Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Cost of Free Jazz

I was initially pleased when I learned that admission fees would be waived for the 2013 edition of the Jazz Winterlude festival, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts about the matter.  It's no secret that the audience for jazz is declining.  Could the plethora of free concerts featuring top-tier talent be part of the problem?

Jazz Winterlude's new policy will almost certainly ensure larger audiences for the annual event at Johnson County Community College.  The exciting young guitarist Julian Lage and the Kansas City-based veteran vocalist Deborah Brown are two artists who stand to benefit from the additional exposure.  But at what cost? 

It's safe to say that the only exposure many people receive to jazz performances comes during well-promoted free events such as Jazz Winterlude, Jazz in the Woods and the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.   Do these otherwise excellent festivals devalue the music?  Or does their accessibility translate into larger audiences for jazz performances with an admission charge?

Five hundred people were willing to pay $50 apiece to hear Gary Burton and Chick Corea at the Gem Theater last night.  And 1,000 people shell out $40 or $50 to see each of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's concerts.  A $7 cover charge doesn't deter a few hundred people from attending Tim Whitmer's monthly concerts at Unity on the Plaza.  That's the good news. 

The bad news is that Folly Theater (1,050 seats) was at half capacity for a spectacular outing by Pat Metheny and his all-star band three weeks ago.   I'm told that Bobby Broom recently played to a disturbingly small house at the Blue Room.   The audience for last weekend's concert by Delfeayo Marsalis and Sean Jones wasn't close to capacity.  And cover or no cover, an unhealthy portion of gigs by locally-based jazz artists are woefully attended. 

Or maybe it's just a jazz thing.  Over 14,000 aficionados of country music filled the Sprint Center last night for a concert headlined by Eric Church.  His fans paid nothing to see Church at Santa-Cali-Gon Days, Country in the Woods and the KC Live stage in the Power & Light district in recent years.  Yet Church is capable of attracting scores of fans willing to invest a minimum of $37.50 in a ticket to see him again.

I'll continue to ponder this conundrum as I enjoy tonight's free concert by '80s pop star Sheila E. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now's the Time: Nellie McKay

Man alive!  New York-based Nellie McKay will make an unlikely appearance at Polsky Theatre on Friday, September 28.  While she performs a convincingly swinging tribute to Kansas City jazz icon Jimmy Rushing in the embedded video, it would be misleading to suggest that the art/pop/cabaret artist will focus on jazz during her visit to Johnson County Community College.  Concertgoers should expect to hear a set that more closely resembles McKay's Tiny Desk Concert for NPR.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus reports that Lonnie McFadden has released a new album.

*Delfeayo Marsalis' appearance at the Blue Room was reviewed by The Kansas City Star.

*Here's a 30-second radio spot for the upcoming Rhythm & Ribs Festival.

*Music recorded at a recent performance by the Black House Improvisors' Collective is available at its site.

*KCJazzLark shares additional photos from the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*I asked Hermon Mehari about "Full Circle," a track from the forthcoming Diverse album that's also available on the free 41-track Midwestern Audio compilation.  He told me that it's "(i)nspired musically by me playing in more gospel music situations and conceptually by the general idea of many things in life seeming to come 'full circle' if we look at these ideas and situations in the right away."

*Joyce Smith reports on the food and drink menu of the Kill Devil Club.

*Weedstock, the successor to Jazz In the Weeds, takes place on October 6.  The music of each of the participating acts- Mistura Fina, Passport, Black Tie Billie and the Blues Notions- includes elements of jazz.

*Marc Myers admires two obscure Frank Foster albums.

*The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa is in financial jeopardy.

*Comment o' the Week: Dr. John- Wynton, Branford you guys sound like your much less successful brother - Delfeayo, for real. - You keep proselytizing to the masses who by and large do not care for your obsolete takes on "What Music is", "What Jazz is." Please try and keep on topic. I think the review was spot on. Yes there are some intonation problems but the record does capture the extreme energy of a HOD performance and is an accurate portrayal of what the band is all about. There are some killin' moments on this disc, most have to do with a very talented rhythm section that is only gong to get better.

*Tweet o' the Week: CharleyinKC- I just had a drink at the Kill Devil Club in P&L. I think they're still trying to figure themelves out, but when they do it could be cool.

*From Rob Scheps: Saxophonist Rob Scheps returns to Kansas City, and Kansas in general from New York City for a tour with longtime colleague, world renowned jazz trumpeter Shunzo Ohno…  Ohno comes to us DIRECT from Tokyo, Japan…  The Tour...
*Fri. Oct. 12  Rob Scheps + Ron Carlson Trio- Lucky Brewgrille
*Sat. Oct. 13  Rob Scheps with Joe Cartwright Trio- KCUR- FM
*Wed. Oct. 17 Rob Scheps, Shunzo Ohno with Faculty Jazz Ensemble- Ottawa University
*Thurs. Oct. 18 Rob Scheps/ Shunzo Ohno Quintet with Roger Wilder, Bob Bowman, Ryan Lee- Take Five Coffee Bar
*Fri. Oct. 19 Rob Scheps, Shunzo Ohno + Ron Carlson Trio- Lucky Brewgrille
*Thurs. Oct. 25 Rob Scheps, Shunzo Ohno + Ron Carlson Trio- West Chase Grille
*Fri. Oct. 26 Rob Scheps, Shunzo Ohno + Ron Carlson Trio- Lucky Brewgrille
*Sat. Oct. 27 The Rob Scheps / Shunzo Ohno Quintet with Roger Wilder, Bob Bowman, Brian Steever- The Blue Room

(Original image taken at the Blue Room on September 21 by Plastic Sax.  From left to right- Richard Johnson, Jeremy Boettcher, Delfeayo Marsalis, Sean Jones and Bobby Watson.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: T.J. Martley- Meditations Vol. 1

Meditations Vol. 1, one of the best albums released by a locally-based jazz musician in 2012, doesn't swing.  Furthermore, it bears little relationship to the Kansas City piano tradition of Pete Johnson, Count Basie and Jay McShann.  Instead, the solo piano project by T.J. Martley evokes the music of Keith Jarrett, Erik Satie, Thelonious Monk and Johann Sebastian Bach.

It's not surprising that Martley's album is challenging.  He's the pianist of choice for many of Kansas City's most musically demanding bandleaders.  He played in ensembles led by Rich Wheeler and Mike Metheny at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival earlier this month.  He's also a member of the fine Lennie Tristano tribute band Crosscurrent.  Martley's popular YouTube channel specializes in insightful piano instruction. 

Although it's a technical tour de force, Meditations Vol. 1 isn't dry.  The decisions made on the ten "short free improvisation piece(s)" expose Martley's thought process and state of mind.   Meditations Vol. 1 may initially seem dense and difficult, but careful listening reveals the album's substantial inner beauty. 

Here's the album's EPK.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Other Jazz Festival on September 8

Was it maliciousness or ignorance that led organizers of the 14th Street Jazz Festival to choose September 8 as the date of their event in the Power & Light District?  The date had long been held by the high-profile Prairie Village Jazz Festival.  (Here's my review.) Even so, the downtown event featured many of Kansas City's most talented musicians.  Had it been held on any other day, many of the 3,000 people who attended the festival in Prairie Village would have gladly supported the Power & Light District's event.  Thankfully, someone captured Bobby Watson sitting in with guitarist Will Matthews. Watson begins blowing at 7:13 in the embedded video.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City Star offers a review of the Kansas City's Jazz Orchestra's debut performance at Helzberg Hall.

*Steve Kraske interviewed Kevin Mahogany on KCUR's Up to Date.

*Outside Inside Out critiques Become Light by the Project H.

*A new recording by Brian Baggett's trio is available as a free download at Bandcamp.

*The Kansas City Business Journal provides details about the Kill Devil Club, including the venue's hours and cover policy.

*KCJazzLark provides a recap of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*David Hudnall's review of Hearts of Darkness' Shelf Life suggests that the band is " a meaningful, modern link to KC's jazz heritage."

*Chris Burnett offers a tease of a new composition titled "Analog Networking."

*UMKC's student newspaper attempts to inform students about Kansas City's jazz district.

*I got in over my head while messing around at the domain settings of this site's host, inadvertently making Plastic Sax difficult to locate for some readers.   I apologize.   I'm working on a fix.

*Tweet o' the Week: KCJazzConnxn- Sigh... Brian McKnight is the headliner at the KC Rhythm and Ribs Festival? That's messed up. #kcjazz

*Comment o' the Week: Cb- I totally agree with your assessment of Bill McKemy's forward-thinking approach to music and this release as leader, HIB. This recording was among those that struck me as deserving of wider recognition when I first returned home to the KC metro to live.

*From Jim Mair on behalf of Kansas City Kansas Community College: The Everette DeVan Quartet featuring vocalist Eboni Fondren will kick off a new monthly “Jazz by the Lake” noon-time concert series at Kansas City Kansas Community College Thursday, Oct. 4.  A series of six concerts featuring some of Kansas City’s most famous jazz artists, the performances will be held from noon-1 p.m. in the Conference Center adjacent to the Campus Lake on the KCKCC campus at 7250 State Avenue…  The remainder of the schedule:
Thursday November 1- Bram Wijnands Trio
Thursday December 6- Joe Cartwright Trio
Thursday February 7- Diverse
Thursday March 7- Chris Hazelton and Friends
Thursday April 4- Tim Whitmer

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Bill McKemy- Duende

Bill McKemy's Duende may be the most handsome album ever released by a jazz-oriented artist in Kansas City.  It features Peregrine Honig's art and was constructed and individually numbered at Hammerpress.  That's as good as it gets in this town. 

The contents are worthy of the deluxe packaging.   Ten years after its 2002 release, Duende has lost none of its luster.  The document captures McKemy (bass), Jeffrey Ruckman (accordion and melodica), Brian Baggett (guitar) and Ryan Bennett (drums) playing exquisitely improvised music.  The best tracks evoke both the arty passion of Astor Piazzola's late-career albums and the progressive Midwestern beauty associated with Charlie Haden.

In addition to creating a sound without geographical boundaries, the musicians seem intent on subverting the concept of time.  Duende's selections range from 37 seconds to over ten minutes.  Most tracks are awash in unhurried languor.  The brief accordion-bass duet on "Shard" provides my favorite moments, but the entirety of the first seven selections are spellbinding.  Sterling Holman adds "effects" on the final track, an electronically treated segment that will be appreciated by aficionados of John Scofield's work with Medeski Martin & Wood.  While worthwhile, it breaks Duende's hypnotic tone.

It's not difficult to imagine Duende being played at a trattoria in Rome in 1980, in a Buenos Aires cafe in 2040 or at a strip mall in Kansas in 2012.  McKemy, Ruckman, Baggett, Holman and drummer Kent Burnham will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Duende with a performance at Take Five Coffee + Bar on Saturday, September 22.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Now's the Time: Doug Carn

Doug Carn, the internet-challenged keyboardist and composer, will appear with drummer Michael Carvin and guitarist Calvin Keys at the Blue Room on Saturday, September 15.  Here are four remarkable nuggets from Carn's neglected albums on the Black Jazz label- 1971's Infant Eyes, 1972's Spirit of the New Land, 1973's Revelation and 1975's Adam's Apple.  I'm tempted to attend the show just to see if I can talk Carn into allowing me to license these prescient titles for reissue on vinyl.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Anita Dixon of the Mutual Musicians Foundation defends recent changes at 1823 Highland in a remarkable memo published by KCJazzLark.

*A television news  segment provides footage and interviews of a tourism-related workshop held the Mutual Musicians Foundation on Monday.  Key line: "Brand USA has $200 million dollars from the federal government and tourism businesses to increase international tourism."

*The debut of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at Helzberg Hall is highlighted in Joe Klopus' latest column.

*Stephen Steigman interviewed Karrin Allyson last week on KCUR's Up To Date.

*The Kansas City Star published reviews of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival and Pat Metheny's concert at the Folly Theater.  The Prairie Village Post recaps the suburb's jazz festival.  The Pitch interviewed Metheny.

*Tony Botello reports that Dave Stephens Band will perform at the Kill Devil Club's official grand opening on Friday, September 14.

*Marilyn Maye made an appearance on a local television program.

*The People's Liberation Big Band will perform at a "street party" following the 2012 Charlotte Street Generative Performing Artist Awards Fellows event on October 5.

*Mike Dillon's Garage a Trois is pictured in a jazz-meets-punk piece at NPR's A Blog Supreme

*Shay Estes wrote an essay about the differences between the technical demands made on vocalists in fado and jazz.

*The Lied Center created a thirty-second spot promoting Nnenna Freelon's October 12 concert.

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous- This is by far the best line this year up for a jazz festival in KC. Good job PV!!!

*Tweet o' the Week: KRenea- 18th & Vine is kinda rockin. Might step in the Blue Room to watch this jazz band.

*From Bill McKemy: Bill McKemy Quartet to appear at Take 5 Coffee & Bar on September 22, 8-10 p.m.  Performance will mark the 10th anniversary of McKemy's CD Duende.  Duende was McKemy’s first release as a leader after making 4 recordings with seminal Kansas City avant-garde trio Malachy Papers... The personnel for this date will include Jeffrey Ruckman, accordion & melodica, Brian Baggett, Guitar, Kent Burnham, drums and Sterling Holman – real-time interactive sampling and mix.

*From a press release: The Heartland Films, Inc. documentary “Kansas City Jazz & Blues; Past, Present & Future” has been selected for the 2012 Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF)...  Former Kansas Citian and award-winning documentary filmmaker Sue Vicory’s jazz and blues film will screen at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 11, as the closing selection of the KIFF… The Thursday night event will be held at the Glenwood Arts Theatre...  KIFF and the Kansas City Women in Film & TV (KCWIFT) have partnered to make the closing night a special evening.  A party following the screening and Q&A with Sue and musicians featured in the film will be sponsored by KCWIFT.  There will be food catered by Lindsay Shannon’s B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ and a jazz and blues jam led by Hermon Mehari and his trio.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: The 2012 Prairie Village Jazz Festival

After captivating an audience of about 3,000 at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival with a wondrous version of "In a Sentimental Mood," Bobby Watson asked a rhetorical question.

"Who said ballads don't work at festivals?"

Almost everything worked Saturday at the suburban event. The weather was gorgeous. The food vendor's offerings were delicious. The set changes were efficient. And most importantly, the music was incredible. I caught all eight hours of Saturday's festival. My impressions of each act follow.

Diverse opened shortly after 3 p.m. Working as a trio and concentrating on standards, Hermon Mehari, Ben Leifer and Brad Williams played with subtle authority. With Williams replacing drummer Ryan Lee, the band has an entirely new feel. It's not better or worse- just different.

A few people whined on Facebook that the People's Liberation Big Band weren't given the opportunity to perform this year after a storm canceled most of last year's acts. Such complaints were silly. Saxophonist Wheeler and drummer Sam Wisman are members of PLBB. They were joined by the forward-thinking tandem of T.J. Martley and Bill McKemy. Anyone looking for subversiveness would have been satisfied by a set-closing cover of a Tortoise tune. Wheeler's set was my favorite of the day.

Mike Metheny's set, however, was the best received outing of the day. His commitment to swing elicited ecstatic sighs from many people seated near me. It didn't hurt that Metheny employed bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait. Bringing Mehari and Wheeler back to the stage for a burning version of Jimmy Smith's "Back At the Chicken Shack" was another smart move.

Fronting a band of ringers, Megan Birdsall was her usual delightful self.

Supported by keyboardist Richard Johnson, longtime bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Mike Warren, Watson was also predictably excellent. Johnson's funk-infused keyboard work on"Lemoncello" added a new dimension to Watson's sound.

Aside from her relentless chiding of the sound men, Karrin Allyson was a joy in her role as headliner. I was almost moved to tears during her heartbreaking version "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." Watson and bassist Bob Bowman sat in for a closing rendition of "Well, You Needn't." It was a fine conclusion to a festival that was easily the area's single best large-scale jazz event of the last five years.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.  From left to right in top photo- T.J. Martley, Hermon Mehari, Gerald Spaits, Rich Wheeler, Mike Metheny, Todd Strait.)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Now's the Time: Karrin Allyson at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Karrin Allyson returns to the Prairie Village Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 8. Her band of ringers includes drummer Todd Strait. The pair perform a voice/drum duo in the embedded video. Allyson participated in an interview with Plastic Sax last year.

Here's the festival's complete schedule:

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.: Diverse
 Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Ben Leifer, bass, Brad Williams, drums

4:20 – 5:20 p.m.: Rich Wheeler Quartet Rich Wheeler, tenor saxophone, T.J. Martley, piano, Bill McKemy, bass, Sam Wisman, drums

5:40 – 6:40 p.m.: Mike Metheny Quartet
 Mike Metheny, trumpet and flugelhorn, T.J. Martley, piano, Gerald Spaits, bass, Todd Strait, drums

 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.: Megan Birdsall Quartet
 Megan Birdsall, vocals, Wayne Hawkins, piano, Bob Bowman, bass, Matt Leifer, drums

8:20 – 9:20 p.m.: Bobby Watson Quartet
 Bobby Watson, alto saxophone, Chris Clarke, piano, Curtis Lundy, bass, Michael Waren, drums

9:40 – 10:55 p.m.: Karrin Allyson Quintet
 Karrin Allyson, vocals and piano, Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone and flute, Rod Fleeman, guitar, Gerald Spaits, bass, Todd Strait, drums

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus previewed Thursday's Pat Metheny concert and Saturday's Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*The namesake of this site is shown at the 1:52 mark in another Buick-sponsored video featuring Hermon Mehari.

*Hunter Long announced that the Black House Improvisors' Collective has been "renewed for another year of residency" with the Charlotte Street Foundation.

*KCTV5 aired a feature about the charitable efforts of Mike Corrigan's Horn Doctor.

*Bill McKemy's 2002 album Duende is praised by KCJazzLark.

*Joyce Smith reports on renovations at the Drum Room. 

*Tweet o' the Week: brandondraper- My trio this Friday!-!-! @take5coffeehouse in leawood KS. Leifer/draper/brewer. Gonna get very funky on this session 8pm -free

*Comment o' the Week: Sid- Recording engineer Chad Meise did a masterful job makingan otherwise sloppy band sound good and tight with digital editing. He should have run the voices through auto-tune though. The intonation or lack there of really exposes the mediocrity of the players in this group. Technically the sax solo is not fine. Are you deaf dude?  This might be a good party band but so were the Bay City Rollers.

*Information gleaned from the program of last weekend's Kansas City Irish Fest: 2011 Irish Fest attendees: 97,000.  Volunteers: 1,100.  Hotel room nights booked: 2,400.  Admission to the three-day event was $5 on Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday.

*From Dan Thomas: On September 20 I'll be releasing an album with my new band Voyage (Me, Wayne Hawkins, Forest Stewart, and Mike Warren) at the Blue Room.

*From Michael  Pag├ín: Swing into the Beginning of Fall KCYJ Style... “Fall Jam 2012”- A Benefit for Kansas City Youth Jazz at the Hotel Phillips.  Hosted By Millie Edwards, featuring KCYJ Students • Instructors • Alumni. Musicians Welcome!  Cash Bar • Hors d’oeuvres • Dinner Menu Available  • Raffle Prizes • Silent Auction • Suggested Donation $25.  Saturday September 22nd 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM Hotel Phillips Mezzanine.  Info Call (816) 523-9024 or visit

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review: Hearts of Darkness- Shelf Life

The cover of Hearts of Darkness' new album Shelf Life depicts a delectable stack of vinyl that includes titles by James Brown, Trouble Funk, Sonny Sharrock, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament, Herbie Hancock, the Neville Brothers and Joe Williams with the Count Basie Orchestra.  The influence of each of those acts is easily discernible on the Kansas City-based band's second release. 

Shelf Life represents a significant progression for the large collective.  Although it's an imperfect document of the rapidly evolving band, Shelf Life is a first-rate party-starter by one of Kansas City's premier live acts.

"Chippin' Away," the best of the album's nine tracks, highlights the band's strengths- rapper Les Izmore's boasting, brash horn charts, an aggressive sax solo, swinging female vocalists and a vital groove.

The Bobby Watson jingle associated with Steve Kraske's Up To Date program on KCUR is really hip.  As soon as a savvy programmer claims Hearts of Darkness' brief instrumental "Come Forward" as his or her theme song, however, Up To Date's soundtrack will become the second-best in town.  Longtime fan favorite "Numeration," the deeply funky "Suspicious People" and the unruly "Standing On the Corner" provide additional highlights.  All three songs are superior to the material on the band's 2010 debut album. 

Occasional blemishes- a momentum-killing sax solo on the opening track and a couple of unmemorable songs among them- prevent Shelf Life from being the best locally-released album of 2012.  Should Hearts of Darkness continue to progress at its current rate, however, it will soon join the elite ranks of contemporary Afrobeat-related acts like Antibalas.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)