Sunday, October 15, 2017

Kansas City Conundrum


I’ve taken a beating in 2017.  Locally based rock musicians, rappers and jazz artists outraged by my criticism have repeatedly lashed out at me.  That’s fair.  If I dish it out, I have to be willing to endure the consequences.  Partly because I’m the only critic in Kansas City who regularly writes candid reviews of the albums and performances of area musicians, my opinions are often met with howls of shocked indignation.

I do it because I care.

Unlike peers who coddle the musicians who are their friends and neighbors, I gauge music by a single standard.  Using different metrics for locally based musicians would be disrespectful and condescending.  Yet I can’t cite a recent instance of another local observer who has publicly applied a censorious analysis to the music of a Kansas City artist.

Not only does unrelentingly breathless praise quickly become meaningless, the lack of objectivity has dire consequences.   When almost all of the coverage in an artist’s home market consists solely of rave reviews, there’s less incentive for improvement.

Aside from the rapper Tech N9ne, the blues-rock artist Samantha Fish, the pop-oriented Kawehi and the classical ensembles the Kansas City Chorale and the Kansas City Symphony, no locally based act has achieved a substantial national following during the last ten years.  A handful of other artists have had minor hits and/or prestigious label deals, but precious few are presently capable of attracting audiences of 250 or more in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles or New York.

There’s a direct correlation between the dearth of frank criticism and the scarcity of Kansas City artists successfully competing at the national level.  I hope to see more truth-telling and less cheerleading in 2018.  Until then, I’ll resign myself to being perceived as a lone villain.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Concert Review: Lecrae at the Truman


Lecrae isn’t my favorite Christian rapper.  That’d be Kanye West.  Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are right behind him on my list.  Unlike those artists, Lecrae is burdened with the cumbersome label.  Yet all four rappers address the ways in which their faith influences their perspectives on matters including race and social justice.

Lecrae practically dared the approximately 600 white members of the audience of about 1,000 to walk out of his show at the Truman on Saturday.  In a prologue to “Facts”,” a confrontational song about the separation he feels from his white Christians fans, Lecrae explained that they can’t possibly understand the challenges associated with being black in America.

I didn’t see anyone leave.  Lecrae has already been shunned by listeners who didn’t appreciate his embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement and the secular creep in his hip-hop.  He drew more than 5,000 people to a sold-out concert in Independence three years ago (my review for The Kansas City Star).  Saturday’s dramatically reduced audience consisted of diehard fans.

Accompanied by four musicians and two dancers, Lecrae featured songs from his new album All Things Work Together.  Their renditions of ”I’ll Find You”, ”Blessings” and ”Hammer Time”- songs that struck me as overly commercial when I first listened to the project- made the selections seem profound.  I don’t intend to walk out on Lecrae anytime soon.


---
I reviewed Molly Hammer’s debut album at Plastic Sax.

---
I named Wick & the Tricks KCUR’s Band of the Week.

---
I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

---
The jazz vocalist and drummer Grady Tate has died.

---
Jimmy Beaumont of the Skyliners has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

---
Kelela’s Take Me Apart is the latest in an extensive list of acclaimed art-oriented (ostensibly) R&B albums released in 2017 that fail to move me.  Among the other notable offenders: Sampha’s Process, Ibayi’s Ash and Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism.  I call shenanigans.  These unbearably pretentious emperors and empresses have no clothes.

---
An in-store performance by JD McPherson and his band at Vinyl Renaissance floored me a couple weeks ago.  I hadn’t grasped that the group was truly exceptional.  The passion and the craftsmanship of the musicians make most of the ballyhooed garage-rock bands signed to Burger Records seem like chumps.  ”Lucky Penny” may be the weakest song on the new album Undivided Heart & Soul.

---
The Afghan Whigs’ In Spades is a whiskey-soaked fever dream.  RIYL: Nick Cave, rock and roll ghosts, Phil Spector.  Here’s the flesh-filled video for ”Oriole”.

---
Baby Talk, a document from a 2015 meeting between The Thing and James “Blood” Ulmer, is skronk heaven.

---
Ignore Carla Bruni’s backstory and baggage- her imaginative French Touch is an entirely charming novelty album.  Here’s ”Miss You”.

---
Setembro, a hushed Euro-jazz album by Mario Laginha, Julian Argüelles and Helge Andreas Norbakken, is infuriatingly docile.

----
Johnny O’Neal’s In the Moment makes the lush life seem so appealing that I’m fighting the urge to put on a suit, make a beeline for the nearest piano bar and drink until I fall off a barstool.  The album’s EPK is engaging, but it doesn’t touch on O’Neal’s health struggles or the sense of wistfulness that permeates the project.

---
I draw strength and inspiration from Marvin Sapp’s Close.  Here’s the title track.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, October 06, 2017

Yesterday's Wine


To paraphrase Waylon Jennings’ 1977 hit, I was raised on Hank Williams' pain songs, Mickey Newberry's train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”  Willie Nelson has been a more integral part of my life than any other musician.  He and I have both changed considerably through the decades.  During renditions of “Nuages” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” on Wednesday, the icon and I might have been the only people at Starlight Theatre who believed they were at a jazz concert.  Nelson’s vocal phrasing and guitar technique were squarely in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt and Billie Holiday.  I realize it sounds odd, but Nelson is one of my favorite jazz artists.


---
I named the Sextet KCUR’s Band of the Week.

---
I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

---
El Factor, Rich the Factor’s third album of 2017, further confirms what I tell anyone willing to listen to my ranting- the rapper is Kansas City’s most consequential musician.

---
Blues man CeDell Davis has died.

---
If I were to host a formal cocktail party, I’d make Dee Dee Bridgewater’s covers collection Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready a central part of the playlist.  RIYL: Otis Redding, sophisticated soul, Ann Peebles.

---
Our Point of View, a new release by an ensemble appropriately billed as the Blue Note Records All-Stars, is much more than a generic jam session.  RIYL: Ambrose Akinmusire, up-to-the-minute jazz, Robert Glasper.  Here’s ”Second Light”.

---
Considering he’s imprisoned, Kevin Gates’ By Any Means 2 is more than adequate.  Here’s “Why I”.

---
Sweet Pea Atkinson’s Get What You Deserve is at the center of my wheelhouse.  RIYL: Bobby “Blue Bland, self-aware soul, Bobby Womack.

---
Ladilikan, a collaboration between the Kronos Quartet and Trio Da Kali, is a few notches too delicate for me.

---
The chitlin-circuit soul of Ms. Jody’s Thunder Under Yonder brings me so much joy that I forgive her for conflating Spanglish and Jamaican patois on a goofy interpretation of “Stir It Up.”

---
Jonas Kaufmann is transcendent on L’Opéra.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tom Petty, 1950-2017


The music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was so incongruous in the late 1970s that a record store in the Crown Center shops in Kansas City filed the group’s 1976 self-titled album and 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It! in its “new wave” section. 

The mislabeling was somewhat understandable.  When played alongside the polished likes of Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” on commercial rock radio stations, the rough-and-tumble “Breakdown” sounded entirely alien.

Only when Damn the Torpedoes hit in 1979 did it become completely apparent that Petty’s music was squarely in the center of the American rock and roll tradition.  His appearance at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, on January 11, 1980, was one of the most powerful performances I’ve witnessed.  (Opening act the Fabulous Poodles weren’t bad either.)

Petty died today.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Review: The Lyric Opera of Kansas City's "Eugene Onegin" at Muriel Kauffman Theatre


I glibly dismissed opera as a teenager.  When people asked me what types of music I liked, I’d respond by saying “everything but opera.”  The ignorant retort was based on my perception of opera as a bastion of privilege.  I didn’t actually attend an opera until about 15 years ago.

I rolled the dice when I bought four tickets to a production of Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele” at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma for the equivalent of $75 U.S. dollars.  I expected my young children to revolt after 30 minutes.  Instead, they were spellbound by the operatic portrayal of Satan.  I was similarly transfixed.  (There’s definitely something to the “when in Rome” trope.)

I’ve since begun listening to arias for pleasure, a development partly inspired by my interest in the dramatic rise to stardom of Joyce DiDonato, a fellow Kansan.  I spent $39 (plus the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ regressive $6.50 add-on fee) for an upper balcony seat to the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” on Saturday.

Spending big money to take in a glacially-paced three-hour Russian opera isn’t everyone’s idea of a solid Saturday night, a truth reflected by the spotty attendance.  A third of the seats in Muriel Kauffman Theatre were empty, a bad look for an opening night.

I would have adored almost every minute of the opera even if I didn’t have an entire row to myself.  The stellar performance of the Kansas City Symphony under the direction of Ari Pelto kept me riveted even when the flimsy plot dragged.  It didn’t hurt that I was smitten by Raquel González.  She was radiant in the role of Tatyana.  I also admired Steven Cole’s cameo as Monsieur Triquet and Jane Bunnell’s portrayal of Filipyevna.

The subtle lighting, sublime special effects and handsome sets transported me to Russia, a bewitchment that was broken by the heedless chatter just outside the theater doors that disrupted quiet segments of all three acts.  Nyet, nyet, nyet!


---
I reviewed the Sextet’s new album Blob Castle at Plastic Sax.

---
I’m a sucker for the Floozies’ unrepentantly dim-witted party jams.  Funk Jesus is RIYL sunshine, EOTO, beer bongs.

---
Mastodon’s output just sounds better than most hard rock/heavy metal recordings.  The new four-song EP Cold Dark Place is RIYL Blizzard of Ozz, pomp, Diary of a Madman.  Here’s the title track.

---
Not every reissue of vintage Afropop is worthwhile.  Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman seems like a desultory rehearsal.

---
Kamasi Washington’s 31-minute Harmony of Difference is a digestible cosmic jazz document.  ”Truth” is the longest track.

---
“There’s a Flaw in My Flue”!  I finally got around to listening to Bob Dylan’s Triplicate.  He’s clearly trolling, and I love it anyway.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Oh Very Young


I don’t recall hearing nursery rhymes as a kid.  The sing-song hits of Cat Stevens, however, were integral components of the soundtrack of my childhood.  “Wild World” and “Peace Train” are among the ditties that helped shape my worldview at an impressionable age.  The Laughing Apple is rightfully billed as a return to form for the man who now goes by Yusuf Islam.  I can’t resist the nostalgic charm of guileless songs like ”See What Love Did To Me” and “You Can Do (Whatever)”.


---
I reviewed Melissa Etheridge’s concert with the Kansas City Symphony at Helzberg Hall.

---
Thundercat gave me hope last week.  My notes about his revelatory concert in Lawrence are at Plastic Sax.

---
I celebrated the reunion of Hadacol on KCUR’s Up To Date.

---
I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

---
Charles Bradley has died.

---
Souljazz Orchestra’s spectacular Under Burning Skies sounds like Awesome Tapes From Africa come to life.  Here’s ”Dog Eat Dog”.

---
Will Downing’s Soul Survivor is RIYL Charlie Wilson, romance, Joe.  Here’s ”I’m Feeling the Love Again”.

---
Riser, the debut album of the London based guitarist Rob Luft, is so startlingly imaginative that it makes the majority of jazz musicians seem like dullards.  RIYL: Lionel Loueke, unorthodoxy, David Binney.

---
I take the Christian rapper Lecrae seriously.  That’s why I’m disappointed by the wildly inconsistent All Things Work Together.  Here’s ”Blessings”.

---
Joe McPhee makes an unholy racket with Damon Smith and Alvin Fielder on Six Situations.  RIYL: skronk, Anthony Braxton, room-clearing jazz.

---
Young Martha, the four-song EP that pairs the eccentric rapper Young Thug with the left-of-center producer Carnage, is correspondingly freaky.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Album Review: Pistol Pete- The 3Pete


The rims on the minivan in the hilarious video for ”Konichiwa” sold me on the Kansas City rapper Pistol Pete.  He’s as funny as Mac Lethal and as funky as Rich the Factor on his new album The 3Pete.

Pistol Pete insists that “I ain’t a rapper, I’m more a storyteller” on “2bad2good.”   The track’s jazz foundation indicates that the title is a likely reference to the Canadian jazz/hip-hop collective BadBadNotGood.  “So Gone” also swings while other tracks reveal the influence of Mac Dre.

The 3Pete concludes with my new theme song “Only Opponent.”  Like Mac Lethal, Rich the Factor and Pistol Pete, I see my most formidable adversary “when I look in the mirror.”


---
I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

---
I featured Molly Hammer in my weekly segment for KCUR.

---
I documented a portion of my recent whiskey trip to Louisville at Plastic Sax.

---
The one-time Kansan Mark Selby, a graduate of Fort Hays State who co-wrote the Dixie Chicks hit “There’s Your Trouble,” has died.

---
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s first album of 2017 struck me as a pointless recreation of Miles Davis’ Decoy.  A more interesting groove makes Diaspora a much better listen.

---
Difficult admission: I’d never heard most of the tracks on the new Can compilation The Singles.  Aside from a few slices of cheese at the end, every song is stunning.

---
Rock musician Jeremy Porter wrote an excellent remembrance of Grant Hart.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)