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.)

No comments: