Monday, March 11, 2013

This 'n That 'n Uncommon Similarities

You’d think they have nothing in common.

Last Sunday morning I completed compiling quotes for last week’s post recalling Count Basie’s big band as it uniquely developed in Kansas City. Then Sunday night, at The Record Bar, I took in the quirky and unconventional People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City (PLBB), a 21st century musical collaboration with a big band sound that couldn’t be more unBasie-like.

In one city, over seventy five years apart, two big bands epitomizing big band extremes. Opposites. The definition of dissimilarity.

Until the similarities start to strike.

Two big bands built in Kansas City.

Two big bands built on unique arrangements capturing and spitting right back out the youthful voice and attitude of their respective eras.

Two big bands built with musicians clearly enjoying themselves before audiences sharing in the joy.

Two big bands built with some of the most outstanding musicians of their time.

Dave Scott guested with PLBB last weekend. And hearing the band shift from their own accessibly eccentric compositions to Scott’s original but more conventional big band voicings, spoke to the magnificent and versatile talent stacked on that stage. Solos by Matt Otto, James Isaac and Rich Wheeler – for starters – only underscored that impression.

Here are some of Kansas City’s finest musicians coming together, imbuing big band jazz with a contemporary sense of fluke and fun, performing some of the most memorable solos you’re going to hear, and leaving a happy audience with a collective smile.

So did that last sentence describe the People’s Liberation Big Band or Count Basie’s Kansas City big band?

Wildly different sounds, yes. But more similarities than you may have thought.

(And among the similarities, I didn’t even bring up big, burly bassits.)


PLBB’s big, burly, bassist, Jeff Harshbarger, and PLBB’s Rich Wheeler also make up half of Kansas City’s Turkish jazz combo, Alaturka. Beau Bledsoe on guitar and oud and Brandon Draper on percussion comprise the other half.

When I first wrote about Alaturka (here), Sait Arat’s nearly unhuman playing of the darbuka grabbed my attention most. But when Sait departed, Brandon Draper’s percussion took the void, and the group’s sound started to evolve.

On Alaturka’s first outstanding CD, Taman Abi, simply not being able to see Sait play brought a different focus to the music than seeing the group live. On recordings. Beau’s guitar and oud gained prominence.

Each member carries a pivotal piece of Alaturka’s voice. The first time I heard Brandon with the group, at Jardine’s, I heard that voice refocusing. In January at Jazz Winterlude, I heard a completed evolution. This is Turkish music by jazz musicians. Brandon contributes a percussive feel different from Sait, one with equal measures of expert support and wonderful surprise.

Last night at the Record Bar, Alaturka released their second CD, Yalniz. In Yalniz we hear a blending on Turkish stylings and jazz improvisation where every musician shines.

Here you’ll find a beautiful conversation between tenor, guitar and percussion on Children's Songs No.1 followed by a wonderful blending of all instruments on Nikriz Saz Semaisi.  All of the musicians, within a Turkish mold, contribute to setting this recording apart: Beau's solo and guest vocalist Nihan Yesil on Divane Aşık Gibi, Rich’s inviting yet commanding tenor on Faint, Brandon’s defining percussion on Ciftitelli Zenkov, Jeff’s solid bass upon which each song builds.

With Yalniz, Alaturka melds four of Kansas City jazz’s finest musicians – Beau Bledsoe, Jeff Harshbarger, Rich Wheeler and Brandon Draper – together at their best.

I don’t see Yalniz available online yet, but I suspect when it is you’ll be able to find it here and here.


Vine Street Rumble is a new Kansas City jazz combo, led by Kent Rausch, recalling traditional Kansas City swing. Their premiere outing is Monday, March 11th at Californos in Westport at 8 p.m.

Vine Street Rumble. People’s Liberation Big Band. Alaturka. The diversity of jazz in Kansas City today is unprecedented. The talent of jazz musicians in this city is amazing. The number of young musicians here speaks to the music’s future, as do new clubs opening and finding an audience.

The days when Basie dominated Kansas City music have long since passed. But jazz still lives in Kansas City.

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