Sunday, October 27, 2019

Album Review: Kanye West- Jesus Is King

My Uber driver involuntarily swerved when I told him Kanye West was my favorite artist as we sped down Mopac Expressway in Austin last week.  I was blathering about my high hopes for the imminent release of Jesus Is King.
As a day-one West fan and avowed Christian, the prospect of a committed gospel album made me giddy.

My faith is gone.  Jesus Is King is a disaster.  Religion has always played an integral role in West’s art, but the tension between God and Satan is supplanted by imperious moral superiority and self-centered pettiness on Jesus Is King.  To top it off, the production is uninspired.  Only “Use This Gospel” and “God Is” contain glimmers of West’s genius.  I would have vastly preferred a live recording of one of his occasionally inspiring Sunday Services. 

As a zealous West fan since the release of “Through the Wire” in 2003, I’ve tolerated mountains of nonsense.  I draw the line at mediocre music.  West’s peace of mind is obviously more important than my selfish needs as a fan, but at least I’ll no longer run the risk of horrifying strangers with an extremely controversial take on music.  West’s three-year artistic rut- and all the baggage that comes along with it- makes him the man who used to be my favorite artist.

I make weekly concert recommendations for The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed a concert by Stefon Harris and Blackout at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

October Recap

Top Five Performances
1. Nadia Larcher and Ensemble Ibérica- MTH Theater
My review.
2. Max Richter, Grace Davidson and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble- Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater (Austin)
My review.
3. Rodney Crowell- 04 Center (Austin)
Ain’t living long like that.
4. Tatsuya Nakatani- The Ship
My review.
5. Orville Peck- RecordBar
Who was that masked man?

Top Five Albums
1. Kris Davis- Diatom Ribbons
Unit structures.
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Ghosteen
My review.
3. Robert Glasper- Fuck Yo Feelings
My review.
4. Danny Brown- Uknowhatimsayin?
Don't know nothing but I do know this.
5. Jaimie Branch- Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise
Jazz musicians with punk attitudes are inestimable.

Top Five Songs
1. Summer Walker and PartyNextDoor- “Just Might”
Self-awareness can be excruciating.
2. City Girls- “JT First Day Out”
3. Miranda Lambert- “Tequila Does”
4. Bill Frisell- “Everywhere”
Sweet dreams are made of this.
5. Kanye West featuring Clipse and Kenny G- “Use This Gospel”
Kenny G takes a solo on Jesus Is King's best track.

I conducted the same exercise in September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

(Original image of Tatsuya Nakatani by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Concert Review: Max Richter, Grace Davidson and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater

I delivered an unsolicited screed to the stoned stranger seated next to me at Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater on Friday, October 18.  My tirade prior to a concert by Max Richter, Grace Davidson and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble was instigated by an odd handout given to members of the audience of about 1,000.

Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of the HBO series The Leftovers, praised Richter’s “incredible music” and its frequent use in television and film productions on the leaflet that enraged me.  The hapless stranger graciously endured my harangue about how Richter’s music will prove far more enduring than the ephemeral creations of Hollywood.  While Richter is best known for his contributions to productions including Arrival, Black Mirror and the current Brad Pitt vehicle Ad Astra, much of his work is on the commanding level of composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Jóhann Jóhannsson.

I felt vindicated by Richter’s refusal to “enhance” his presentation with video projections.  The concert opened with a reading of his score for The Leftovers.  The music soared without the aid of Lindelof’s images.  Unfortunately, the spell was regularly disrupted by dozens of barbarians who applauded between movements and heedlessly let doors slam during their trips to the bar.

The second half of the concert consisted of a 90-minute version of the eight-hour song cycle Sleep, a project Richter introduced as “a protest album.”  Rather than inducing drowsiness, Sleep’s insistent minimalism arouses a fevered sense of agitation in this listener.  Davidson’s repeated “ooh-ah” refrain and the unrelenting cello bows became increasingly jarring as the piece progressed.  The ensemble occasionally broke off, allowing Richter to toy with decaying sound loops on his laptops like an ambient dub DJ.  As with many of the most exciting experiments, the performance challenged assumptions about the nature of music and how it’s meant to be consumed.

I reviewed Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women’s Suffrage by the Karrin Allyson Sextet at Plastic Sax.)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Concert Review: Nadia Larcher and Ensemble Ibérica at MTH Theater

Nadia Larcher called Beau Bledsoe a dreamer during her North American debut at MTH Theater on Monday, October 14.  After taking in her astonishing performance, I now think of the leader of Ensemble Ibérica as an expert talent scout.

Bledsoe told an audience of less than 100 that he stumbled upon Larcher in an out-of-the-way theater in Buenos Aires by happenstance last year.  Even though the Argentinian was showcased in a 75-minute symphonic concert in 2017, Larcher is still so obscure that the video of the exquisite performance in Buenos Aires has less than 2,500 views.

The $34 I paid for my ticket covered only a pitiful fraction of what was almost certainly a huge investment to get Larcher to Kansas City, but her show was an artistic windfall.  Accompanied by guitarist Bledsoe, violinist (and translator) Christine Brebes, multi-instrumentalist Amado Espinoza, pianist Brad Cox, bassist Jeff Harshbarger and percussionist Brandon Draper, Larcher demonstrated that her tiny frame houses a massive voice and an even bigger personality.

A few of Larcher’s songs were about cowboys and the travails of agrarian life in Argentina.  That’s misleading.  Larcher is clearly professionally trained.  Her approach is no less refined than the sophisticated sensibility of the Broadway star Kelli O’Hara.  I can’t speak for Bledsoe, but the magnificence of Larcher made my dreams come true on Monday.

I contribute weekly concert previews to The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Concert Review: Kelli O’Hara at Helzberg Hall

What constitutes an ideal date night concert?  I’d suggest that the performance should be romantic, engaging, sophisticated, brief and affordable.  By those specifications, Kelli O’Hara’s appearance at Helzberg Hall on Saturday, October 12, was perfect.  My date shed tears of gratitude during the Broadway star’s renditions of romantic standards including “All the Way”, and she gleefully sang along to a rendition of the cheerful “Getting to Know You”.  Accompanied only by pianist Dan Lipton, O’Hara’s appearance lasted less than 90 minutes.  The brevity of the show might have bothered me had I not purchased rush tickets at an enormous discount.  Light attendance meant that we had an entire section in a posh venue almost entirely to ourselves.  Suddenly, I’m bright and breezy.

I reviewed an appearance by Tatsuya Nakatani at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Album Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Ghosteen

I’ve attended only two funerals in 2019.  That number is certain to multiply in the next several years.  Knowing that my end is also coming sooner rather than later, I spend a lot of time pondering death, grief and God.  I once would have dismissed Ghosteen, the stately new song cycle by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, as an exercise in morbidity.  Yet like everyone who has managed to stay alive for more than half a century, I’ve taken enough hits to make Cave’s unblinking musings on mortality entirely relatable  Ghosteen is grim but not macabre.  Cave admirably attempts to overcome melancholy without devaluing the source of his pain.  In treasuring the good that remains, he honors the memories of those he’s lost.  That’s the best any of us can do.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Album Review: Robert Glasper- Fuck Yo Feelings

A rapper accosted me in a bar a few years ago.  He told me that while he appreciated my detailed analysis of his latest work, my review mistakenly referred to the recording as an album.  “It’s a mixtape!” he hollered.  Even though the project was sold on Bandcamp and iTunes and wasn’t available at mixtape sites like DatPiff, I let it go.

The distinction between albums and mixtapes is even more meaningless today.  That’s why I think Robert Glasper’s insistence that Fuck Yo Feelings is a mixtape is merely a defensive posture intended to deflect accusations of sloppiness.  And sure enough, the 71-minute recording is a self-indulgent mess, a tone he cops to in the album trailer.

Almost every time a groove catches a towering wave, the vibe is unceremoniously interrupted by a social message or a grimy verse.  But when the list of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of my favorite jazz, funk and hip-hop musicians- Bilal, YBN Cordae, Chris Dave, Denzel Curry, Herbie Hancock, Derrick Hodge, etc.- even the disruptions are nice.

On the DJ Screw-inspired “Daf Ftf,” Glasper slurs “anybody can just be a killing musician… it takes courage to step out and be a fucking artist…”  Glasper continues to prove that has plenty of guts.  I’d rather hear him goof around than listen to the most polished work of ninety percent of the artists listed on the JazzWeek radio chart.  Fuck their feelings.

I contribute weekly concert recommendations to The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges at Plastic Sax.

(Original image of a light switch at the Folly Theater by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, October 07, 2019

Middle Muddle

I spent seven hours at the two-day Middle of the Map festival last weekend.  Much of it wasn’t time well spent.  A cover band's faithful back-to-back interpretations of “Helter Skelter” and “Love Shack" forced me to question the curation of the ninth edition of the event.

The headlining acts at the Uptown Theater on Friday were particularly dissatisfactory.  For an alleged industry plant, Clairo was shockingly lackluster in her Kansas City debut.  She performed prosaic pop with the reticence of an unwilling participant in a high school talent show.  Clairo’s tourmate Beabadoobee was similarly stilted in a set that sounded like Kidz Bop interpreting Pavement.  Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail is a major talent, but she made it explicitly clear that she wasn’t happy to be there.  A drab collaboration between Clairo and Snail Mail on “Speaking Terms” was the ostensible highlight of the evening.  The giddy teens in the audience of about 600 deserved much better.

I would have stayed home if I had known that the clutch of singer-songwriters featured at Songbird Cafe were going to be my favorite component of Saturday’s day parties.  I defaulted to the folkies when few of the rock bands at the three other venues proved worthwhile.

Una Walkenhorst was a revelation.  I’d written her off after witnessing a dismal set a couple years ago.  Walkenhorst made huge strides while I wasn’t paying attention.  She may be the best folk artist to emerge from Kansas City since Iris Dement played open mic sessions in the 1990s.  Walkenhorst justly heaped praise on the precocious teen Jo MacKenzie: “she’s gonna be selling places out soon, so you’d better get on that train early.”  She may be right.  I detect similarities between MacKenzie and Addie Sartino of the on-the-cusp Kansas City indie-pop band the Greeting Committee.

I expected bracing blues-rock at the debut of Womanish Girl.  The duo of guitarist Katy Guillen and drummer Stephanie Williams didn't disappoint.  I left during the two-hour break between the festival’s day parties and the evening sessions.  A friend’s invitation to join him at the Tyler, the Creator concert in Independence didn’t work out, but the momentary prospect of seeing a musical giant made the idea of returning to the unassuming festival untenable.

(Original image of Jo MacKenzie by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, October 04, 2019


The owner of a Kansas City jazz establishment does an uncannily accurate impression of me.  Rolling his eyes while whining about “that f*cking organ,” the entrepreneur mocks my longstanding dislike of the Hammond B-3.  Three convincing recent releases forced me to reassess my bias.

The presence of the mighty Pharoah Sanders compelled me to check out organist Joey DeFrancesco’s In the Key of the Universe.  The grooviest tracks almost make me believe that “The Creator Has a Master Plan”.

The James Carter Organ Trio emits as much energy as the sun on the radiant Live From Newport Jazz.   The saxophonist, organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Alexander White are committed to getting backfields in motion.

Steve Howe- yes, that Steve Howe- is joined by organist Ross Stanley and drummer Dylan Howe on New Frontier.  It’s a tasteful blend of prog-rock, jazz fusion and the conventional organ trio sound.

A few hours after composing the previous paragraphs, I plopped down in a chair three feet from the Hammond B-3’s auxiliary speaker at the Green Lady Lounge last night.  I was unexpectedly overcome with a newfound appreciation of the vintage analogue sound.  Here’s actual footage of my ecstatic response.

I write weekly concert recommendations for The Kansas City Star.

I contributed to KCUR’s guide to the Middle of the Map Fest.

I extol the addition of Adam Larson to Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.

(Original image of an organ combo at the Green Lady Lounge by There Stands the Glass.)