Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Lisa Henry and the Kansas City Jazz Quintet at KCKCC

The multi-generational ensemble of saxophonist Jim Mair, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Charles Williams, bassist James Albright and drummer Michael Warren intrigued me, but the real reason I attended the closing concert of the Jazz Summit at Kansas City Kansas Community College was a rare opportunity to hear Lisa Henry. Yes, that Lisa Henry.

The vocalist has appeared infrequently in Kansas City in the last couple years. Her performance proved that area audiences have been deprived of a very fine talent. Approximately 50 people took in the sophisticated concert at the sonically pristine Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 27.

Like Deborah Brown, my pick for Kansas City's best jazz vocalist, Henry is clearly influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. Yet Henry's voice isn't as rich and lustrous as Brown's. Henry compensates with an exceedingly intelligent approach. She knows precisely how to use her airier voice to pull songs through. Her "choo choo" scat on "Take the 'A' Train" never seemed cloying.  A knowing interpretation of "Body and Soul" injected new life into the stale standard.

Henry may have been the featured attraction, but the remainder of the band also shone. Henry repeatedly featured Albright in playfully competitive duets. Warren's elegant drumming elevated every selection. Mair's faultless solo on "Confirmation"- he introduced it as "a tune from Charlie Parker's sacred songbook"- reminded the audience of his immaculate tone. Mehari's brilliantly constructed solo on "Cherokee" proved that the media attention he's received in recent years hasn't impeded his development as an extraordinary jazz instrumentalist. (Here's an early example of the hype surrounding Mehari.) Williams' bluesy solos on "Summertime" opened the evening with flair.

The concert marked the conclusion of the week-long education-oriented Jazz Summit at KCKCC. Henry performs again Friday, May 4, at the Blue Room.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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