Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Jazz Order Big Band at The Blue Room

I’ve learned not to try writing reviews. I don’t have the right vocabulary for it. I just fill it with superlatives like great, outstanding, terrific, tremendous.

But I was so taken by the show last Monday at The Blue Room that I’m compelled to document something. So…

The New Jazz Order Big Band with guest Megan Birdsall was a showcase of great jazz. Between outstanding soloists like Clint Ashlock, T.J. Martley, Matt Chalk, Hermon Mehari, Steve Lambert and Kerry Strayer – I’m missing some names – and the voice of the always terrific Megan Birdsall, the evening was tremendous.

Okay, maybe I can do a little better than that.

Anyone wanting to argue that big bands draw older crowds saw solid support for that stance Monday night at The Blue Room. But anyone wanting to argue a big band can’t draw a crowd was proven dead wrong. By 8 p.m., the club was packed, standing room only.

And KC jazz fans who weren't there will wish they were. Music ranged from Ellington standards to modern Maria Schneider and Thad Jones numbers, all played with group precision and solo innovation. On Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You, Clint Ashlock’s trumpet solo soared, blowing with intensity ’til his faced shone crimson (looked like his head might explode). Same number, T.J. Martley’s piano solo seamlessly flowed from stylings of Basie to stylings of Monk, bridged by thought and intelligence. I first heard T.J. several months back and have had a couple other chances to catch him since. He is one of the most under-recognized jazz pianists in Kansas City.

Another young star is tenor saxophonist Steve Lambert. But it was his clarinet on Black Coffee that grabbed me most, an engaging solo which pulled us through a musical journey. Meanwhile, young alto dude Matt Chalk (along with older baritone dude Kerry Strayer) tore apart Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby. Matt is currently renowned in KC for playing the Grammy Awards this year. He’s destined to be renowned everywhere for his dynamic playing on alto sax.

I’ve written before about some of the unbelievable young talent in Kansas City today. Add T.J., Steve and Matt to the list of those I haven’t mentioned enough.

One I have mentioned and photographed more than once is singer Megan Birdsall, in part because hearing her with a big band at The Blue Room 11 months ago inspired me to seek out this city’s other young talent and, ultimately, to start this blog. As wonderful as she is with a small group, hearing that voice mesh with 16 other musicians this talented is a special delight. She absorbs the surroundings and her voice responds. In a people-are-there-to-listen environment like The Blue Room, as audience eyes closed and heads swayed, that near-perfect blend of voice and instruments delivered a night of musical magic.

The New Jazz Order Big Band plays most Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to midnight at Harling’s, 39th and Main. Steve Lambert’s quartet, including T.J. Martley, plays the late show (10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.) on April 17th at Jardine’s (calendar linked at the right). You now have fair warning on when and where to catch some of KC’s best jazz.

And there it is, my stab at a review. It even includes some new superlatives. For this show, they were needed. And deserved.

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Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.