Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ears in Arrears

A Kansas City musician posted a derisive comment in response to a video clip I shared on Instagram documenting a dissonant performance at the Big Ears Festival.  His rejection of boundary-pushing music reflects the conservatism that often makes Kansas City’s jazz scene seem like the land that time forgot.

I recently joined 18,000 people at the Big Ears Festival because the festival was loaded with prominent jazz artists who haven’t played Kansas City in the past ten years, or in many cases, have never set foot inside the city limits.  The long list of luminaries at the 2019 edition of the festival included the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Nik Bärtsch, Tim Berne, Mathias Eick, Mary Halvorson, Shabaka Hutchings, Nicole Mitchell, Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg, Leo Wadada Smith, Craig Taborn, David Torn, Ralph Towner and Nate Wooley.  If these cutting-edge musicians aren’t going to come to Kansas City, I’m going to go to them.  (My capsule reviews of the 30 concerts I caught at Big Ears are here.

Club owners and concert presenters aren’t to blame.  If there was a hearty appetite for forward-thinking jazz, they wouldn’t hesitate to dish it up.  Yet as proven time after time after time, there’s simply not much of an audience for the sound of the moment in Kansas City. 

It’s a civic embarrassment that the profoundly influential stars Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Robert Glasper haven’t appeared in town in the past ten years.  Even the Lee’s Summit native Pat Metheny avoids his hometown.  Kansas City’s dogged adherence to convention compelled revolutionary artists ranging from Charlie Parker to Logan Richardson to establish their reputations elsewhere.

Much of the jazz performed in Kansas City today wouldn’t have sounded out of place sixty years ago.  And to be fair, that’s not an entirely bad thing.  Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon! and Count Basie and Billy Eckstine’s Basie/Eckstine Incorporated were released in 1959.  If you’re going to get stuck in the past, it doesn’t get much better than that.  But a full immersion in the sound of 2019 requires traveling to cities like Knoxville, London, Chicago and New York.

(Original image of David Torn, Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer, Nik Bärtsch, Steve Lake and Nate Chinen by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Now's the Time: Renee Rosnes

Renee Rosnes, one of the most accomplished mainstream pianists of the last 30 years, will perform with Dan Gailey’s KU Jazz Ensemble I at the Lied Center on Thursday, April 4.  Rosnes leads an all-star band in the embedded clip.  Thursday’s concert is one of hundreds of gigs listed at The Kansas City Jazz Calendar in April.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Bobby Watson reveals that “I plan on retiring from academia and going back to touring full-time and writing and composing and living my life like I used to” in a video feature created by The Kansas City Star.

*Charles Williams’ Flavors of Jazz album was reviewed by a critic for The Toledo Blade.

*Logan Richardson makes an appearance on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s new album Ancestral Recall.

*The Kansas City Star previewed a concert by the Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.

*The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s 4th Annual Jazz & Jackie Celebration includes performances by Alex Bugnon and Eric Darius on April 13.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Corey O- If you’re downtown, check out green lady lounge for jazz and manifesto for cocktails in a speakeasy

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Album Review: Dave Scott- In Search of Hipness

The great sage Willie Dixon insisted that “you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.”  If I hadn’t already seen the former Kansas City area resident Dave Scott perform several times, the lamentable title and uninspired album art of In Search of Hipness would have compelled me to take a hard pass on his new release.

My shallowness would have caused me to missed out on of the new year’s most intriguing albums.  The packaging may not be hip, but trumpeter's off-kilter New York City chamber jazz is extremely stylish.  Even as the recording echoes the past masters Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill, it’s entirely au currant.  Violinist Sarah Bernstein, guitarist Nate Radley, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Mark Ferber help Scott create up-to-the-minute soundscapes. 

Dixon also proclaimed that “you can’t judge right by looking at the wrong.”  Adventurous jazz fans shouldn’t allow the surface imperfections of In Search of Hipness to dissuade them from appreciating Scott’s extraordinarily beautiful work.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Now's the Time: The Jim Lower Big Band

The weekly Jim Lower Big Band session recently migrated from Parker & Vine to Black Dolphin.  The ensemble performs at the latter club on Tuesdays.  Every area gig is listed on The Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*That’s My Jazz, a short documentary in which “Milt Abel II, a world-renowned pastry chef, reflects on his relationship with his deceased father Milton Abel Sr., famed Kansas City jazz musician,” will be screened at a film festival in New York City next month.

*The Pitch reports that John Scott, the man behind the jazz venues Green Lady Lounge and Black Dolphin, has assumed control of operations at the midtown space formerly occupied by Uptown Arts Bar.

*KC Studio published a profile of Marcus Lewis.

*Alex Abramovitz chatted with Joe Dimino.

*The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis is returning to the Midland theatre to play a Christmas-themed concert on December 5.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Tony’s Kansas City- The Uptown Arts Bar Was Always Sketchy But Recently Denizens Of The Establishment Had Failed To Inspire Creativity And Now More Sober Management Hopes For A Turnaround. More Backhanded Hints About Why This Biz FAILED As Broadway Corridor Struggles

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The 411 on 424 Lounge

A swank jazz club opened in January.  It’s not in downtown Kansas City, nor is it situated in an affluent suburban development.  424 Lounge is in Leavenworth, a town closely associated with a famous penitentiary and a large military installation.  424 Lounge may alter that perception. 

On Saturday, March 9, I paid a $8 cover charge to hear a sublime performance by trombonist Jason Goudeau, keyboardist Eddie Moore, bassist Seth Lee and bassist Mike Warren.  Similarly auspicious artists perform every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the handsome, old-school venue.

The room isn’t merely stylish by local standards.  424 Lounge would be one of the nicer jazz venues in New York City.  The friendliness of somewhat uneven service and the fine acoustics are commendable.  Situated 30 miles from downtown Kansas City, 424 Lounge doesn’t lend itself to spontaneous visits, but it’s well worth the trek.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Now's the Time: Adam Nussbaum's Lead Belly Project

Jazz renditions of songs associated with the blues icon Lead Belly doesn’t seem like a promising proposition.  Yet Adam Nussbaum validates the unusual concept with his Lead Belly Project.  The drummer will be joined by guitarist Steve Cardenas (his third Kansas City appearance in four months!), guitarist Nate Radley and saxophonist Ohad Talmor in the intimate Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads on Thursday, March 21.  The performance is one of the date’s 19 shows listed on The Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The story behind a 1953 photograph of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Roy Haynes is told by Peter Facini of The New York Times.

*Joe Dimino documented a performance by Kerry Politzer at Black Dolphin.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Ben Putano- I'm not hating… but I think if someone came to KC for a Jazz-related vacation they'd leave disappointed. And that's a shame.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Concert Review: Ryan Keberle & Catharsis at Mod Gallery

Camila Meza sang “the order is rapidly fading” in a ravishingly melancholy rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” at Mod Gallery on Sunday, March 3.  How I wish it were so!

While the celebrated Chilean musician and her bandmates- trombonist Ryan Keberle, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Eric Doob- were playing what Keberle characterized as political “protest music”- I couldn’t help but apply the sentiment to the group’s progressive musical approach.

Kansas City remains largely impervious to the charms of forward-thinking improvised music, an aversion reflected by the show’s attendance.  Less than 20 people braved frigid conditions to pay the $15 cover charge.  That’s even fewer than at the group’s free performance at Black Dolphin in 2018.

As Downbeat’s review of the band’s performance two days earlier in St. Louis and a 2014 appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert indicate, Catharsis is one of the most notable jazz-based touring groups of recent years.

With its surfeit of star power, emphasis on imaginative arrangements and commitment to banishing standard practices, the group resembles a modern-day Weather Report.  The abundance of talent occasionally led to frustration.  Individual expression was repressed in favor of a commitment to ensemble work.  (I posted one of Meza's brief solo statements to Instagram.)

Ellis didn’t let loose until the last set was almost over.  The saxophonist’s solo on “Fooled and Pushed Apart,” a composition inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” was as gloriously poignant as Ray Charles’ singing on “America the Beautiful.”  It was the sort of inspiring statement that everyone in Kansas City deserves to hear.  Yet for the time being, the times are a-changin’ elsewhere.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Now's the Time: Kurt Elling

I gushed about Kurt Elling in a preview of his Saturday, March 9, concert at the Folly Theater for The Kansas City Star, so there’s no need to embarrass myself a second time in this spotlight.  The vocalist will be joined by guitarist John McLean, pianist John Beasley, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Adonis Rose.  The show is one of 27 of Saturday’s engagements listed at The Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Chris Tickner, the man responsible for the jazz bookings at Johnnie’s Jazz Bar & Grille and B&B Theatres Liberty 12 Cinema, pitches his business on a television news program.

*Tim Finn conducted a question-and-answer session with Shay Estes.

*Rick Hellman objects to The Kansas City Star’s editorial about stasis at the American Jazz Museum in a letter to the newspaper.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Wing Walker Music- YESSS. I'm so excited that Hazel is listed along with all of these incredible artists as one of the Best Jazz releases on @Bandcamp for February 2019. Thanks to Dave Sumner!(@BirdIsTheWorm)

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar lists all of March’s bookings.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Album Review: Norman Brown- The Highest Act of Love

I tried on a posh fur coat in a bid to amuse my family and friends at a holiday party in December,  While I got plenty of laughs for modeling something I would never otherwise consider wearing, the joke was on me.  I discovered that donning the pelts of dozens of dead animals feels really good.  While I’ve been conditioned to think less of people who wear fur, I suddenly comprehended the appeal.

Smooth jazz carries a similar stigma.  Condescending detractors deride the form as an intellectually barren music intended for dimwitted sensualists.  Whatever.

Anyone who willingly hits play on Norman Brown’s eleventh solo album The Highest Act of Love will quickly become too blissed out to worry about such trivial matters.  The guitarist from Kansas City expertly establishes an impeccably relaxing vibe.  What’s wrong with that?

While The Highest Act of Love employs contemporary production techniques, it’s really just an extension of the sultry albums George Benson recorded for the CTI label in the early 1970s.  Brown emphasizes mood rather than technique.  Even so, selections including the title track make it clear that he’s capable of playing with as much finesse as Benson, Lee Ritenour and his Kansas City contemporary Will Matthews.

I’ll understand if you tag me with spray paint should you catch me luxuriating in a fur coat next winter.  I only ask that you don’t damage my headphones.  I might be basking in the comforting warmth of The Highest Act of Love.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)