Monday, November 30, 2015

Three CDs Reviewed Simply and Viscerally

In editing Jam, I’ve found some CD reviewers get into what I find to be the musical weeds, praising elements like “rapid fire sixteenth-note bursts.” I’ve never attended a music class in my life and I wouldn’t know a sixteenth note burst from the movie Sixteen Candles. My reaction to music is more simplistic and visceral. It generally boils down to either (a) I like it or (b) I don’t like it.

For instance, I like the Michael Pagan / Bob Bowman / Brian Steever CD, The Ottawa Sessions, recorded at Ottawa University’s Fredrikson Chapel. Starting with the joyous bounce of Lullabye of the Leaves, these musicians are engaged in a musical conversation. Pagan’s piano winds over, under and around Steever’s propelling drums on the rambunctious Hebgen Happy Hour. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise invites you to pay attention through a more intimate but no less engaging journey. Bowman’s intricate plethora of notes delights on Owe You Blues (“intricate plethora of notes” – that’s as technical as my reviews get).

Repeatedly you’re struck by how integral each musician is to this music. Any piano trio could easily devolve into little more than the pianist’s showcase. And Pagan’s playing, consistently expressive, excels. But it is the artistry and interplay between three of today’s Kansas City jazz masters that gives this CD its exceptional voice.

The Ottawa Sessions can be found on Amazon here, on CDBaby here, and on iTunes here.

No less delightful is Ron Carlson’s new CD, Kind Folk. Carlson was nudged into the studio by Rob Scheps, who joins him on saxophone and flute. Also joining all numbers are bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Brian Steever, who are clearly not spending all of their spare time in Ottawa, and baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Roger Rosenberg visiting with Scheps from New York.

Carlson’s name may grace the cover of the CD, but his role here is more often that of host and glue, clearly driving the rhythm but letting the other musicians shine. On the title tune, Scheps and Rosenberg invitingly layer saxophones over and around Carlson’s compelling guitar. On the ballad First Song, Rosenberg’s bass clarinet glides beautifully, followed by Scheps’s smooth but darting flute, before both weave together with grace.

Stellar KC vocalists join three of the numbers. Angela Hagenbach romps with Scheps and Rosenberg on the exquisitely fun Bye Bye Country Boy. A Felicidade finds Scheps’s flute bouncing around Shay Estes’s Portuguese vocals. A Beautiful Friendship opens with Kathleen Holeman over Bowman’s bass before the entire ensemble swings in.

Kind Folk is available on CDBaby here.

Where the first two albums are unabashed swing, Mike Metheny’s new CD. Twelve For the Road, experiments. Our friend Plastic Sax described the sound as “electronic space music.” That fits many of the selections.

But not all. The brief For Parkville is one of the most conventional and most appealing numbers to a non-music-educated luddite like me. Carousel brings to mind a slightly off-kilter score to a Fellini film. Both feature Metheny on keyboards. He’s on keyboards on most numbers here. His flugelhorn comes out on Home, with a sound smoothly dense and welcome.

Much of this music rides the edge of jazz. I understand and appreciate an artist reaching for new directions. But sometimes electronic experimentation in music leads me to greater appreciation of the conventional. I suppose that’s just the simple and visceral in me.

Twelve For the Road is available on Amazon here, on CDBaby here and on Mike Metheny’s website here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kissin' Cousins

Editing Jam takes a toll. Three weeks and nary a new post.

This blog has been neither forgotten nor ignored. But as editor of Jam magazine – I still want to say new editor, but three issues in I’m not sure that holds – I’m finding that every couple of months, a few weekends need to be handed over to producing the next issue. I have neither the time nor stamina to spend a weekend writing and editing articles for the magazine while simultaneously mustering pithy thoughts here.

This week’s post is short, as I recoup from last weekend’s 4 a.m. nights. But the result is worth the effort. The December/January Jam printed last week and is being distributed around town now. It’s far from perfected, but this issue comes closer to my vision for the magazine, which celebrates 30 years of publication in 2016. Jam is developing a new voice and a fresh look. I have found that even in this digital century, holding a slick printed document remains important to many.

I share the new issue’s cover to shamelessly promote it. That’s singer Eboni Fondren decked in Royals gear and standing on the small baseball diamond adjacent to the historic Paseo YMCA at 19th and The Paseo.

Clearly, the photo is inspired by the Royals’ World Series championship. But it works in part because in Kansas City, baseball and jazz have long been kissin’ cousins. In the 1920s and ’30s, when a new style of jazz was growing up in this city, the Kansas City Monarchs dominated baseball’s Negro Leagues and were as integral to the fabric of 18th and Vine as were music and vice. The Monarchs’ office stood on 18th Street, between The Paseo and Vine. They played in Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn.

The Negro Leagues fed the integration of baseball, and the integration of baseball is often cited as one key to the acceptance of integration in America. February will mark 96 years since the charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed at the Paseo YMCA, in 1920. I’ve long argued that the building deserves recognition as a National Historic Landmark.

Add September’s announcement on plans to build the nation’s seventh Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Parade Park, behind the jazz and Negro Leagues museums. If the city can find a solution to taming crime in the district, and the devastating news stories that crime generates, this development will attract a new audience to Kansas City’s historic jazz district. It further strengthens Kansas City’s historic bonds between baseball and jazz.

But while baseball season has ended for this year, jazz continues. Diana Krall performed at the Midland on Saturday night. And Friday night, she sat in with Matt Otto at The Blue Room on his last set. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen just anywhere. The loss of Take Five and The Broadway Jazz Club means fewer opportunities for musicians to perform. No question, it’s a setback. But the wealth of jazz talent in Kansas City today will keep the music thriving, and will keep performers like Diana Krall getting out when they visit to sample what we have going on.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No New Post

As work in n the next issue of Jam magazine heats up – with an early close due to Thanksgiving – work on this blog takes a break. No new post this week. (But the next issue of the magazine is going to be awesome!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Congratulations, Royals!

This blog is about Kansas City and jazz. But today this city is all about our Royals winning the World Series. Next week we can rerturn to what passes here for on-topic punditry. Today, along with all other proud and excited Kansas Citians, I have just one thought: Congratulations, Kansas City Royals!