Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Black Friday at Crosstown Station

It's not uncommon to find a couple hundred fresh-faced music lovers swaying and dancing to a band on a Friday night at Crosstown Station. When the men on the downtown club's stage are jazz musicians, however, it's clear that something extraordinary is happening.

Very rarely do trumpeter Hermon Mehari, vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, keyboardist Mark Lowrey, bassist Dominique Sanders and drummer Ryan Lee find themselves performing for such a large and fully engaged audience of their peers.

Their collaborators for the "Black Friday" concert were vocalist Schelli Tolliver and rappers Les Izmore and Reach. Although the set list may have focused on material like Talib Kweli's "Get By" and there was more rapping than singing, the jazz aesthetic wasn't compromised. As Joel Francis foretold in his preview of the event, Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" seamlessly led into Common's "Thelonious." It all felt entirely natural, inspired and vital. (Here's The Pitch's review.)

If it continues to be led by courageous and imaginative musicians, Kansas City's legacy of jazz innovation will soon be fully restored.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kansas City's Jazz Wellspring

Many of my favorite moments as a jazz fan in Kansas City occur while listening to the University of Missouri-Kansas City's music students. It's exciting to watch kids discover their own voices. The career prospects of most of these students may be sketchy, but it's thrilling to know that for as long as Bobby Watson continues to teach at UMKC there will be no shortage of vital new talent in this town.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Mike Corrigan of B.A.C. Horn Doctors is opening a new jazz performance space in Olathe. Stan Kessler christens The Clinic with a performance on the afternoon of December 1.

*Miles Bonny and Reach discussed the relationship between Kansas City's jazz and hip hop communities with KCUR's Jabulani Leffall. Download the show here.

*NPR devoted five minutes to praising Harold O'Neal's new album. I still stand by my lukewarm review. O'Neal performs at the Mutual Musicians Foundation on New Year's Eve.

*KCJazzLark unveils a few old photos of Claude "Fiddler" Williams.

*All About Jazz reviews Bobby Watson's Gates BBQ Suite.

*Dave Stephens' most prominent fan reviews a gig and highlights Stephens' busy schedule.

*A fresh round of interesting words and music are posted at the the Black House Improvisors Collective site.

*Steve Penn catches up with Will Matthews.

*The current status of one of Charlie Parker's homes is detailed by the New York Times.

*From Michael Pagan: Millie Edwards & Mike Pag├ín, who have been appearing all over town, will perform at Jardine’s on Thursday, December 9th 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM. The last time they were there they recorded it, and they’ll be at it again; this will be Part 2 of their “Live at Jardine’s” CD project. $4.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Listening Booth

It's the time of year when music nerds start thinking about compiling best-of lists. And for the first time, I won't own physical copies of most of the titles in my rankings. I'm not a big fan of MP3s but there just aren't any Kansas City retailers that stock much current jazz. Find me an area store with a copy of Apex by Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green in stock and I'll buy you a beer.

It wasn't always like this. I remember buying albums on the ECM label at Classical Westport. I first explored the Miles Davis catalog during 3-for-$10 Sony "Nice Price" sales. Yours truly once managed the jazz section at a Penny Lane Records store. (While the opportunity thrilled me, I suspect that my manager LeRoi Johnson bestowed the title on me in lieu of a raising my hourly pay.) The Record Cabinet and the Music Exchange are also sorely missed.

I'm curious- how do Plastic Sax readers acquire new music? Do you download (legally or otherwise), order from e-retailers like Amazon or resort to picking up old vinyl at neighborhood garage sales?

And in case you're curious- Bobby Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite is my album of the year.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Now's the Time: Rod Fleeman

In many ways Rod Fleeman personifies Kansas City's jazz scene. Although he's a world-class talent, he chooses to maintain a relatively low profile. I believe he continues to tour internationally with Karrin Allyson, but I'm unable to verify that claim. Fleeman's old-school online presence isn't particularly informative. We're certainly lucky to have him. He's seen here with fellow guitarists Dan Bliss, Bill Dye and Tom DeMasters. Fleeman performs at Jardine's on Thursday, November 24, under the auspices of The Beach Nuts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Because I'm both unwilling and unable to address the "Curtis Got Slapped" phenomenon, I'll suggest that curious Plastic Sax readers begin with the link provided here.

*NPR's A Blog Supreme appreciates "Moten Swing."

*Here's a poem inspired by Dave Douglas' recent appearance at the Blue Room.

*Howard Reich raves about Bobby Watson's opening night at Chicago's Jazz Showcase. (Tip via RH.) The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review critiqued Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite.

*Federal funding for the American Jazz Museum is characterized as a "ridiculous earmark".

*I admire what T.J. Martley has done here. And there's more where that came from.

*UMKC provides an update on Hermon Mehari.

*Here's more on the Reno Club from KCJazzLark.

*Steve Penn catches up with Harold O'Neal.

*New inductees into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame include Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Bobby Watson.

*Delfeayo Marsalis' Sweet Thunder "theatrical jazz production," will be performed at the Jim D. Morris Auditorium in Springfield, MO, on February 5.

*In addition to Kenny G's "Holiday Show" on December 17, the Midland Theater will host Chris Botti on February 18.

*A fascinating discussion is taking place in the comment section of the previous Plastic Sax post.

*Charlie Parker scholar Phil Schaap has a Twitter account.

*Tweet of the week: PatMethenyNews: Pat just completed shooting the Orchestrion show for a new HD-DVD that will be available on Blu-ray+ 3D formats

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blame It On My Youth

I occasionally experienced anxiety attacks night terrors as a child. The room spun and a sonic whirlpool rushed through my head. I'd suppressed forgotten these incidents until I first saw Mark Southerland twirl a hose connected to a saxophone during a Snuff Jazz performance. The effect recreated the nightmarish sound that once terrified me.

Last night's Snuff Jazz recital was doubly intense. Guest artist Brian Haas, keyboardist of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, echoed Southerland's sound effect on a melodica.

I now know how to manage the onset of vertigo, so the combined effort of Southerland and Haas hardly phased me. They did inspire, however, thoughts about the relationship between age and music, especially in terms of jazz.

I'd spend the previous night listening to the incredible Deborah Brown. (Here's the Star's review.) About 150 people caught all or part of Brown's performance. Their median age was a relatively youthful 45. The median age of the audience of four-dozen at the Record Bar on Sunday was an even more encouraging 30.

I'm constantly wringing my hands about what will become of jazz once the original fans of artists ranging from Stan Kenton to the Crusaders succumb to old age.

Kansas City is loaded with scores of promising young jazz musicians, yet it's not uncommon for them to play for small audiences consisting of people three times their age. The jazz kids even have a hard time convincing their friends and romantic interests to attend their gigs.

That's why I invest so much hope in acts like Haas' Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and in the artist I call The One. I also wholeheartedly approve of the crossover attempts of The Bad Plus, Vijay Iyer and Brad Mehldau. The efforts of Kansas City-based forward thinkers like Hermon Mehari and Mark Lowrey are even better.

If innovative projects like Black Friday don't succeed, I'm afraid that jazz faces a truly nightmarish future.

(Original image of Brian Haas and Snuff Jazz by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Now's the Time: Snuff Jazz

Snuff Jazz will be joined by Brian Haas of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at the Record Bar on Sunday. Here's Plastic Sax's 2009 interview with Haas. While the embedded video captures a performance by "Snuff Flamenco" rather than Snuff Jazz, Plastic Sax readers will surely appreciate the opportunity to hear Mark Southerland play (relatively) straight. Besides, Beau Bledsoe's guitar work is impeccable and the visuals are rather enchanting.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A Canadian concert overseen by Jim Mair is favorably reviewed by the Winnipeg Free Press. The final item in today's Plastic Sax post contains startling breaking news regarding Mair.

*Dan Thomas' travel blog documenting the trip to Japan taken by Bobby Watson and his UMKC jazz students is magnificent.

*Sam Mellinger's column about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's woes is terribly depressing. Mellinger suggests that the museum will likely end up moving to either Cooperstown or Kauffman Stadium. Jazz fans are forced to wonder how the adjacent American Jazz Museum would be affected.

*The Branford Marsalis Quartet's concert at the Gem Theater was reviewed by the Star.

*KCJazzLark posts a great entry about the Reno Club.

*Joe Lovano's new album is a tribute to Charlie Parker. The saxophonist will perform at the Folly on April 2.

*The Leavenworth Times provides details about the November 13 concert at the Hollywood Theater featuring Sons of Brasil and the Roger Wilder Quartet.

*Tony's Kansas City reports that Dave Stephens and Lonnie McFadden will entertain during the Plaza lighting ceremony.

*Mark Edelman returns with a fresh column.

*Tweet of the week: The Majestic: Tonight $1 Wells & a Jam Session featuring more than 10 of KC's best Jazz musicians 5:30-9:30PM! No cover-$3 / 3 Can donation to Harvesters

*From Jim Mair: Dear KCJO musicians, I wanted to let you know that after the Christmas concerts in December, Mary and I will be resigning from The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. It has been 8 years since we set out to make this project a reality and we feel like the organization needs some fresh ideas and new energy. I'm excited to announce that Kerry Strayer has been asked to serve as the new Artistic Director and Conductor... The Board of Directors is currently interviewing candidates for Executive Director... Although the economy has made obtaining funding over the past two years more difficult, the organization has remained financially sound with over $160,000 currently in the bank... It has been an honor for us to have worked with you, and for me especially to front an ensemble of your caliber and talent. Giving that up is tough, however we feel it is best for our family and best for the organization.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Trove of Teddy

Through circuitous means that I'm both unable and unwilling to fully disclose, I've come into the possession of three boxes of recordings once owned by the late Theodore Jan Wilson. The bassist died March 9.

Nothing that could be easily resold to a secondhand dealer remained when I acquired the collection. All that's left are hundreds of cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes encrusted with dust, grime and dead spiders. Most of the collection consists of home recordings of albums and radio broadcasts containing jazz and classical content. Handwritten notes describe each item. A male voice, presumably Wilson's, narrates a few tapes in the style of a disc jockey on a jazz program.

A few items, however, have value as more than curiosities. Wilson was the son of jazz pianist Teddy Wilson. The collection of castoffs includes a number of live Teddy Wilson recordings. I'm unable to find corresponding commercially released versions of some of the material, leading me to believe that I'm hearing private recordings of Wilson performances.

I'd like to donate this trove to an appropriate entity. As far as I know, the staffs of the American Jazz Museum and the Marr Sound Archives have already combed through this collection. If not, either organization is welcome to it, as is any of Wilson's remaining family. Interested parties may leave a comment here or contact me via email. My address is posted above.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Now's the Time: Branford Marsalis

Although many critics view Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque endeavor as the low point of his career, I've always admired the mid-90s experiment. It may have been better on paper than in practice, but Marsalis deserves credit for even taking such a risk. This piece, a reworking of "Donna Lee," is an attempt to find the common ground between jazz, blues, funk and hip hop. Marsalis performs with his acoustic quartet Saturday, November 6, at the Gem Theater.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The CD release party for The Peoples Liberation Big Band is Sunday, November 7, at the Record Bar. Details are at Facebook. (Login required.)

*A couple hundred photographs of last month's Rhythm and Ribs festival are featured in this slideshow.

*The executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has resigned. Here's the Star's account. "The Negro Leagues Museum was never going to survive as a tourist attraction," writes Joe Posnanski in a new Sports Illustrated column.

*Mary Lou Williams is featured in the current issue of Smithsonian Folkways magazine.

*"(T)he work of music is an unsexy grind," suggests the author of the latest provocative Black House Improvisors' Collective blog post.

*Here's another review of Bobby Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite.

*A critic suggests that Michael Pagan's 12 Preludes & Fugues is an "album of prodigiously eclectic, rich and warm music."

*Do area jazz musicians have a sense of humor? KCJazzLark provides an answer.

*The Pitch previews a promising jazz-meets-hip hop event scheduled for November 26 at Crosstown Station.

*November's gigs have been added to the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

*From Steve Rigazzi: The Steve Rigazzi Group is going to be recording live at Jardines on Tuesday, November 9 from 7-11. The Steve Rigazzi Group is: Paul Smith -piano, Danny Embrey- guitar, Rich Wheeler- Sax, Todd Strait- Drums, Steve Rigazzi -Bass.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crossing Over on a Rising Tide

A prominent Kansas City jazz musician once told me that every ambitious blues and rock musician secretly aspires to play jazz. Only their current lack of skill, he suggested, prevents them from performing the music. I doubt the accuracy of his conceit, but what if he's right?

Max Weinberg, perhaps best known as Bruce Springsteen's longtime drummer, led a swinging big band at Jardine's last night. Both The Star and The Pitch reviewed Weinberg's second set.

Weinberg, of course, is hardly the first rock-oriented musician to cross over to the jazz world, but it's possible that a tidal wave of similar stylistic shifts is on the horizon. Current members of arty indie rock acts like Arcade Fire and Radiohead, improvisation-happy jam bands like String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic, and roots-oriented hip hop acts like Mos Def and the Roots may very well wind up playing jazz-based music a decade or two from now. Here in Kansas City, it's entirely conceivable that local luminaries including members of the Roman Numerals and Tech N9ne could shift to jazz as they age.

Would this trend be a rising tide that lifts all boats? Or would dedicated jazz musicians who have spent years battling for gigs at the limited number of jazz-friendly venues be squeezed out of work? For the sake of my musician friend, I certainly hope it's not the latter.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)