Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grading the 2016-17 Folly and Gem Seasons

The American Jazz Museum unveiled its forthcoming concert season at the Gem Theater last week.  Formerly known as Jammin’ at the Gem, the series has been renamed Jazz at the Gem, a change that “reflects the Museum’s renewed emphasis on making jazz central to its range of programming offerings.”

I hope the change is accompanied by needed improvements.  Addressing the spotty sound in the Gem Theater may pose a formidable challenge, but fixing basic production elements like the failure to turn off the house lights during a performance (Patti Austin, March 26, 2016) and providing patrons with more than a 75-minute show in exchange for their $50 tickets (The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, April 16, 2016) shouldn’t be difficult.

Every year I fear that the Folly Theater’s venerable jazz series will be discontinued due to dwindling attendance.  The outstanding blend of big names and forward-thinking artists in its 2016-17 season indicates that the presenters at the 12th Street venue are in it to win it.

My initial assessment of each concert follows.

Jonathan Butler
Gem Theater, September 30
Jonathan Butler is a proven crowd-pleaser in Kansas City.  The versatile South African’s combination of gospel, soul and smooth jazz kept a capacity audience on its feet at the Gem in 2011.
Grade: C+

Folly Theater, October 15
Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb and Harvey Mason are smooth jazz behemoths. 
Grade: B-

Karrin Allyson
Folly Theater, November 18
Although it bears the decidedly unpromising appellation of “Holiday Fundraising Concert,” appearances by the one-time Kansas City artist Karrin Allyson are always welcome.
Grade: B

Bobby Watson and the American Jazz Orchestra with Ernie Andrews
Gem Theater, November 19
Longtime readers of Plastic Sax may suspect that the author of this site believes that Bobby Watson can do no wrong.  That’s not entirely true.  Watson’s work as the leader of a big band doesn’t particularly appeal to me.  Even so, the presence of vocalist Ernie Andrews, 88, is a nice touch.
Grade: B

Tim Warfield
Gem Theater, December 9
“Jazzy” is one of my least favorite words.  Tim Warfield’s concert at the Gem is saddled with the unfortunate title "Jazzy Christmas."  Yet the saxophonist’s all-star band is anything but cloying.  He’ll be joined by vocalist Joanna Pascale, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Clarence Penn and Joanna Pascale.
Grade: B

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Folly Theater, December 10
Cécile McLorin Salvant is the most fashionable vocalist in jazz.  Her Kansas City debut qualifies as a major event.
Grade: A

Ramsey Lewis
Gem Theater, January 14, 2017
Ramsey Lewis, 81, is a brilliant soul-jazz pioneer.  Fans should note that his appearance is “part of a series of events in connection with Martin Luther King Day by the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” so a lot of tickets are probably already spoken for.
Grade: A-

Pieces of a Dream
Gem Theater, February 11, 2017
The jazz-tinged R&B group Pieces of a Dream was nightmarishly dull when it headlined the 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival in 2013.
Grade: C-

Robert Glasper
Folly Theater, February 18, 2017
By finding a rewarding new way to incorporate hip-hop with jazz, Robert Glasper may be the most influential jazz artist of the last ten years.
Grade: A

Aaron Diehl and Warren Wolf
Folly Theater, March 4, 2017
Many old guard partisans of mainstream jazz probably won’t realize it until ten minutes into the concert, but the sublime pairing of pianist Aaron Diehl and vibraphonist Warren Wolf will be one of their favorite concerts of 2017.  
Grade: B

Dianne Reeves
Gem Theater, March 25, 2017
While younger artists like Gregory Porter and Cécile McLorin Salvant receive more attention, Dianne Reeves has been one of the most elegant vocalists in jazz and soul music for 30 years.
Grade: B+

Donny McCaslin Trio
Folly Theater, April 7, 2017
The profile of Donny McCaslin received an enormous boost when he and his band contributed to the late David Bowie’s swansong Blackstar.  The imaginative saxophonist will be promoting an album that includes a cover of the Bowie/Eno composition “Warszawa.”
Grade: A-

Jack DeJohnette Trio
Gem Theater, April 22, 2017
Jack DeJohnette is precisely the sort of jazz giant I seek out when I travel to either coast.  The drummer is responsible for a large swathe of the most interesting music of the last 50 years.  He’ll be joined by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and the bassist and electronic musician Matt Garrison, his collaborators on the adventurous new album In Movement.
Grade: A+

Eliane Elias Quartet
Folly Theater, May 19, 2017
The Eliane Elias Trio drew about 700 admireres to the 1,050-capacity Folly Theater for a satisfying concert in 2013.  Compared to most shows in the venue’s woefully under-attended jazz series, the turnout was a home run.  I can’t blame organizers for bringing the native Brazilian back to Kansas City.
Grade: B

I conducted similar exercises in 2015, 2014 (here and here), 2013, 2012, 2011 (here and here), 2010 (here and here), 2009 and 2008 (here and here).

(Original image by Plastic Sax)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Now's the Time: Dave Koz and David Sanborn

A willingness to laugh at oneself absolves a multitude of transgressions.  The “smooth” arrangement of the Game of Thrones theme by saxophonist Dave Koz and the pop pranksters of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox was an amusing meme a couple years ago.  Koz and David Sanborn perform together on Thursday, August 4, at Muriel Kauffman Theatre.  Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is slated to appear at the Midland theater on Nov. 2.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

* Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle’s new album Kings and Queens will be released by Rope a Dope Records on September 2.  

*Marilyn Maye will headline the 2016 edition of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*Marilyn Maye was recently interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio.  (Via St. Louis Jazz Notes.)

*Playbill published a story about drummer Philip Wakefield’s romance with the Broadway actress Lindsay Mendez.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Ethan Iverson- Ok, another immortal on the turntable: Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, REJOICING.

*From a press release: The Sensational Sharon Thompson, Vocalist performing with Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band and a Special Performance by The Kansas City Kansas Community College Summer Jazz Choir. ...Sharon Thompson is truly in a class of her own.  The Summer Jazz Choir includes current music students, employees, and community members from the Kansas City Kansas Community College area. Unity Temple on the Plaza. Wednesday, August 3, 2016. $7.

*From Paul Shinn: I'm excited to announce that Ryan, Dominique and I will be performing at the Majestic Restaurant (10th and Broadway) next Friday (July 29) and Saturday (July 30) evenings 7-11pm. This is a great opportunity to come hear the band in a different environment than our normal Green Lady home....

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Album Review: Victor & Penny- Electricity

Erin McGrane was one of the most engaging performers in Kansas City as a member of Alacartoona during the previous decade.  Equal parts Cyd Charisse and Eartha Kitt, McGrane played the role of a riveting femme fatale. 

She's assumed an entirely different persona as half of the “antique pop” duo Victor & Penny.  The recent release Electricity is by far and away the duo’s best release.

As I suggested in a review of the 2015 album Live at the Living Room Theatre, the bygone premise of Victor & Penny would be intolerably precious if not for the outstanding musicianship of the ensemble. 

Jeff Freling, the other half of the duo, plays guitar like Eddie Van Halen on a Django Reinhardt bender.  The supporting Loose Change Orchestra- James Isaac, Rick Willoughby and Kyle Dahlquist- adds complementary spice.

Electricity indicates that Victor & Penny can hold its own with like-minded acts that have achieved international renown including the Hot Sardines and the Hot Club of Cowtown.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Now's the Time: Kyle Turner

Kyle Turner is precisely the sort of declamatory saxophonist in the soul-jazz tradition that resonates particularly well with celebratory audiences on a hot summer night.  The Houston native performs at the Blue Room on Saturday, July 23.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR published a detailed examination of a new collection of 58 previously unreleased Charlie Parker recordings. 

*The Kansas City Business Journal and The Kansas City Star report on the $7 million compromise on additional funding for the Jazz District.

*The late Bob Brookmeyer, Pat Metheny, the Count Basie Orchestra, Logan Richardson, Bobby Watson, the late Kerry Strayer, Kevin Mahogany, Karrin Allyson and blues artist Danielle Nicole are among the Kansas City musicians nominated in the current Reader's Poll conducted by Downbeat magazine.

*Brandon Draper has released a live session from 2010 that features saxophonist Rich Wheeler, trombonist Kevin Cerovich, vibraphonist Peter Schlamb and basist Craig Akin.

*The Pitch recommends Kyle Turner’s appearance at the Blue Room.

*Marc Myers of JazzWax uncovers compelling Charlie Parker ephemera.

*Kansas City area resident and jazz enthusiast Teddy Dibble maintains the excellent music appreciation video channel eat.sleep.vinyl.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Legacy Recordings- MILES AHEAD, directed by & starring @DonCheadle, is out today on Blu-Ray, DVD, & digital!

*From a press release: David Basse and a seven piece band headed by pianist Joe Cartwright will perform at the one and only Blue Room in the Jazz District. Celebrate Kansas City’s legendary jazz and blues heritage and the release of Live at Pilgrim Chapel, the group's latest release. The band includes saxophonist Stephen Martin, trumpeter Nate Nall, trombonist Jason Goudeau, Seth Lee on bass, and drummer Taylor Babb. 8:30 p.m. Friday, August 5.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Album Review: Mike Dillon- Functioning Broke

Mike Dillon is associated with big beats and monstrous grooves.  The late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith is remembered in part for his heartbreaking lyrics.  That’s why Functioning Broke, Dillon’s instrumental album that includes arrangements of six Smith compositions, initially seems like an absurd proposition.

Yet the latest release by Dillon, a one-time member of Kansas City area ensembles including Malachy Papers, is a resounding success. Employing vibraphone, tubular bells and other empyreal instrumentation, Dillon evokes classical composer Steve Reich more than vibe pioneer Gary Burton on the meditative project.

Artists including Madeleine Peyroux have already demonstrated that Smith’s alcoholic lullaby “Between the Bars” translates well to jazz settings.  Dillon’s reading is haunting.  His interpretation of Smith’s “Independence Day” resembles the score of a Oscar-winning art film.

The sonic distortion that runs through Functioning Broke will understandably repel many listeners.  Whether by accident or design, the contorted sound adds an abrasive edge to even the most tranquil selections on the startling album.

Dillon performs at the Brick on Thursday, July 28.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Now's the Time: The July Jazz Jam at Community Christian Church

The embedded promotional video for the July Jazz Jam at Community Christian Church on Sunday, July 31, may be cringe-worthy, but the benefit concerts organized by Tim Whitmer at the house of worship at 4601 Main are proven crowd-pleasers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*C.J. Janovy reports on how the Mutual Musicians Foundation honored members of black musicians’ unions from around the country.

*Jermaine Reed states his case for additional funding for the Jazz District on KCPT’s RuckusThe Kansas City Star provides an update on the situation.  KCUR’s Steve Bell adds further insights.

*Details about the 2016 edition of the Charlie Parker Historical Tour (and an uncredited photo by Plastic Sax) are here.

*Tweet o’ the Week: American Jazz Museum- Vinyl on the Vine starts tonight at 5 pm. Groovy Grant of @kkfi901fm spins jazz in the Blue Room in a new series.

*Comment o’ the Week: Chris Hazelton- With both Cecile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl on the Folly series, I'm hoping for a double-dose of my man and former Kansas City drummer Lawrence Leathers!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Concert Review: Matt Otto Septet at the Blue Room

A friend suggested that Kansas City’s jazz scene is in the midst of the summer doldrums during the set break of Matt Otto’s album release show for Soliloquy at the Blue Room last Thursday.  While I didn’t disagree with him, I should have countered that the magnificent performance by Otto’s septet should satiate the members of the audience of about 50 for a few weeks.

My detailed review and audio commentary about Soliloquy are posted here.  Rather than repeat my lavish praise, I’ll share a few additional insights gleaned during the gig that featured the contributions of Gerald Dunn, Shay Estes, Jeff Stocks, T.J. Martley, Jeff Harshbarger and Mike Warren.

*The performance affirmed the strength of Soliloquy’s compositions and arrangements.

*Estes’ wordless vocals and Dunn’s alto sax tone were occasionally indistinguishable from each other.  It’s a nifty trick.

*Relegated to a supporting role on the album, guitarist Stocks’ more prominent playing on Thursday was welcome.

*Otto brings out the best in Dunn.

*The undervalued pianist Martley and drummer Warren make a formidable tandem.

*One of my kids sampled this festival in Vienna last week, but the superlative quality of Thursday’s free show partly validates my decision to remain in Kansas City.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Now's the Time: Curtis Lundy

While unsuccessfully attempting to determine precisely who will be performing in Bobby Watson’s I Have a Dream Band at the Blue Room on Friday, July 8, I uncovered the embedded two-hour concert filmed in Ljubljana in 2000.  It’s magnificent.  I’ll just have to assume that Curtis Lundy will team up with his longtime cohort in Kansas City this weekend.  Wonderful things tend to happen when Lundy and Watson share a stage.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus revealed the lineups of the 2016-17 seasons of the Folly Theater’s jazz series and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

*Zack Albetta interviewed Ryan Lee for the Working Drummer podcast.  Lee is also featured in a 18-minute promotional video for a new album by the 15-year-old pianist A Bu.

*The Kansas City Star reports that The American, an upscale restaurant that regularly hires jazz musicians, will close at the end of the year.

*The Pitch recommends Bobby Watson’s return to the Blue Room.

*Hermon Mehari uploaded a video of an unaccompanied version of “Ask Me Now” to YouTube last month.

*David Martin considers the stakes in advance of this week’s vote on $27 million in additional funding for the Jazz District.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Eddie Moore- Happy 4th of July, my people still dont have independence but lets blow shit up in hopes for a change. Fireworks i mean.....

*From Chris Burnett: Today is my last official day working at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. I started working there as the Marketing Communications Manager in 2011 after a phone call from Greg Carroll, the previous CEO… I am going to take some time to reorient my focus in the arts.

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated for July.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Event Recap: Bobby Watson at the Black Archives

Bobby Watson, one of the most talented and quotable people in Kansas City, was featured in a Community Stories forum at the Black Archives on Thursday, June 30.  Eighteen people heard Glenn North interview the saxophonist and educator.  A few of Watson’s remarks follow.

The first song I played for the church was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Everyone said “amen”- there wasn’t no applause.  - on his first public performance as a child

A lot of brothers at that time weren’t playing jazz, they were playing funk.
- on why he regularly performed with white musicians such as Gary Sivils, Paul Smith and Tommy Ruskin in the 1970s

It was like a real scary drive, even for me.  It wasn’t happening. - on visiting the Jazz District in the 1970s

It was such a great feeling to leave a place knowing you hadn’t done anything wrong when the sun was coming up. - on spending an entire night jamming at the Mutual Musicians Foundation

Bob Brookmeyer is down- he’s passed away- but he’s still down.  -on how the late trombonist excelled in jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation

Gerald Wilson told me that was the first song that used the word “swing.” - on Bennie Moten’s “Moten Swing”

We have this heavy church influence in this part of the country.
- on the soulfulness of Kansas City jazz

His sound had such an aura of optimism and hope, and triumph over adversity. - on Charlie Parker

It’s my night, I’m doing them a favor by mentioning their names. - retort to North when asked to elaborate on the achievements of his protégés

They’re like a bad penny, they just keep turning up. - on the hustle of young Kansas City jazz musicians

People need to get with it, quickly. Stop being wrong, stop being prejudiced… you’re sitting on a gold mine here. - on opponents of additional city funding for the Jazz District

Watson performs at the Blue Room on Friday, July 8.

(Original image of the Black Archives by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Now's the Time: Shay Estes

The engaging vocalist Shay Estes leads a band at The Phoenix on Saturday, July 2.  She belts out “C’est Si Bon” at the 2014 edition of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival in the embedded video.