Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*CJ Janovy surveys the ongoing turmoil at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*The Kansas City Star reviewed the first and second days of the three-day Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

*Logan Richardson’s set at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival was lauded by CJ Janovy.

*A television station broadcast a report from the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

*Krystle Warren was interviewed by NPR’s Audie Cornish.  Warren also shared a track from her forthcoming album Three the Hard Way.

*Joe Klopus reports that Ramsey Lewis will return to the Gem Theater on Saturday, June 3.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Melvin L. Butler- Had a blast performing tonight in my hometown w/ @MahogonyKevin at #KCJazzFest. Look forward to tomorrow's gig w/@BrianBlade Fellowship Band

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, May 29, 2017


Before I assume the role of an imperious Monday morning quarterback, it’s imperative that I explicitly state that I loved the first edition of the American Jazz Museum’s Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Hearing longtime personal favorites Chick Corea, Lalah Hathaway and John Scofield perform consecutive sets on the attractive main grounds of the festival on Friday was a dream come true. Greg Tardy’s intrepid trio thrilled me on Saturday. The Brian Blade Fellowship closed the festival on Sunday with exquisite chamber jazz. Speaking of drummers, providing the opportunity to hear rhythmic geniuses including Blade, Jaimeo Brown, Marcus Gilmore, Victor Lewis and Bill Stewart reflects the festival’s commendable artistic ambition.

I’d gladly buy a $150 pass to a comparable Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2018. And yet…

I’m deeply troubled by the miserable attendance at the jazz portion of the festival. The R&B/pop artists Hathaway, Brandy, Will Downing and Oleta Adams drew nice crowds, but it took just a few seconds to conduct thorough head counts at the jazz showcases. Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the executive director of the American Jazz Museum, insists that Kansas City is a jazz town. It may have sounded like one over the weekend, but it sure didn’t look like it.

I deserted an audience of about 200 at a performance by Sunday’s jazz headliner Regina Carter (photo above), to join a reported 50,000 people to hear Patti Austin sing with the Kansas City Symphony at the nearby Celebration at the Station concert (photo below).

What explains the staggering contrast? Money, of course, has a lot to do with it. Celebration at the Station is free. Tickets for the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival were $25 for entry to the main stage per day or $50 for access to all five stages per day. Given that the over/under on the number of people in Kansas City willing to pay $25 or more to attend a concert by a small acoustic jazz band is 1,000, jazz is a tough sell in this town.

There are three large-scale jazz festivals with free attendance in the Midwest- the Chicago Jazz Festival (2017 performers include Jon Faddis, Roscoe Mitchell and Lonnie Smith), the Detroit Jazz Festival (2017 performers include Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Bennie Golson) and the Iowa City Jazz Festival (2017 performers include the Cookers, Donny McCaslin and Stacey Kent). A free event in Kansas City may be a preferable model to develop interest in the form and to avoid painfully awkward crowd sizes.

And what about R&B? I’m all for it. Kansas City would clearly support a spinoff of the Essence Festival. The American Jazz Museum’s impressive efforts at the inaugural Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival indicate that the institution may be capable of overseeing that event as well.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Now's the Time: Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band

The drummer Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band perform at the Gem Theater on Sunday, May 28, as part of the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.  Known by pop fans for his work with artists like Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan, Blade is also a member of Wayne Shorter’s longstanding group.  The Fellowship Band demonstrate their exquisite approach in the embedded video.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Initial detals about the 2017 edition of the Charlie Parker Celebration are here.

*KC Metropolis offers reviews of recent concerts by Joey Alexander and Eliane Elias.

*Ibérica, the new collaboration between Matt Otto and Ensemble Ibérica, was reviewed by Jazz Weekly.

*George Benson was interviewed by Tim Finn about his concert at Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

*John Scofield chatted with KCUR's Steve Kraske in advance of his performance at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

*Joe Dimino’s recent interview subjects include Gerald Clayton and Tim Warfield.

*Tweet o’ the Week: KC Jazz Festival- Friday! The day we bring a huge jazz festival back to 18th & Vine!

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Nothing wrong with some Norman Brown, but dude... give me Wes anytime!

*From a press release: The Westport Coffeehouse Theater will be the venue location for a live concert performance by the Christopher Burnett Quartet with special guest, Michael Jefry Stevens at 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., June 6.  Tickets are $10 at the door for local audiences and $5 to watch the live webcast online from anywhere around the world. The live webcast of the concert will begin at 7 p.m. using the Concert Window platform…

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Album Review: Norman Brown- Let It Go

I was temporarily dumbfounded when Steve Kraske hit me with an unexpected on-air question while I was highlighting Julian Vaughn’s new single on KCUR last week: “Do you like smooth jazz?”

Well, do I?

The brevity of the segment didn’t allow me to tell Kraske that repeated spins of Norman Brown’s new album Let It Go soothed my frayed nerves a few days earlier.  The Kansas City native’s pleasing guitar work on “It Keeps Coming Back” and his sultry duet with the R&B thrush Chanté Moore on “Holding You” acted as enchanting sedatives.

So yeah, smooth jazz definitely has a place in my life.

In response to Kraske’s query, I mumbled something about my occasional appreciation of music that makes no demands on the listener.  I also suggested that smooth jazz was “the people’s music,” awkward code for “more popular than mainstream jazz in the black community.”  To be sure, much of Let It Go sounds more like the output of the neo-soul star Jill Scott than the late jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery.  And that’s precisely why I embrace it.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Now's the Time: Joey Alexander

Kamasi Washington aside, Joey Alexander, 13, has received more mainstream media attention during the past two years than any other jazz instrumentalist.  The Bali native will make his Kansas City area debut at Yardley Hall on Saturday, May 20.  Alexander was accompanied by bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. at a recent concert.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Concerts by Joey Alexander and Eliane Elias capture the attention of Joe Klopus in his latest column for The Kansas City Star.

*Eddie Moore appeared in a promotional television appearance for the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

*The author of this site will preview Julian Vaughn's forthcoming concert at the Gem Theater on KCUR at 11:55 a.m. Wednesday, May 17.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Jazz in the Woods- NEW this year - Introducing the BEER Garden! (Must be 21 to enjoy the beverage). Sample up to five beers for $5.00. #JazzInTheWoods

*Comment o’ the Week: Jeremy- Have you stopped doing your Events Calendar? Or did you move it to a new address? I'm sure that it was a lot of work to put that together each month, but you should know that it was appreciated.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Album Review: Bobby Watson- Made in America

The release of a new Bobby Watson album should trigger a civic holiday in Kansas City.  Yet aside from the spring in the steps of the jazz master’s most fervent admirers, April 21 was like any other day in Watson’s hometown.  The three weeks-old  Made in America documents the jubilant swing that (the rapper Tech N9ne’s output aside) is the sound of the town.

Watson’s influence on Kansas City’s music scene is immense.  The acclaim he received following his induction into Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1977 signaled a restoration of Kansas City’s ability to produce top-tier talent.  His more recent work as the director of jazz studies at UMKC has further invigorated the region’s cultural landscape.  Watson is directly responsible for the presence of young luminaries including Hermon Mehari and Eddie Moore.

Made in America, Watson’s first conventional small-group album since 2009’s Everlasting, documents the sort of sprightly melodies, genial interplay and robust sax work that he’s showcased at many of his area performances the past few years.

Each piece is inspired by an iconic black American.  The power of the compositions is correspondingly vital.  Watson, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Lewis Nash swing with panache.  The work of pianist Stephen Scott provides the project’s most rewarding surprises.  Off the radar for years, Scott adds a lustrous sheen to the wondrously vital Made in America.

(Original album by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Now's the Time: Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton returns to the Blue Room on Saturday, May 13. Leading his trio, the estimable New York based pianist is likely to focus on material from his new album Tributary Tales.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

* Hermon Mehari is the subject of feature story in the latest issue of Downbeat magazine.

*Joe Klopus highlights Changing the Tune: The Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, 1978-1985 in his weekly column.  A Seattle radio station published a review of the new book.

*Eddie Moore was interviewed by a reporter for UMKC’s student newspaper.

*A pair of new tracks by Arnold Young are available at Bandcamp.

*Jim Mair was honored with a 2017 UMKC Alumni Award.

*The Brian Blade Fellowship has been added to the lineup of the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival.

*Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier will perform material from their new album Hudson at Yardley Hall on October 15.

*Tim Finn examined Sean Mawhirter’s journey from jazz to tango.

*Chelsea Emuakhagbon reviewed UMKC Jazz Night.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Eddie Moore- Lawd some of the most beautiful black women are in Brooklyn!

*From a press release: The KU Jazz Studies Program and its students were awarded top honors in the 40th Annual DownBeat Student Music Awards. The KU Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Dan Gailey, was recognized with the Graduate College Outstanding Performances honor in the category for large jazz ensembles. DownBeat also recognized the work of Brock Chart, a music composition graduate student from Salina. For his composition “Down to the Wire,” Chart was awarded the Graduate College Outstanding Compositions honor in the category for original compositions for large ensembles… Under Gailey’s leadership, the KU Jazz Studies Program has received 25 DownBeat Student Music Awards since 1992.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Album Review: Matt Otto with Ensemble Ibérica- Ibérica

Ibérica, the new album by Matt Otto and Ensemble Ibérica, is so rapturously beautiful that sensitive listeners might be inclined to savor it only on special occasions.  The sublime recording would provide ideal accompaniment to the celebration of an anniversary or the homecoming of a newborn baby.

Limiting play of Iberica to extraordinary life moments would be a shame. Even though it might seem like an extravagant misappropriation of delicate artistry, Ibérica is capable of enlivening and elevating even the most mundane activities.  Otto, one of Kansas City’s most accomplished jazz musicians, and Beau Bledsoe the leader of the Latin-themed chamber group Ensemble Ibérica and the Turkish jazz band Alaturka, are proven creators of transcendent music.

Unlike many so-called third stream albums that seem stuffy or precious, Iberica is a consistently soothing aural balm that is nonetheless imbued with a sad awareness of the bittersweet truths of life.  Iberica echoes the most abstract works of the late jazz masters Jim Hall and Paul Desmond, but a handful of notable Kansas City musicians give the project a local flavor.

Brad Cox contributes keyboards and electronic effects.  Bledsoe, Michael McClintock and Jordan Shipley add a tasteful array of stringed instruments including guitars, oud and cavaquinho.  Cello and gently swinging bass are played by Karl McComas-Reichl.  The ethereal steel guitar work of Mike Stover adds earthy textures to the beguiling album.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Now's the Time: Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis

Two of the most prominent figures in jazz will collaborate at Helzberg Hall on Thursday, May 11.  Kurt Elling will sing with the accomplished band led by saxophonist Branford Marsalis.  The setlist will likely focus on material from their 2016 album Upward Spiral.