Thursday, May 29, 2014

Now's the Time: Megan Birdsall

Even when she's interpreting a disquieting song like "Lush Life," Megan Birdsall makes me smile.  The vocalist's intelligent choices reflect her dynamic personality.  She's backed by a top-flight band in a performance at Broadway Jazz Club in the embedded video.  Birdsall returns to the venue on Saturday, May 31.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KC Jazz Lark has kind words for the American Jazz Museum.

*Lisa Henry, Jim Mair and Doug Talley are among the musicians featured in a The Kansas City Star article about jazz education.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Sonny Rollins (!) for his Neon Jazz podcast.

*Tony Bennett's concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was  reviewed by The Kansas City Star.

*A blogger calls Diverse's Our Journey a wise and prophetic classical jazzy journey.  (Via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Clint Ashlock muses on bandleading and composing in a new blog post.

*The Kansas City Star reports on a couple's plan to restore the castle-like structure at 2001 Vine Street.

*Tweet o' the Week: Kansas City Dates- LIKE JAZZ??? (kcmo) - I'm a single black man in my 50's and would like to meet a woman who is also single and … (link).

*Comment o' the Week: I'd like to thank the thoughtful Plastic Sax readers who point out typos and misprints.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Concert Review: Vine Street Rumble Jazz Orchestra at Celebration at the Station

Several thousand early birds at Sunday's Celebration at the Station heard vintage Kansas City jazz performed in a setting that would have been familiar to a young Charlie Parker. 

Vine Street Rumble Jazz Orchestra's delightful "pre-show" performance in front of Union Station resurrected 80-year-old ghosts that were visible to at least two patrons.

As saxophonist Brett Jackson soloed on Count Basie's "Blue and Sentimental," a seemingly unstable vagrant seated next to me shouted "this is the sound!"  I shared his phantasmal enthusiasm for the band's stated mission of "celebrating the legacy of Kansas City jazz in the 30's and 40's." 

The set began with a couple of Jay McShann numbers and included at least one Bennie Moten composition.  The ensemble features notable players such as saxophonist Steve Lambert, trumpeters Al Pearson and Jay Sollenberger, trombonist Jason Goudeau, guitarist Rod Fleeman and pianist Joe Cartwright. 

Vine Street Rumble's 45-minute excursion seemed far too short.  Organizers would be foolhardy not to make the ensemble a permanent attraction at the large-scale annual event.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Now's the Time: Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey

Lovers of skronk, rejoice!  Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey will perform at the RecordBar on Sunday, June 1.  Both musicians are imposing figures in the esoteric realm of free jazz.  Many of the people who don't flee in terror are likely to consider Sunday's performance one of the musical highlights of 2014.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KC Jazz Lark contemplates the roles race and commerce play in Kansas City's jazz scene.

*KCUR published an item about Sheraton Estates, a Kansas City subdivision that Jay McShann once called home.

*Chris Burnett raves about Saturday's concert at the Gem Theater.

*The Pitch recommends Tivon Pennicott's gigs with a trio led by Dominique Sanders.

*Dominique Sanders was featured on KCUR's Local Listen segment.

*Tweet o' the Week: Clint Ashlock- Some clips of what my quartet is doing. Come check us out tonight at the Broadway Club, 8-12! (SoundCloud).

*Comment o' the Week: Sam- Nice to see Chad Wackerman playing drums, but I'd rather hear him in this setting.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: The Massey Hall 60th Anniversary Concert at the Gem Theater

About twenty minutes after the Massey Hall 60th Anniversary tribute concert began Saturday at the Gem Theater, drummer Kenny Washington violently gestured at a member of the audience who had apparently done something to offend him. 

I was thrilled to witness the emotional outburst.  Prior to that incident, the concert had been overly polite.  The band led by pianist Bill Charlap- trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonist Jesse Davis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Washington- was careful and deliberate on opening numbers including "Perdido" and "Salt Peanuts."

The sense of urgency that characterized the famous 1953 concert had been replaced with a placid approach that was about as dangerous as the educational exhibit across the street at the American Jazz Museum that houses the plastic sax played by Charlie Parker 61 years ago in Toronto.

Charlap, one of today's most revered pianists, seemed handcuffed by the repertoire that centered on the bop standards performed at Massey Hall by Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.  Perhaps the most accomplished bass/drum tandem in mainstream jazz, the Washingtons also played it safe.

Faddis' gorgeous feature on "'Round Midnight" was the concert's first wholly exceptional selection.  Yet it wasn't until deep in the second set that Davis' furious unaccompanied coda on "A Night in Tunisia" sent a jolt of electricity through the room.  It was followed by Davis' sultry rendition of "The Gypsy." 

Then Bobby Watson showed up.  Davis had already proven that he didn't need any extra incentive, but the rest of the band seemed inspired by Watson's presence.  The ensemble's rendition of "Parker's Mood" provided one of the most memorable concert-going experiences I've enjoyed in 2014.

Not including the intermission, Charlap's band performed for two hours and twenty minutes.  The handful of transcendent moments compensated for the occasional tedium.  The other person sitting in my row shared my impression.  He spent most of the concert on his phone. 

The band didn't get much help from the room.  Empty seats outnumbered members of the audience in the 500-capacity venue.  The turnout reflected poorly on Kansas City's allegiance to Parker. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.  The American Jazz Museum created a photo set documenting the evening.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Now's the Time: Jeff Lorber Fusion

Look at that magnificent hair!  Dave Koz's coiffure is reason enough to share the embedded video, but the clip also serves to spotlight the appearance by bandleader Jeff Lorber at the Gem Theater on Thursday, May 22.  The fusion and smooth jazz veteran will be accompanied by heavyweights including Jimmy Haslip, Eric Marienthal and Everette Harp.  Alas, Koz and his awe-inspiring circa-1985 hair won't be present.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCPT's "The Local Show" aired a seven-minute feature about The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

*Drew Williams of Wing Walker Music and Joe Dimino of Neon Jazz interviewed Hermon Mehari.

*The Kansas City Star published a review of John Scofield's concert at the Folly Theater.

*The Pitch recommends the Massey Hall 60th Anniversary tribute concert at the Gem Theater on Saturday.

*Obscure but fascinating details about Kansas City's jazz history are uncovered by KCJazzLark.

*Plans for moving UMKC's Conservatory of Music to the Crossroads District advanced.

*Charlie Hunter with Scott Amendola and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey will perform at The Brick on June 19.

*Tweet o' the Week: Ryan HeinleinWe're a 7 piece group. Sometimes 6, rarely a 5 piece group. We don't really hold back. We're not dinner music, not background music.

*Comment o' the Week: tjjazzpiano- Fred Hersch is take a night off from gig worthy. Can't wait to see him live.

*From Paul Shinn: We are pleased to inform you that the Paul Shinn Trio -- featuring Dominique Sanders on bass and Ryan Lee on drums -- will be in Kansas City performing May 15th-18th at the Green Lady Lounge downtown (18th & Grand beginning at 9pm each night). Our trio will be featured these nights in the newly opened Orion Room stage that is located in the lower level of the club. This should be a great opportunity to hear the band in a pristine listening environment…

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grading the 2014-15 Folly Season

Gail Tallis unveiled the 2014-15 season of the Folly Theater's Jazz Series prior to introducing John Scofield's Organic Trio on Saturday.  Rather than bemoaning the absence of legends like Wayne Shorter or exciting newcomers like Cécile McLorin Salvant, I'm merely relieved that organizers are continuing the series in spite of underwhelming attendance.  My assessment of the new bookings follows.

Fred Hersch Trio
October 4, 2014
Fred Hersch is an exceptionally lyrical pianist but it's his remarkable backstory that has made him a media darling.
Grade: A-

Karrin Allyson Quintet
December 19, 2014
Karrin Allyson has been based in New York for years but she performs in her former stomping grounds so often that she still seems like a permanent fixture of the local scene.  Allyson is likely to focus on Yuletide Hideaway, the holiday-themed album she released last year.
Grade: B+

Earl Klugh Trio
January 16, 2015
When smooth jazz radio was a viable format, acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh sold millions of albums.  HIs mellow music still resonates.  He was last presented in the Folly's Jazz Series in 2011.
Grade: B-

Hot Sardines
February 21, 2015
I hadn't previously heard of the New York-based Hot Sardines.  The group makes entertaining Prohibition-era jazz that could double as the soundtrack for the HBO television series "Boardwalk Empire."  Recommended to fans of Madeleine Peyroux, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Vince Giordano's Nighthawks Orchestra. 
Grade: B-

Christian Howes and Southern Exposure
March 14, 2015
Christian Howes, a jazz violinist who was once regularly featured at Jardine's, has never appealed to me.  Decide for yourself- here's a promotional video for his Southern Exposure album.
Grade: C  (If Howes brings Richard Galliano, Josh Nelson, Scott Colley and Lewis Nash to Kansas City, this low grade would be upgraded accordingly.)

Danilo Perez: Panama 500
April 25, 2015
The Folly may not have secured Wayne Shorter, but they managed to book his current pianist Danilo Pérez.  The outstanding composer's Panama 500 is my favorite jazz album to be released so far in 2014.
Grade: A-

I conducted similar exercises for the 2013-14 season, 2012-13 season, 2011-12 season, 2010-11 season, 2009-10 season and 2008-09 season at the Folly Theater.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Now's the Time: Bob James

The tagline of Bob James' site is "Artist. Musician. Legend."  It's not hyperbole.  James' recordings have sold millions of units.  Scores of people are capable of humming any number of familiar James melodies including "Angela".  The Missouri native will participate in a taping of the radio program 12th Street Jump at Broadway Jazz Club on Thursday, May 15. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Kraske featured Hermon Mehari of Diverse on KCUR's Up To Date.  Natalie Gallagher of The Pitch interviewed Mehari and Ryan Lee.

*The Pitch highlights an upcoming Molly Hammer performance.

*Joe Dimino of Neon Jazz interviewed E.E. Pointer of the River Cow Orchestra.

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

*Tweet o' the Week: Tom Snow- Voyage with Bobby Watson #kcjazz (photo)

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous- Well, that whole thing where the blog comments got lost in an unchecked mailbox for several months was nice while it lasted…

*From a press release: On Friday May 16th from 9pm-1am, renowned Jazz saxophonist and founder of popular soul band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, Bill Bergman will be playing a show at the Broadway Jazz Club to commemorate his 50th anniversary of playing in Kansas City.  Bergman will be accompanied by hometown friends from Kansas City Latin jazz band Sons of Brasil in order to create a unique fusion of contemporary LA jazz and Kansas City grooves…

(Original image of Eddie Moore and Adam Schlozman at the Green Lady Lounge by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Album Review: Diverse- Our Journey

The release of Diverse's debut album in 2009 marked the start of the latest artistic renaissance of Kansas City's jazz scene.  The self-titled project served notice that Bobby Watson's jazz program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was bearing fruit. 

It's taken five years for Diverse to issue the follow-up album Our Journey. A lot has transpired in the interim.  Originally a quintet, the core trio of trumpeter Hermon Mehari, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee recently made Parisian pianist Tony Tixier an official member of the band.

Diverse has become well known in the region for its lively tributes to Michael Jackson and live recreations of albums by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest.  Jazz fans have witnessed a concurrent refinement of Diverse's jazz chops.

Given the breathless praise that's been heaped on Diverse (the author of this site not excepted), people might assume that Diverse is breaking new musical ground.  It's not.  Diverse's sound is rooted in the style of mid-1960s Miles Davis albums like E.S.P. and Nefertiti.  Recorded in Paris in 2012, Our Journey is a subtle, elegant and predominantly conservative statement.

Mehari employs the sort of wounded, highly emotive tone associated with Davis.  Guest saxophonist Logan Richardson plays the role of Wayne Shorter.  The Kansas City native's presence on the album is the primary reason jazz fans around the world are likely to take notice of Our Journey.  A member of NEXT Collective, Richardson is an established player.  Tixier makes for a solid Herbie Hancock.

Yet it's the rhythm section of Lee and Leifer that shines brightest on Our Journey.  The years they've spent working together result in many of the album's best moments.  Leifer's elastic bass and the bounce of Lee's drumming makes the Lionel Loueke-esque "Motherland" one of the standout selections.  The quiet power of the tandem on the more conventional title track is astounding. 

The melodic funk of "Full Circle" is immediately engaging.  Even so, "Full Circle"'s slick production and electronic elements belong on another album.  Its inclusion is Our Journey's only overt flaw.

One of my greatest fears as an intense observer of Kansas City's jazz scene is the prospect of Diverse relocating to Paris.  Yet thanks in large part to the path restored by Diverse, Kansas City once again looks like an attractive base for a new wave of young jazz musicians.

The CD release party for Our Journey takes place at the Blue Room on Friday, May 9.  Diverse will also perform at the Hollywood Theater in Leavenworth on Saturday, May 10.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Introducing Akshay Dinakar

Akshay Dinakar is a Johnson County-based high school student.  Last week the young violinist sat in with Roger Wilder's band at Broadway Jazz Club.  Dinakar's astonishing playing compels me to think of him as Claude "Fiddler" Williams 2.0.