Monday, December 30, 2013

The Top Jazz-Related Stories and Trends of 2013

Bird Lives. 
Two new biographies of Charlie Parker- Chuck Haddix's Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker and Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker- offered new insights into Kansas City's most famous son.

On Broadway.
The recent opening of Broadway Jazz Club- a venue dedicated to mainstream Kansas City jazz- is enormously encouraging.

The maturation of the Green Lady Lounge into a popular establishment for jazz fans and upscale drinkers alike has been very satisfying.  And Take Five Coffee + Bar is now firmly established as one of the area's elite listening rooms.  The Kill Devil Club, however, shifted away from a jazz format.  Jazz has become a niche offering at the Phoenix.  The West Chase Grille closed this year while JJ's literally blew up.

Kansas City became a lesser place when Kerry Strayer died on August 1.  He was an extraordinary baritone saxophonist, bandleader, teacher, and all-around great guy.

Mired in minor festivals.
In a June editorial, KC Jazz Lark suggested that Kansas City is "mired in minor festivals."  He's right.  The Prairie Village Jazz Festival, the 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival, the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival and Jazz Winterlude are terrific, but none is a "major" jazz-oriented festival. 

Art jazz.
Commercially problematic but artistically fruitful aspects of jazz were explored at this year's Black Lab: A New Music Festival and monthly at the RecordBar and Grunauer.

Atypical flareups of violence and a challenging business environment bedeviled the Jazz District in 2013.

Series sustenance.
Every time I go to a poorly attended concert by a renowned artist in the Jammin' at the Gem and the Folly Jazz series, I consider it a small miracle that the programs continue in spite of the lack of support.  I'm very grateful for the organizers' perseverance. 

When Aryana Nemati served as a last-minute sub in Harry Connick's band at a concert at the Midland theater, she floored the star with a sterling solo.  Anyone familiar with the high quality of the artists who've honed their skills at the UMKC Conservatory in recent years wasn't surprised.  Nemati is just one of dozens of remarkable young players in Kansas City.

Secret Story.
It seems silly to suggest that a man who won his twentieth Grammy Award this year is under-appreciated, but Pat Metheny still doesn't receive the respect he deserves from "serious" jazz listeners.  His 2013 releases Tap: The Book of Angels, Vol. 20 and The Orchestrion Project are extraordinary.

I conducted similar exercises in 2012 and 2011.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Now's the Time: Drew Williams

Drew Williams' site prominently features an endorsement from Doug and Lori Chandler of Take Five Coffee + Bar.  The couple asserts that Williams' "playing is driving, thoughtful and expertly balanced" and that his compositions are "challenging in their use of time and angular lines, but at the same time very accessible."  Williams returns to Take Five on Saturday.   He'll be accompanied by saxophonist Tim Aubuchon, guitarist Scott Bein, bassist Bill McKemy and drummer Brendan Culp.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Mike Hendricks reports on long-term plans for the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*The Kansas City Star published a review of the "The Nutcracker" by the Owen/Cox Dance Company and the People's Liberation Big Band.

*The Magic Jazz Fairy returns to KC Jazz Lark's blog.

*Here's the latest episode of "Blues In the News" from 12th Street Jump.

*Joe Dimino of Neon Jazz interviewed Suzanna Smith, a Bay Area-based vocalist.

*Tweet o' the Week: Michael Shults- Hobbyist musicians have totally distorted laypeople's views of my profession.

*From a press release: Drummer extraordinaire Matt Wilson kicks off the tour to celebrate his new CD Gathering Call with concerts in St. Louis and Columbia, MO.  Joined by special guest John Medeski on piano, Wilson performs with his quartet featuring Chris Lightcap on bass, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, and Jeff Lederer on tenor/soprano saxophones and clarinet.  Wednesday, January 22 - Saturday, January 25, at Jazz at the Bistro… St. Louis. One set each night beginning at 7:30 p.m. Admission: $33 Wednesday and Thursday; $38 Friday and Saturday; $15 students...  Sunday, January 26 at Murry's… Columbia, MO.  Special fundraising concert for the We Always Swing Jazz Series. Sets at 3:30 and 7:00 p.m. Tickets: general admission $35 - $50; students $25 - $40.

*From Take Five Coffee: Friday, December 27, 8 pm:  Kevin Cerovich and the Ben Leifer Quartet- Kansas City native Kevin Cerovich is an award-winning trombonist and one of those players whose return gets the other musicians in town excited. We're thrilled to have him rock the house in the excellent company of Ben Leifer (bass), John Kizilarmut (drums) and Mike Herrera (sax). $5 cover.  Saturday, December 28, 8 pm:  Drew Williams Quintet- This is becoming an annual event - welcome Drew Williams back to Take Five to share his latest whimsical compositions.  Drew (sax) is the leader of the famed Drew Williams Nonet in NYC, and he has blown our minds every time he comes to play. This time he's accompanied by Bill McKemy (bass), Tim Aubuchon (tenor), Brendan Culp (drums) and Scott Bein (guitar).  Sunday, December 29, 7 pm:  Matt Chalk Trio- Our first try at this was cancelled due to the ice, so here's another chance to get close to the fire and hear one of the most intriguing young saxophonists to come out of KC in a long time. A hearty welcome home for the holidays to Matt Chalk, who is presently killing it in New York City. Tonight he's bringing Ben Leifer (bass) and Ryan Lee (drums) to round out an intimate trio with tremendous power. $5 cover.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Concert Review: Kenton Christmas Carols at Southminster Presbyterian Church

I've never heard Stan Kenton's Christmas album.  Furthermore, it never occurred to me that I might actually enjoy it. 

The presence of some of Kansas City's top brass musicians in an ensemble consisting entirely of musicians donating their time lured me to Southminster Presbyterian Church yesterday afternoon.

Organized by trombonist Lindsey Williams and serving as a benefit for Meyer Music's Band of Angels program, the 50-minute track-by-track rendition of Kenton's album by the Holly and Ivy Brass was delightful.  About 150 people attended the performance.

Kenton's distinctively grandiose style lent itself to the familiar seasonal material.  Free from saxophones, Williams characterized the arrangements as an "explosion of brass."  The contributions of trumpeter Jay Sollenberger, a veteran of Kenton's orchestra, added luster to the occasion. 

The musicians' sterling effort is almost certainly one of the most meaningful Christmas presents I'll receive this season.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Now's the Time: Steve Cardenas

Guitarist Steve Cardenas will lead bands at Take Five Coffee + Bar on Friday, December 20, and at the Blue Room on Saturday, December 21.  Saxophonist Matt Otto and bassist Bob Bowman perform with Cardenas on both nights.  Ryan Lee plays drums on Friday and Brian Steever plays drums on Saturday.  Cardenas is captured playing with an all-star band at this year's Heineken Jazzaldia in the oddly-edited embedded video. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Bobby Watson is slated to appear on KCUR's Up To Date program on Thursday, December 19.

*"It seems that right now, we have more places to hear music and more good bands than we had even a year ago," Joe Klopus asserted in his column last week.

*KC Jazz Lark places the significance of Paseo Hall into historical context.

*Steve Kraske interviewed Ben Sidran on KCUR's Up To Date.  A blogger reviewed Sidran's concert at White Theatre.

*The Pitch recommends upcoming performances by Steve Cardenas at the Blue Room and Take Five Coffee.

*Chris Burnett takes note of Google's free tools.

*Tweet o' the Week: Steven Lambert- Tonight 10 to 1 @thesoundkc plays @GreenLadyLounge for their 1 year anniversary!!!!

*Comment o' the Week: Mike Metheny- This is a very good band!

*From the American Jazz Museum: Thurs. Dec. 19 - KC MAD! Musician's Appreciation Day! Elder Statesmen of KC Jazz 5-7 p.m.; Carl McComas Reichl 7:30-11 p.m., Free. Fri. Dec. 20 - Charles Williams with Lisa Henry featuring the music of Ramsey Lewis, $10… Sat. Dec. 21 - Music of Thelonious Monk - Matt Otto Quartet featuring Steve Cardenas, $10. Mon. Dec. 23 - Everette DeVan, Free.

*From Take Five Coffee: Friday, December 20, 8 pm:  Steve Cardenas and Matt Otto- Kansas City native guitarist Steve Cardenas is legendary in the world of jazz. He has recorded with some of our favorites, such as Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Joey Baron, just to name a few.  Tonight he's at Take Five with Matt Otto on sax, Ryan Lee on drums and Bob Bowman on bass, playing the music of Thelonious Monk, among others. Make plans accordingly. $5 cover.  Saturday, December 21, 8 pm:  Matt Chalk Trio-  A hearty welcome home for the holidays to sax wonder Matt Chalk, who is presently killing it in New York City. Tonight he's bringing Ben Leifer (bass) and Ryan Lee (drums) to round out an intimate trio with tremendous power. $5 cover.  Sunday, December 22, 8 pm:  New Jazz Order presents Ellington's Nutcracker- Clint Ashlock brings in the New Jazz Order Big Band (yes, a full big band) with an elite holiday treat for you. Come join us for Duke Ellington's brilliant interpretation of a holiday favorite, and let the Sugar Plum Fairies bounce! $10 cover.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Plastic Sax's Top Albums of 2013

Plastic Sax's Favorite Kansas City-Related Jazz Albums of 2013
1. Pat Metheny- Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, vol. 20. (Plastic Sax review)
2. Bobby Watson- Check Cashing Day. (Plastic Sax review)
3. Pat Metheny- The Orchestrion Project. (Plastic Sax review)
4. Mark Lowrey- Tangos for 18th Street. (Plastic Sax review)
5. Frank Wess- Magic 101.
6. Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle- Freedom of Expression. (Plastic Sax review)
7. Alaturka- Yalniz. (Plastic Sax review)
8. Eldar Djangarov Trio- Breakthrough.
9. Karrin Allyson- Yuletide Hideaway. (Plastic Sax review)
10. The Paul Shinn Trio- Reason Pure. (Plastic Sax review)

Plastic Sax's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2013 From Elsewhere
1. Dave Holland- Prism
2. Terri Lyne Carrington- Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue
3. Gary Burton- Guided Tour
4. Joe Lovano & Us Five- Cross Culture
5. Orrin Evans- It Was Beauty
6. Ben Goldberg- Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues
7. Brad Goode- Chicago Red
8. Rudresh Mahanthappa- Gamak
9. Damir Out Loud- Graduation Day
10. Ben Wolfe- From Here I See

Similar year-end listings were published at Plastic Sax in 2012, 2011 and 2010.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Now's the Time: Parallax

Stan Kessler's Parallax returns to Take Five Coffee + Bar on Saturday, December 14.  The ensemble is one of Kansas City's most interesting jazz bands.  I reviewed Parallax's performance at Westport Coffeehouse in January.  Additional footage of much of that gig is posted here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joyce Smith of The Kansas City Star reports on the food and beverage options at the Broadway Jazz Club.

*The shocking history of Paseo Hall is examined by KC Jazz Lark.

*The Pitch recommends Logan Richardson's performance at the Blue Room.

*The New York Times notes the new biographies of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch and Chuck Haddix.

*Blog post from Chris Burnett: "You are an artist AND a business".  Burnett also posted his top albums of 2013.

*Jeff Harshbarger is among the participants in The Kansas City Star's year-end top albums list poll.

*Regina Carter will perform at Helzberg Hall on March 23, 2014.

*Tweet o' the Week: Brian Scarborough: Just came across this last night. Thanks for the shout out Plastic Sax! #kcjazz

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous: Good post. I with you when you say, "I'm not in the market for a $29 dollar filet mignon or a $12 martini..." me neither. I will gladly pay a reasonable cover charge and buy (reasonable) drinks but they can keep the high priced food.

*From the American Jazz Museum: Convergence in Blue. Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle. Thursday, December 12, 2013 • 7 p.m. Blue Room Jazz Club. This special Jazz Showcase in the award-winning Blue Room jazz club will fuse performing and visual artists in spontaneous performance. Three visual artists will be commissioned to create original works as the music evolves in collaboration with the performance work from the jazz artists on the stage. Three separate visual art stations will be created to complement the performance space within the Blue Room, thus giving the audience an intimate connection to the creative process at work.  This event is free and open to the public.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Begin the Beguine: The Broadway Jazz Club

After attending a media event at the Broadway Jazz Club last week, I can confirm that the chatter about the resurrection of Jardine's is justified.  The new venue at 3601 Broadway has the look and feel of the shuttered jazz venue.  The Broadway Jazz Club officially opened on Friday, December 6.

Two prominent bloggers offer contrasting perspectives.  Paul Wilson's endorsement of the Broadway Jazz Club notes that the sound system is excellent.  I'll add that the food I sampled was tasty and that the staff was charming during my initial visit.

In a hypercritical editorial, Tony's Kansas City suggests that a "glut" of jazz venues showcase "Kansas City's signature but mostly dead art form."  While Tony is just trying to be funny, I am concerned that much the core constituency of Jardine's may be unwilling to drive 1.4 miles north into midtown.

The old Jardine's set could afford to dine at the Broadway Jazz Club.  I'm not in the market for a $29 dollar filet mignon or a $12 martini, but I might be tempted by the $11 pork tenderloin sandwich and a beer or a $14 roasted barbabietole salad and a glass of tap water.  I'm also eager to discover how jazz fans reluctant to order food will be treated.

I'm not likely to get an answer this week.   Because there are no calendar listings, I'm unable to plan my next visit. 

Footage of Megan Birdsall singing "Love For Sale" on Saturday captures of bit of the ambiance of the Broadway Jazz Club.

(Original image of Mark Lowrey, Dominique Sanders and Brian Steever by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Now's the Time: Brian Scarborough

I first took notice of Brian Scarborough a year or two ago.  After the trombonist took a daring solo during a People's Liberation Big Band performance at the RecordBar, I leaned into someone at an adjoining table.

"Who is that kid?" I asked.

If the measure of a man is the company he keeps, Scarborough is a burgeoning giant. 

He performs with Matt Otto, Danny Embrey, Jeff Harshbarger and Brandon Draper in the embedded video.  On Friday, December 6, at Take Five Coffee + Bar, Scarborough will appear a similar lineup of Kansas City's jazz elite.  His band will include Otto, Harshbarger, Draper and T.J. Martley.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The invaluable new site Bobby Watson Speaks contains "Deleted Scenes from A Candid Conversation with Bobby Watson."

*In a damning editorial, KC Jazz Lark characterizes initial plans for the 18th & Vine museum complex as "an oasis ringed by blight."

*Jazz Tokyo offers a seemingly comprehensive look at Chuck Haddix's biography of Charlie Parker.

*A site dedicated to the genealogy and a forthcoming reunion of the Moten family is of interest to Kansas City jazz fans. Here are the pages for Bennie and Buster Moten. (Tip via KC Jazz Lark.)

*Downbeat reviewed Bobby Watson's Check Cashing Day.

*A Ted Talk given by Harold O'Neal two months ago is online.

*A preview of a concert featuring Bram Wijnands notes the Dutchman's interesting biography. Chuck Berg reviewed the performance in Topeka.

*Here's another round of 12th Street Jump's "Blues In the News".

*Tweet o' the Week: Brian Scarborough- @theprojecth sounded great tonight out at Take Five. Phenomenal playing and writing. Glad I made it out. #kcjazz

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous- I wouldn't say nobody wants the AJM, but currently it is less than impressive. I like the Blue Room (part of the AJM) and go once or twice a month. I haven't been in the museum for about three years as there's not much new. I wish the museum would do more special events combining education and performance…

*From Take Five Coffee + Bar: (O)ur December is fierce.  Every date but one features an out-of-town artist… We've dubbed it "Homecoming Month".  Friday, December 6, 8 pm:  Brian Scarborough Quintet- Kansas City native composer and trombonist Brian Scarborough is back home from his studies in Chicago and he's bringing a ferocious quintet to take over Take Five: Jeff Harshbarger on bass, Matt Otto on saxophone, TJ Martley on keys and Brandon Draper on drums. $5 cover.  Saturday, December 7, 8 pm:  Clint Ashlock with Ben Markley- Denver pianist Ben Markley… will perform Saturday. Coming down from the mountains with Ben that night is saxophonist Josh Quinlan, instructor of Jazz Studies at the University of Colorado. A powerhouse threesome of Kansas City talent will help us welcome the guests from the west - trumpeter Clint Ashlock, drummer John Kizilarmut and bassist Ben Leifer. $5 cover.

*From a press release: Spirituality & All That Jazz. First Wednesday of every month. Unity Temple on the Plaza Tickets at the door only - $7.00. Children under 16 free. Wednesday, December 4, 2013: Magical Musical Moments with vocalist Bukeka Shoals and Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band. Wednesday, February 5, 2014: The incomparable Joe Cartwright, Pianist with Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band.

*From a press release: Kansas City’s newest jazz destination, The Broadway Jazz Club, officially opens its doors to the public on Friday, Dec. 6 with a grand opening celebration from 4 p.m. – 1 a.m. and an encore celebration scheduled Saturday, Dec. 7 from 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. The Broadway Jazz Club is proud to create a destination that is celebrating and reviving Kansas City’s musical roots and rich jazz heritage. The weekend will also introduce the complete menu offerings prepared by The Broadway Jazz Club Chef Richard Martin. Friday, Dec. 6: The Broadway Jazz Club will kick its grand opening into full swing with a full night of live music featuring the Dan Doran Band, a high energy, local KC jump blues and jazz band. A special happy hour with drink specials is planned from 4 – 8 pm. Saturday, Dec. 7: The local jazz celebration continues at The Broadway Jazz Club on Saturday night with the musical talents of local songstress Megan Birdsall from 9pm – 1 am. 

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Album Review: Bobby Watson- Check Cashing Day

Decades removed from a significant place in the cultural mainstream, an alarming proportion of jazz has grown appallingly obsequious.  It's remarkable, consequently, when a prominent jazz artist incorporates explicit social commentary into his or her music.

Check Cashing Day, the latest album by Bobby Watson, is certain to upset some listeners.  Watson's political stance, combined with his formidable artistic aptitude, make Check Cashing Day one of the most important jazz albums by a Kansas City-based artist in recent years.

The daring project contains spoken word segments by poet Glenn North that directly address the political undercurrent that's fueled much of Watson's work.  In his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested that "we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check."  North and Watson take the concept figuratively and literally.  "The bill is up to four trillion dollars now and man, it's way past due," North implores.  "What do I have to do to get my forty acres and a mule?"

Reparations, ongoing racial disparities and unfulfilled promises are recurring themes.  Yet on "Revival (Ovedia)," North implies that spiritual redemption can be found at a jazz club at 18th & Vine.  A person who overheard me listening to Check Cashing Day protested that North's contribution to the album is "corny."  Heard out of context, the spoken word segments might be off-putting.  Within the framework of the entire album, however, North's work is powerful.

Most of the instrumentals are the sort of memorable hard bop compositions that have become Watson's trademark.  The opening track "Sweet Dreams," for instance, exemplifies Watson's gift for melody and love of swing.   The core "I Have a Dream Project" band- trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Eric Kennedy- sparkle throughout.  "Seekers of the Sun (Son)," a track featuring vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watkins, resembles a vintage Lonnie Liston Smith selection.  Horace Washington and Karita Carter also make valuable contributions. 

The momentous album may irritate a few of Watson's longtime fans, but the achingly beautiful and momentous Check Cashing Day is an essential addition to Watson's esteemed discography. 

(Original bleary image of Bobby Watson by Plastic Sax.)