Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ryan Lee: Give the Drummer Some

I don't care for drum solos. More often than not, the exercises are merely tedious displays of showboating. My bias once applied to drummer Ryan Lee. I used to consider his approach overly obtrusive and too flashy. One of us must have changed, because I like most everything I've heard Lee play in recent months as a member of Diverse and as he has backed the likes of Rob Scheps and Bobby Watson. I wasn't surprised to learn that Lee had won the district finals of Guitar Center's 2011 Drum-Off on October 25. Bash away, Mr. Lee.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Now's the Time: Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock's solo piano recital Sunday at the Lied Center will probably sound nothing like the music he made with his proto-disco band in 1974. Yet because excuses to post clips of '70s funk don't come around too often at Plastic Sax, I'll take advantage of the rare opportunity to indulge in the unfairly maligned era of the legend's career. Here's Joe Klopus' preview of the concert.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Lisa Henry's involvement in a youth program titled “Ella, Scat & Math” is lauded by a Bonner Springs publication.

*The Leavenworth Times offers a nice preview of the Live at the Hollywood concert series.

*KCJazzLark documents the successful Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues festival.

*The Star and KC Metropolis reviewed Friday's concert at the Gem Theater by Joe Lovano and Us 5.

*The Kansas City Symphony's tribute to Frank Sinatra featured a jazz orchestra. Here's a review.

*The headline tells the story: Plastic saxophone definitely not a toy.

*A blogger comments on the An Evening with Virgil T. concert at Helzberg Hall

*Bobby Watson is characterized as "an old friend of Cork" in a preview of an Irish jazz festival.

*Kristin Shafel previews Herbie Hancock's concert at Lied Center.

*Consumer tip: 1911 Main is featured at Groupon today.

*Drummer Freddie Gruber has died.

*Tweet o' the Week: JazzWinterlude: Did you know: JCCC has a new Jazz Combo that will be playing at this year's #jazzwinterlude. #markyourcalendars

*From Take Five Coffee: Thursday, 10/27 - The Leifer Bros- Join actual brothers Matt (drums) and Ben Leifer (bass) and their ensemble for their inaugural performance at Take Five. Matt and Ben are joined by Clint Ashlock (trumpet), Andrew Ouellette (keys) and Nick Rowland (sax); a literal tour de force of KC's young jazz scene.

*From the American Jazz Museum: PEER Ambassador Celebration Tuesday, November 15th from 6:00-7:00 PM… This is an event to energize and inform all of our new Ambassadors spreading the word about the Museum... Do you know someone who enjoys the AJM, who would like to know more or is interested in becoming involved? Invite them to join us for a great evening at the Museum. Enjoy appetizers, meet other Ambassador and donors and learn how you can spread the word about the amazing work the Museum is doing. Please RSVP….

*(Extremely rare post-publishing edit)- From Peter Lawless/The Fishtank: For those of you familiar with Sir Threadius Mongus, Jeff Davis' jazz-tinged group, The Night's Bright Lights is another of his progressive musical groups which are providing the soundtrack to The Unwind, a large-scale work Davis has been creating for the last fifteen years. The NBL provides a new musical sound, with the use of mantra-like phrases, big beats & wall's of guitar, by way of an analog loop station, reminiscent of classic album-rock guitar indulgence, with an otherworldly-world music vibe. Featuring: Jeff Davis, Mike Stover, Matt Leifer. Tickets are $10.

(Original image of James Weidman, Otis Brown III, Esperanza Spalding, Francisco Mela and Joe Lovano by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Crosscurrents at Polsky Theatre

A musician I know suggests that the jazz audience is diminished because Americans have become undereducated and overstimulated. As he bemoans the dumbing down of our citizenry, I don't dare tell my friend that I like "Mr. Carter" as least as much as James Carter.

I may not entirely agree with the musician, but his assertion isn't without merit. In today's often unenlightened environment, no venture may be more quixotic than a collective dedicated to the music of Lennie Tristano. Defiantly counterintuitive, Crosscurrent is one of of Kansas City's most unlikely bands. A free October 19 concert at Polsky Theatre at Johnson Country Community College served as a reminder that Crosscurrent also one of the best groups in the region.

"I call it weird bop," bandleader Sam Wisman explained to an audience of about 150.

I call it cerebral music played to perfection.

Tracking Tristano's time signatures and deciphering a pair of Matt Otto's original compositions taxed my atrophied brain. Concentrating on a Crosscurrent performance is akin to winding one's way through a meditation maze. At the conclusion of Wednesday's labyrinth-like concert, I was almost too exhausted to check my cellphone to get the latest update on Kim Kardashian.

(Original image of T.J. Martley, Ben Leifer, Steve Lambert, Sam Wisman and Matt Otto by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Now's the Time: Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding returns to Kansas City on Friday as a member of Joe Lovano's US 5. It's the bassist's first appearance in the area since she was featured in the Folly Theater's jazz series in 2009. While Spalding's performance in the embedded video is captivating, she'll be offering rhythmic support of Lovano at the Gem Theater. Joe Klopus previewed the show.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Star reports that Skies and Benton's, two hotel restaurants that featured jazz musicians but didn't actively promote the music, are closing.

*Stan Kessler via Facebook: The Kansas City Youth Jazz Reno Combo that I instruct is appearing on GOOD MORNING AMERICA from The Kauffman Performing Arts Center, Thursday Morning at 7am.

*A very fine 45-minute documentary about Kansas City's place in jazz history was just posted to YouTube. Talking heads include Jay McShann, Lisa Henry, Herbie Hancock, T.S. Monk, James Moody, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Jordan and Bobby Watson. Most of the footage seems to be circa 2004.

*The latest blog post by Hunter Long is loaded with good news for fans of Black House Improvisors' Collective.

*Just how off-putting is the word "jazz"? This 30-second promotional video for Herbie Hancock's upcoming appearance at the Lied Center avoids using the word.

*Chris Burnett ponders the "what is jazz" question in a thoughtful blog post.

*David Hudnall wrote a lengthy feature about the Eddie Baker School of Music.

*New albums by Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Laura Chalk, Sir Threadius Mongus and River Cow Orchestra are considered by KCJazzLark.

*Ben Ratliff reviews a new solo piano album by Harold O'Neal.

*The headline of a Kansas City Business Journal article tells a sad story: "Jazz District TIF nears final note after generating little cash or change".

*Chuck Berg reviews a Topeka Jazz Workshop performance led by Ted Howe.

*Watch Joe Athon's October 13 performance at Jardine's here.

*Candace Evans is featured in 435 South magazine.

*A niece shares childhood memories of her uncle Ahmad Alaadeen.

*Tony's Kansas City plugs a Dave Stephens gig.

*St. Louis Jazz Notes points to a site that provides access to an out-of-print 1965 album featuring Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry.

*A critic for Jazz Times reviewed a concert by Pat Metheny and Larry Grendadier concert.

*Drummer George Reed died in New York. He was 89.

*Tweet o' the Week: paynic: @KCTrumpeter I love trio too, except I'll just hire anywhere from 3-21 people and have most of 'em to lay out. What's your instrumentation?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Improvised Indifference

I gladly paid the five dollar price of admission at a music venue this weekend. Misery ensued.

I don't expect to be presented with an award when I attend a jazz gig, but I certainly don't want to get the sense that I'm doing penance.

The bandleader ignored the audience of twelve. The interaction between the musicians was similarly minimal. The dreary atmosphere resembled a forced detention for students who'd misbehaved during high school band class.

Although the band's concept was solid, it wasn't enough to overcome the morose vibe. If you're not going to put on a show, at least act like you want to be there.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Now's the Time: Aakash Mittal

Colorado-based Aakash Mittal performs with his quartet Monday, October 17, at The Blue Room. Without the lovely dancer in tow, Mittal's band will probably look and sound a lot like this. That's my ish.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Black House Improvisors' Collective offers a free download of its most recent performance.

*The Star provides a review and reporting from the October 8 Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues Fest.

*Here's KCJazzLark's take on Rhythm & Ribs.

*An article about a jazz show at a college radio station in Fresno mentions local kids 5 Star Jazz Band.

*Saxophonist Steve Wilson embarks on an interesting Charlie Parker-related project at the Kennedy Center.

*The Yellowjackets' concert at the Folly Theater was reviewed by Karen Hauge.

*St. Louis Jazz Notes offers a reminder that Matthew Shipp appears at his city's 560 Music Center on Friday, October 14. He also announced that Ralph Towner will perform a free concert on October 27.

*Tweet o' the Week: Alaadeenswife: I'm finally ready to sell the "Holy Grail". That's Alaadeen's alto that formerly belonged to John Jackson. "Bird" borrowed it frequently.

*Drummer George E. Ballard, "one of the few musicians to play with both Count Basie and Duke Ellington," has died.

*From a press release: The Swope Corridor Renaissance/Upper Room… will present Music Matters, a benefit for the children of the Upper Room’s Music Program. This fundraiser will be held at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 14, at the Church of the Resurrection, 13720 Roe, Leawood, Kansas 66224. Featured performers are Bobby Watson, Lonnie McFadden, Marilyn Maye, and Pamela Baskin-Watson. Tickets are only $25. For information about the concert go to or to purchase tickets, please go to or call Colleen Schorgl at 913-339-8332.

*From Jim Mair: The KCKCC instrumental jazz department will perform Monday, Oct. 17, … from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen at the Legends in Village West. There is no charge for the performances… ALSO, Both the KCKCC vocal and instrumental jazz departments will take center stage in a “Jazz Showcase” at Jardines… Wednesday, Nov. 2. From 7-11 p.m., (various ensembles) will be performing. There is a small cover charge. The KCKCC instrumental jazz department is headed by Jim Mair; the vocal music department by John Stafford. Jurgen Welge directs the Latin band and Hermon Mehari directs the KC High School All Star Jazz Ensemble.

(Original image of Peter Schlamb, Karl McComas-Richl, Ben Van Gelder, Sean Mullins, and Hermon Mehari performing October 7 at 1911 Main by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: Sir Threadius Mongus at La Esquina

Imagine you intended to form a jazz-based band in Kansas City. Who would you pick to join your ensemble? Jeff Davis chose wisely. The version of Sir Threadius Mongus that performed Friday at La Esquina included Matt Otto, Russell Thorpe and Andrew McGhie on reeds, Stan Kessler on trumpet, Mike Stover on bass and Jonathan Taylor on drums. Davis plays guitar.

That band could play most anything, including Davis' dense Mingus-inspired compositions. Here's an example. Davis, to his credit, didn't take a single solo in the thirty minutes I was there. (First Friday's siren song is irresistible.)

Aside from the screech of trains slowing down as they passed through downtown ("coal-trains" a witty friend accurately observed), La Esquina served as an ideal performance space. Yet in spite of the free beer, absence of a cover charge and a promotional push by the Charlotte Street Foundation, only a handful of people attended.

Everyone else missed out on something special.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Now's the Time: Ben Van Gelder

Do you like New York City? Are you partial to audacious concepts? How do you feel about Dutch saxophonists? This clever Ben Van Gelder video features all three elements. A band featuring Van Gelder, Peter Schlamb and Hermon Mehari performs Friday and Saturday at 1911 Main. I'm told there's no cover.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Pitch takes note of 1911 Main. Joe Klopus' comments on the addition to the jazz scene are here.

*Here's a new track by Sir Threadius Mongus. The band performs a free show Friday, October 7, at La Esquina.

*Here's a digital scrapbook from a recent tour of Spain by Beau Bledsoe and Flamenco Mio.

*Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is the subject of an extensive profile by The Los Angeles Times.

*Here's a review of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert Saturday at Helzberg Hall.

*KCMetropolis offers reviews of concerts by the UMKC Conservatory and Wynton Marsalis.

*Bobby Watson is featured on the Renolds Jazz Orchestra's big band version of Three Penny Opera. The album was released last April.

*Victoria "Fanny" Dunfee blogs about Alaadeen's Dysfunctional autobiography.

*Photos of previous Rhythm & Ribs festivals are shared by KCJazzLark.

*"…Miles Davis never had to bill himself as a tribute to someone else," sighs Hunter Long in a review of Ambrose Akinmusire's performance last week.

*Tweet o' the Week: KCJazzLark: Brad Cox is playing & introducing this 1st PLBB set as if he's at the PV Jazz Fest on a beautiful Sept night. On the outside, I'm laughing.

*Today's Groupon is for The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's October 14 concert.

*From a press release: Popular and versatile pianist/vocalist Candace Evans will be the featured performer at the Spirituality and All That Jazz Concert Series at Unity Temple on The Plaza, Wednesday October 5, 7pm - 8:30pm. The concert is a homecoming celebration for Candace, since performing the last four years at the nationally known Lodge of Four Seasons Resort at the Lake of the Ozarks.

*From Joe Athon on his Thursday, October 13, gig at Jardine's: For the first time, long time KC musician and front man Joe Athon will present live selections from his debut CD- Portrait of the Man. Many of KCs finest will be on board including Bill McKemy, Stan Kessler, and many others!

*From Hermon Mehari: Ben Van Gelder and Peter Schlamb are leading a quintet that will play at 1911 Main this Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th from 9-Midnight. Ben Van Gelder is a young saxophonist from the Netherlands who has been making waves on the scene in NYC and Europe. Peter Schlamb, a vibraphonist who has spent some time in NYC, has been making repeated trips to KC (including a couple with Mike Moreno) from his hometown of St. Louis and is excited to be coming back again. The rest of the group consists of Sean Mullins on drums (NYC), Karl McComas-Reichl on bass (Iowa City), and myself on trumpet. There is no cover.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rhythm & Ribs Listening Party

I prefer to listen to music in the dark lest people witness my visceral reaction to sound. Bobby Watson didn't enjoy that luxury last Tuesday at the Blue Room during the "Rhythm & Ribs Festival 'Blues, Bop & Nothing but the Funk' Listening Party" hosted by the American Jazz Museum.

About thirty people watched panelists Dennis Winslett, Watson and James Ward discuss music and music history in an effort to promote the October 8 event featuring War, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Christian McBride. When selections by James Brown were played, Watson so deeply immersed himself in the listening experience that I was compelled to avert my eyes. His unselfconscious and intimate responses made me feel as if I was intruding on a private moment. I get it.

Inspired by the music, the corresponding conversation was stimulating. When Winslett lauded the fusion of hip hop and jazz on Maurice Brown's "Time Tick Tock", Watson insisted that it be followed by Eddie Harris' funky "Freedom Jazz Dance." "Ain't nothing new!" Watson exclaimed upon hearing Brown.

Also noteworthy: Watson dismissed the word "jazz." He suggested that the genre would be better served if it was called folk music. And Glenn North recited his "Prodigal Poem" as Watson artfully comped on a piano.

Good times. I wish I could attend a similar event at least once a month.

(Original image of Dennis Winslett, Bobby Watson and James Ward by Plastic Sax.)