative of Douglas' expansive aesthetic. Curious listeners are also encouraged to investigate Douglas' Greenleaf Music blog.