Thursday, November 15, 2018

Concert Review: Maxwell at the Midland Theatre


“They don’t make ‘em like they used to, but I think I make ‘em like they used to,” Marsha Ambrosius told an audience of more than 1,500 at the Midland theater as she opened for Maxwell on Wednesday.  The British star with a colossal voice specializes in recreating the sound and feel of Michael Jackson’s ballads.  (She co-wrote his 2002 smash “Butterflies.”)

Accompanied only by her keyboard and an intrusive hype man, Ambrosius ran through a handful of old favorites and excellent new material like “Luh Ya”.  I was disappointed that she entertained only 30 minutes but I was absolutely infuriated when Maxwell and his six-piece band walked off the stage after playing 90 minutes.

I expected more.

Maxwell’s 2008 concert at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City is one of the most rousing exhibitions of soul music I’ve witnessed, and I’ve attended shows by legends including James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes and Prince.  My glowing memory of his 2008 appearance caused me to merely flinch when I discovered that the least expensive ticket at the door last night was $60.

I barely got my money’s worth.

I was among the majority of the people in the “cheap” seats who never stood to dance during the 32nd installment of Maxwell’s 50 Intimate Nights tour.  Anticipating transcendence, I settled for satisfaction.  The absence of a horn section was a nasty surprise, but I was gutted that the setlist didn’t include “We Never Saw It Coming”, a protest song that's the “What’s Going On” of our time.

As much as I love Maxwell’s party material like “Sumthin’ Sumthin’”, “We Never Saw It Coming” is the type of song that differentiates Maxwell from hackneyed nostalgists.  I love Maxwell partly because he’s not a corny mimic of old-time R&B.  He keeps the music vital by giving it a contemporary edge even as he honors soul’s traditions.  Sadly, Maxwell’s concert at the Midland was slightly stale.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Album Review: Tyshawn Sorey- Pillars


Leaf blowers and Pillars are incompatible.  My plan for the daylight hours last weekend was to absorb Tyshawn Sorey’s four-hour epic while doing yard work.  The rudimentary process of gathering and bagging the deep bed of leaves that covers my yard would have allowed me to focus on the intricacies of Sorey’s new triptych.

No dice.

Equipped with blaring leaf blowers, my diligent neighbors glared at me as I made my first attempt of the season to clear my yard with a rake.  The infernal racket of their machines drowned out the hushed segments of Pillars.  I retreated indoors.  Hearing Sorey’s crucial work is far more important to me than keeping up appearances.  Although Sorey is best known in jazz circles, Pillars is in the tradition of classical-based compositions by the likes of Anthony Davis and John Cage. 

The irony of my travails: a few of the most abrasive passages of Pillars resemble the grating drone of leaf blowers.


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Recently at Plastic Sax: I reviewed OJT’s New Originals for the Green Lady and experienced an astonishing epiphany at the Kansas City debut of Kamasi Washington.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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Unlike many jazz devotees, I don't revere Roy Hargrove.  I was nonplussed the first time I saw him at a St. Louis club in the early 1990s.  And he was a mess the last time I caught him at the 2014 edition of the 18th & Vine Jazz & Blues Festival.  When he was on, however, Hargrove was among the best artists I’ve witnessed.  I reviewed Hargrove’s band at the Folly Theater for The Kansas City Star, a show that I ranked second on a list of my favorite concerts of 2007.  Hargrove died November 2.

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The Residents’ Hardy Fox has died.

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Elle King often sings about the people who do her wrong.  She should direct her righteous fury at the knob-twiddlers responsible for the wrongheaded production of Shake the Spirit.  Much as the recordings of Fitz and the Tantrums sterilize the band’s retro-soul attack, Shake the Spirit is rendered lifeless by a sound field that makes her Wanda Jackson-esque attack sound like Pat Boone.  Here’s “Shame”.

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Even though I have little patience for astrology, Nao’s pseudo-science themed Saturn captivates me.  RIYL: Janet Jackson at her weirdest, horoscopes, Frank Ocean at his most conventional.  Here’s “Make It Out Alive”.

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After Caroline, 43 minutes of delicious skronk by Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isadore, is RIYL Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet, Evan Parker.

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Vince Staples’ FM! mixtape is disappointing.  Here’s “Fun!”.

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A commendable album is hiding underneath multiple layers of sticky varnish on Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty.  Here’s “Love Wins”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Top Ten Albums of 2018 by Kansas City Musicians

Musicians associated with Kansas City released dozens of albums in 2018.  A few of the most prominent projects aren’t included here.  Rather than acting as a barometer of parochial groupthink, my list contains the ten albums with the most artistic merit.

1. Logan Richardson- Blues People

2. Kelly Hunt- Even the Sparrow

3. Stephonne- Caged Bird Sings Songs About Red Beard

4. Rich the Factor- CEO of the BlacktopCEO of the Blacktop 2 and CEO of the Blacktop 3

5. Janelle Monáe- Dirty Computer

6. The Project H- Everyday, Forever

7. Chen Yi- Concertos for String Instruments

8. Stephen Martin- Vision

9. Tech N9ne- Planet

10. Calvin Arsenia- Cantaloupe

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Concert Review: Dia de los Deftones at Petco Park


I’ve limited myself to a single live music event during my second honeymoon in San Diego.  But man, what a show!  Dia de los Deftones, a festival curated by hometown heroes Deftones, was held just beyond the outfield of Petco Park and spilled over into a street adjacent to the baseball stadium on Saturday, November 3.

Complications with a rideshare caused me to miss the opening act Vowws, but Vein’s ferocious attack on the secondary stage made me feel a lot better about skipping the 2018 edition of Warped Tour.  The cool kids insisting that Vein is one of rock’s best hopes may be right.  Ho99o9, an industrial rock/rap trio in the style of Death Grips and Injury Reserve, was even better.  Failing to get hurt after getting swept into the mosh pit a couple times confirmed my sense that I’m living the life of Riley.

I’ve never managed to get into Rocket From the Crypt.  The veteran San Diego band received a cold shoulder from Deftones fans who shared my indifference.  I felt sorry for Mike Shinoda.  Not only did the music of the cofounder of Linkin Park ironically resemble second-rate Twenty One Pilots, his tribute to his late bandmate Chester Bennington was a major buzzkill.

The set by Future was easily the best effort I’ve witnessed by the rap superstar.  He’s floundered the past couple times I’ve seen him but Future did his best to engage the audience of approximately 5,000.  Unlike Future, Doja Cat didn’t have any baggage to overcome.  The immensely likable Cardi B knockoff gamely delivered her risque material including the hilarious novelty hit "Mooo!".

I had so much fun bouncing between the two stages for six hours that I forgot to eat.  Unfortunately, I remembered to down three Belching Beaver lagers introduced at the festival.  Overcome by a sudden wave of hunger when Deftones hit the main stage, I couldn’t enjoy its headlining appearance.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Jazz Revisionism


When she burst onto the international jazz scene a decade ago, I hailed Esperanza Spalding as The One, a bold, charismatic and visionary artist capable of reversing the flagging fortunes of the form.  Bad call.  Not only is much of Spalding’s work removed from jazz these days, her new album 12 Little Spells is one of the most noxious releases by a critically acclaimed artist in years.  12 Little Spells is so aggressively awful that tracks like “Readying to Rise” resemble parodies of frequently self-indulgent acts like Weather Report, Frank Zappa and King Crimson.  The only song on 12 Little Spells worth revisiting is “Touch in Mine”.

In a much more pleasant reassessment, I’ve come around to Cécile McLorin Salvant.  I long thought the hype surrounding the vocalist was unwarranted.  The critical darling struck me as fey, mannered and slight.  Just as my commendation of Spalding proved to be wishful thinking, I reckoned Salvant’s backers desperately needed her to be something she wasn’t.  The Window changed my mind.  Accompanied only by the spectacular keyboardist Sullivan Fortner on all but one song on the lovely album, Salvant shows that she likely merits a place in the pantheon of the most notable jazz and cabaret talents.


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Tony Joe White has died.  “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” were essential components of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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Wah Wah Watson, a guitarist for the likes of Marvin Gaye and Maxwell, has died.

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Saxophonist Sonny Fortune has died.

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The Indian musician Annapurna Devi has died.

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I think I’m going to meet my maker every time I travel between Kansas City and St. Louis.  The Bottle Rockets document the white-knuckle experience on “Highway 70 Blues,” the second track on their new album Bit Logic.  The plaint includes this truism: “if you’re in a hurry to cross Missouri, things might not go as planned.”

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Although he wasn’t on the bill, the Louisville bard Will Oldham was the most famous person I encountered at the Cropped Out festival earlier this month.  Oldham’s new solo acoustic set Songs of Love and Horror is RIYL Tom Rush, exposed nerves, Eric Anderson.

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James Francies sounds like Robert Glasper’s little brother on his Blue Note debut Flight.

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Corporate rock sometimes hits the spot.  I freely admit that I enjoy Myles Kennedy’s Year of the Tiger.  RIYL: Chris Cornell, proficiency, Scott Weiland.  Here’s the title track.

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Wolfgang Muthspiel’s Where the River Goes is fine, but I was expecting so much more from the all-star collaboration.  The Austrian guitarist is accompanied by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland on a project that doesn't fulfill its promise.

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The Dirty Nil’s Master Volume is a masterful evocation of rock bands ranging from Thin Lizzy to Wavves.  Here’s “That's What Heaven Feels Like”.

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Román Filiú’s stellar Quarteria is RIYL Miguel Zenón, Cuban jazz, Henry Threadgill.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Look How Wrong You Can Be: Rod Stewart at the Sprint Center


It seems ridiculous at this late date, but I once cared about Rod Stewart so much that I held a grudge against the star.  Even though I was a punk enthusiast in the late ‘70s, I still loved early Stewart albums like Every Picture Tells a Story.  I took his artistic change of direction exemplified by "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" as a personal affront.  I stopped caring about Stewart altogether twenty years ago.

My date and I regretted our impulsive purchase of $32 tickets as we drove to the Sprint Center last Tuesday, but Stewart immediately won us over.  Whether he was belting out classics like “Maggie May” or dodgy material like “Infatuation,” the preposterous antics of the unabashed ham were charming.  I didn’t hesitate to enthusiastically sing along to "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

An older woman seated in front of us googled “Rod Stewart age” in an oversize font on her undimmed phone.  Her curiosity was understandable.  The lusty vigor displayed by Stewart, 73, is genuinely sexy.  I smiled the entire show.  Had he been able to see into the future, my 18-year-old self would have been mortified.  I never liked that kid much anyway.


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I opted to post my review of Erykah Badu’s memorable concert at the Sprint Center at Plastic Sax.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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Pilfered from my Twitter account: Joe Strummer lives! After raving about the combat rock of 6666 in a blog post on Tuesday, I paid $17 to catch Four Fists at the Riot Room last night.  I felt as if I was listening to the Clash’s Sandinista! for the first time.  The footage I posted to Instagram amuses me.

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I’m looking forward to an imminent beach vacation.  Quebra Cabeça, the fourth album by the Brazilian Afro-funk band Bixiga 70, will likely provide the core of the sunny but slightly sinister soundtrack to my downtime.  Here’s the title track.

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Not every selection on Atmosphere’s Mi Vida Local hits home, but Slug’s musings on subjects like parenting and Ant’s discerning beats reveal a promising path forward for aging hip-hop artists.  RIYL: feeling Minnesota, Jay-Z’s 4:44, middle age.

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Open Mike Eagle’s What Happens When I Try To Relax is scathing standup comedy set to astonishing music.  RIYL: Shabazz Palaces, punchlines, Dave Chappelle.

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Ubiquitous’s new four-song EP has several good moments.  Here’s “What If?”.

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I’ve never understood why jazz artists continue to allow producers and engineers to intentionally make their albums sound as if they were recorded in 1956.  The rich sound field of Aaron Parks' Little Big demonstrates the virtues of embracing the fact that it’s 2018.  RIYL: Pat Metheny Group, volume, Brad Mehldau Trio.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Combat Rock: Joe Strummer and Four Fists


Strummer 001, a recently released two-hour compilation of Joe Strummer rarities, confirms what I’d already knew.  The man who died in 2002 did his best work with the Clash.  Even so, hearing Strummer working out new ideas before and after his contributions to the seminal band is fascinating.  I hadn’t heard half of the 32 punk, folk, pub-rock and reggae tracks on Strummer 001.  The previously unissued selections make it clear that Strummer was striving to become a modern-day Woody Guthrie.  He succeeded.

Four Fists’ 6666, a collaboration between underground hip-hop luminaries P.O.S and Astronautalis, is a de facto tribute to Strummer.  Not only is the sixth selection titled “Joe Strummr,” the opening track “Nobody’s Biz” references the Clash’s “White Riot.”  The snippet of a Strummer interview that opens “Unjinxed” highlights Four Fists’ embrace of Strummer’s mandate to create protest music.

With the exception of the title track of Four Fist’s album and a version of Strummer’s garage-band classic “Keys To Your Heart,” all of 6666 is better than anything on 001.  The vitality of Four Fists’ fusion of rap, rock and electronic music honors Strummer’s legacy.  The only thing P.O.S and Astronautalis get wrong is their lament that “Joe Strummer has been dead for too damn long.”  Strummer lives in 6666.


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I reviewed Ed Sheeran’s concert at Arrowhead Stadium.

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My most recent concert previews for The Kansas City Star are here and here.

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I reviewed performances by the Vijay Iyer Sextet at the Gem Theater and Ramsey Lewis and Urban Knights at the Folly Theater for Plastic Sax.

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Jazz saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett has died.

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The opera star Montserrat Caballé has died.

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The experimental musician Takehisa Kosugi has died.

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Angela Maria has died.  My fellow music obsessives will appreciate this documentary about the Brazilian star.

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Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest has replaced Kanye West as the subject of the most heated music-related altercations I'm having with my family and friends.  Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the probable album-of-the-year.

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Zinc City is a fever dream in which saxophonist David Binney and pianist Manuel Engel give free reign to their most psychotic impulses.  RIYL: Karl Stockhausen, nightmares, John Cage.

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The avant-garde bluegrass of Nathan Bowles’ Plainly Mistaken occasionally sounds like a mashup of Earl Scruggs and Philip Glass.

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Spider Bags’ scuzzy Someday Everything Will Be Fine is my kind of rock and roll album.  RIYL: Tav Falco, stage-diving into the abyss, Deer Tick.  Here’s “Oxcart Blues”.

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Lovely or fussy?  Artful genius or pretentious twaddle?  Past his prime or a lion in winter?  I won’t argue with either set of assessments of Paul Simon’s In the Blue Light

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Donny McCaslin’s concert at the Folly Theater in 2017 was transcendent because the saxophonist’s trio played jazz with the energy, volume and showmanship of a rock band.  McCaslin loses the plot on Blow, a rock album that resembles a forgettable solo venture by a David Bowie sideman.  RIYL: Adrian Belew, miscalculations, Reeves Gabrels.

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Prodded by a pal, I reluctantly listened to the Midnight’s Kids, a nostalgic love letter to mid-’80s suburban America in which synth-pop and video games were ascendent.  RIYL: Howard Jones, synth-wave, Yazoo.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)