Sunday, June 28, 2020

Album Review: Bobby Watson- Keepin’ It Real

Keeping’ It Real arrives as a radiant beacon of hope at a difficult moment.  Bobby Watson’s strongest album in more than two decades offers indispensable inspiration during a time of societal upheaval and lethal pandemic.

Watson’s first release since stepping down as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is a vibrant return to form.  While each of the recordings he made as a leader during the new millennium is good, Keepin’ It Real is on par with the work that made him a vital star worthy of a six-night stand at the Village Vanguard in 1991.

Performing with a new version of Horizon- trumpeters Josh Evans and Giveton Gelin, pianist Victor Gould, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Jones- Watson revives the robust energy and unencumbered joy of his albums for Blue Note Records in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Watson comes out swinging with an incendiary solo on the opening track “Condition Blue.”  His enthusiasm is matched by the fresh-faced pianist and trumpeters and the old-guard bassist and drummer.  Unlike the more innovative faction of Charlie Parker acolytes represented by Rudresh Mahanthappa, Watson sticks with tried-and-true bop.  The conventional approach works.  Watson’s band breathes new life into a stale form throughout Keepin’ It Real.

The album also documents the revival of Watson’s melodic gifts.  The title track and “My Song” (the latter piece first appeared in abbreviated form on 2013’s Check Cashing Day) are among the ebullient compositions likely to join Watson classics like “Wheel Within a Wheel” as modern-day standards.  A pair of ballads provide respite from the frantic pace.  Gould sparkles in Bill Evans’ role on Kind of Blues’s “Flamenco Sketches.”  Watson imbues Donny Hathaway’s gentle protest song “Someday We’ll All Be Free” with a sense of profound yearning.

Watson’s playing is so curative that listeners may wish they could inject it directly into their veins.  Keepin’ It Real may not be a vaccine for the coronavirus or a solution to America’s troubles, but it serves as a wondrous infusion of fulfilling assurance.

(Original image of a Village Vanguard calendar from 1991 by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Now's the Time: Milton Morris

Twelve entertaining minutes of the salty Kansas City raconteur Milton Morris holding court begin at the 1:25 mark of the embedded video.  KC Jazz Lark wrote a fine overview of the colorful character’s ties to Kansas City’s jazz scene.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*UNESCO Creative City KC honored Marcus Lewis with the 2020 American Music International Innovator Award.  The organization cites Lewis’ “leadership and creativity in musical composition, as a creative director for the Marcus Lewis Big Band and for his original compositions fusing the big band jazz tradition of Kansas City with the latest and greatest hip hop from Kemet and Kadesh Flow with Brass and Boujee.”

*A television news reporter previews today’s city council deliberations about the allocation of $7,000,000 additional dollars to the Jazz District.  Tony Botello objects to the prospect of additional government funding for “a doomed district wherein gunfire echoes through the streets far more loudly than jazz.”

*Todd Strait drums on pianist Randy Porter’s new album Porter Plays Frishberg.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Mayor Q- I am deeply disappointed that a festive day ended again in tragedy in my home district at 18th & Vine. Long after establishments had closed, gunfire rang out. We'll pursue every option available to ensure residents and businesses in the area can be safe. (link)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Album Review: Rudresh Mahanthappa- Hero Trio

One of the truest barometers of musical popularity is what’s heard blaring out of open car windows.  For better or worse, the phenomenon hardly abated during the coronavirus era.  While I frequently hear the music of the Kansas City icons Rich the Factor and Tech N9ne at stoplights, I’ve encountered the music of Charlie Parker emanating from a car exactly once.  And given the rare instance occurred near Parker’s grave at Lincoln Cemetery, it almost doesn’t count. 

The track list of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s new album Hero Trio reveals what the heralded New York based jazz saxophonist would blast on a car stereo.  In addition to rabble-rousing readings of Charlie Parker staples including “Red Cross”, Mahanthappa, bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston interpret selections associated with Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins.  From Mahanthappa’s tart tone to his startling melodic choices, Hero Trio is the most vital homage to Parker’s innovations since the bandleader’s 2015 album Bird Calls

As I noted in an assessment of the essential new box set The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection, the persuasive vitality of Parker’s music doesn’t require apologies or excuses.  Once again, Mahanthappa provides further evidence that Bird doesn’t merely live- he thrives.  The indefensible embargo currently tarnishing the reputation of Kansas City takes nothing away from Mahanthappa’s achievement.  I’ll be bumping Hero Trio in my whip through the remainder of this momentous summer.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Now's the Time: Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson

I’ve already shared the story of encountering Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Priscilla Bowman performing for a handful of admirers at the Grand Emporium in the early 1980s.  Given the informal tone of the gig, I’ve always assumed Vinson was living in Kansas City at the time.  The charismatic vocalist and saxophonist shares the stage with the Count Basie Orchestra in the embedded video.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Hermon Mehari was interviewed by Laura Spencer of KCUR.

*Eddie Moore appears on The People of 2020, a recording on which “40 composers from the NYC music community and around the globe, seeking a way to deeply speak about the times, collaborated to write and record an album... over a 14-day period.”  The project will be released on Friday, June 19.

*A politically-oriented arts site considers the cultural implications of Charlie Parker’s association with “Cherokee.”

*The Shawnee Mission Post reports on the cancellation of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Deborah Brown and Tim Whitmer

*Vine Street Rumble will perform at a virtual version of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in July.

*Tweet o’ the Week: The Folly Theater- Did you catch our Executive Director on @fox4kc this morning? Gale chatted with @markalfordkc about our reopening and upcoming concerts! (link)

*From The American Jazz Museum: The American Jazz Museum is excited to reopen on Tuesday, June 16th, 2020. Come celebrate the Jazz Experience again! We have taken careful precautions to keep our visitors, staff, and volunteers safe. Following the guidance from health agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, we have partnered with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the KC Culture Cares group to welcome visitors back to the Museums at 18th & Vine. (Details are available here.)

*From a press release: Burnett Music Foundation is pleased to announce it has received a $5,900 grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. These funds will support the August 22, 2020 Bird Boot Camp that is also an official program of the annual Spotlight Charlie Parker festivities.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tuned Out

Complaining about terrestrial radio in 2020 is akin to railing against the decimation of the typewriter industry in 1990.  It’s a hopelessly irrelevant subject.  Yet I continue to see musicians and jazz institutions pouring time and money into the sham.

The enterprise is a Potemkin village erected by duplicitous publicists and brazen programmers.  Examine the total weekly plays and the corresponding number of stations on the most prominent chart.  Furthermore, the majority of the reporting stations are obscure.  Only one of the stations occasionally featuring jazz in the Kansas City market even registers as a blip in the ratings.

The content of the jazz chart is even more jarring.  There’s nothing wrong with any of the individual albums.  I happen to love a few of the recordings in the current Top 50.  Yet taken collectively, the grouping presents a picture of jazz as a fossilized remnant of the past.

At a time when innovative and socially relevant jazz is being made by the likes of Ambrose Akinmusire, Terri Lyne Carrington, Robert Glasper, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Matana Roberts, the anodyne tone of the majority of jazz radio programming (there are, of course, plenty of wonderful exceptions to the bland predictability) is designed to pacify rather than inspire active engagement.  Maybe it’s a good thing so few people hear it.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Now's the Time: Bennie Moten

Bennie Moten was 40 when he died in 1935 following a botched tonsillectomy in his hometown of Kansas City.  Ninety-one years after it was recorded, the embedded “Spanish stomp” still sounds like a vibrant party-starter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A recording of a purportedly lost interview with Charlie Parker recently surfaced.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Leslie Maclean and Dave Panico.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Tony’s Kansas City- Kansas City After Hours Argument Sparks MASS SHOOTING INURING FIVE PEOPLE In The Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District: (link)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

EP Review: Hermon Mehari- A Change For the Dreamlike

Hermon Mehari’s reverence for jazz tradition was evident during his performances while he was based in Kansas City.  Even when he led tribute bands dedicated to reviving the rambunctious sounds of Miles Davis’ electric period, Mehari was resolutely dedicated to faithful recreations.

A Change For the Dreamlike, Mehari’s new 24-minute missive, shows the continued and entirely welcome expansion of his sonic palette during his ongoing residency in France.  Each of the seven tracks showcases intriguing ideas and textures.

The elegiac meditation on the wistful melody of “Shenandoah” opening the EP is followed by a jolt of contemporary production accents on “Let’s Try This Again.”  Mehari riffs over the spoken cadence of a family member on “Conversation With My Uncle,” a concept also effectively deployed by musicians including pianist Henrique Eisenmann.  The tale of a dangerous transnational journey makes the experiment the recording’s most essential track. 

“Eritrea” is an electro-acoustic groove in the vein of Lionel Louke while the chamber-jazz of “I Cry” evokes the innovations of Ambrose Akinmusire.  “All Alone” and “Dreamscapes” are moody soundscapes not unlike the recent work of Kendrick Scott Oracle and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.

Mehari’s signature plaintive trumpet tone- a trait causing him to sound like Miles Davis’ sensitive great-grandson- provides a sense of continuity amid the disparate sounds of A Change For the Dreamlike.  Mehari's insightful statement of purpose for the project is here.

(Original image of Mehari performing in 2011 by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 5, 2020

Now's the Time: Jimmy Rushing

The Oklahoma native Jimmy Rushing sang in Kansas City based bands led by Walter Page and Bennie Moten before rising to fame through his association with the Count Basie Orchestra.  Known as Mr. Five by Five for his stout build, Rushing is supported by an auspicious cast of geniuses in the embedded video.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra created a social isolation rendition of the Clint Ashlock composition “Solitary Confinement.”

*2019 Fellows, an album recorded under the auspices of Kansas City Area Youth Jazz, is available on Bandcamp.

*The 2020-21 season at The Lied Center includes concerts by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Sherman Irby and Charenée Wade.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Ryan Anselmi, Brett Jackson and Eddie Moore.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Clint Ashlock- I play Black American Music. I wouldn’t have the career and life I have if it weren’t for great black Americans. To say I condemn racism doesn’t seem significant, but I do, and I’m trying to educate myself, figure out how best to make things better from my small part of the world

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)