Sunday, July 28, 2019

Let Your Backbone Slip

A mild commotion broke out at Capsule on Thursday, July 25, when a phone started playing music during a performance by a trio led by Peter Schlamb.  The panic during the 15 seconds it took a woman to silence her device resembled a tense scene from a horror film in which bloodthirsty monsters are attracted to noise.

The ostensible goal of the monthly Spine Showcase recitals is to provide a forum for forward-thinking jazz artists to perform for attentive audiences.  The brief interruption caused by the noisy phone allowed the 50 other people in the room to silently castigate the embarrassed offender.  The excellent performance by Schlamb (keyboards and vibraphone), DeAndre Manning (electric bass) and Ryan J. Lee (drums) helped judgy patrons quickly forget about the disruption.  The free beer and the absence of a cover charge also helped to allay any grievances.

Following a break featuring complimentary cake, Lee led a group featuring Andrew McGhie (saxophone), Andrew Ouellette (keyboards) and DeAndre Manning (electric bass).  The quartet evoked the most compelling fusion groups of the late 1970s.  Even though Lee’s emphatic drumming recoiled off the concrete floor like dangerous shrapnel, the sound field for both sets was remarkably clear.

Spine’s proposition is less translucent.  The initiative, intent and effort of the primary organizer are undeniably commendable, but I’m less convinced about the master plan.  I’m not among the 59 people who donated $4,655 to Spine’s successful Kickstarter campaign.  The organization’s assertion that it’s “showcasing local musicians playing the original material they don't get to perform anywhere else” seems disingenuous.

A free-jazz freakout at the Brick and a jubilant brass band excursion at the Ship transpired on the same night as the concert by Schlamb and Lee.  I’m fairly certain the featured musicians weren’t given any directives at either venerable nightclub.  The people who operate Kansas City’s music venues might rightfully insist that competing directly against a non-profit project that offers free beer and free admission is decidedly unhelpful.

Spine’s most valuable mandate is the creation of another proper listening room.  Boorish gabbing during musical performances of any stripe is my biggest pet peeve.  The grievance is particularly painful during acoustic jazz performances.  I’m grateful for any opportunity to hear innovative musicians work in respectful environments.  That’s why I’ve been a regular at the improvised music showcases hosted by Westport Coffee House, RecordBar and the 1900 Building for years.  Talking is strongly discouraged during the frequent jazz performances at the establishments.

I also expect to pay a cover charge and buy my own drinks.  I voluntarily dropped a few bills in the bucket on Thursday.  I’d like to see Spine make the transition into a self-sustaining entity for which substantial ticket and drink sales cover all expenses.  A robust jazz scene should be rooted in organic audience development rather than in sympathetic handouts.

(Original image of Peter Schlamb, DeAndre Manning and Ryan J. Lee by Plastic Sax.)

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