Review: ‘Kansas City All-Star Band’

Kansas City All-Star Band (House of Blues; 1,000 seats; $ 27.50 top) Presented by Verve Records and House of Blues. Band: Steven Bernstein, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Curtis Fowlkes, David (Fathead) Newman, Jesse Davis, Craig Handy, Peter Apfelbaum, Don Byron, Mark Whitfield, Henry Butler, Brad Jones, Alvin Queen. Reviewed Jan. 9, 1997. The idea behind the new roving Verve Jazzfest was to revive the old barnstorming flair of former label chief Norman Granz's fondly remembered Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. Consciously and unconsciously, they partially pulled it off Thursday with the rip-roaring retro set of the Kansas City All-Star Band, which may be the most (only?) enduring legacy of Robert Altman's "Kansas City" film. Interestingly, while most of the Jazzfest's appearances in other cities take place in formal concert spaces like Atlanta's and Boston's Symphony Halls, in L.A. they chose to play in the cluttered and noisy House of Blues. Yet perhaps by accident, the ramshackle atmosphere of the House was a perfect match for the raucous, rowdy Kansas City-style swing that this band served up, much more so than the opening sets by Charlie Haden's Quartet West and the Joe Henderson Trio. Moreover, it was a great idea to have these guys most of them nice, straight-laced, over-reverent young neo-boppers in the real world take to the road and riff and blow on ancient charts that have had the effect of loosening them up. Hearing Nicholas Payton, whose physical resemblance to the young Louis Armstrong at last had its proper musical setting, firing away with fellow trumpeters Steven Bernstein and a plunger-muted James Zollar on the propulsive "Lafayette" is far more impressive than the polite sets he turns in as a leader. And the music is not all that simple: Coleman Hawkins' downright peculiar tune "Queer Notions" sounds almost avant-garde today, with its weird whole-tone riffs and Don Byron's angular clarinet. Toward the end, the all-too-short set actually began to take on the spirit and feeling of a JATP jam session first with the rapid two-beat "Yeah, Man" and then a wild 14-minute encore built on the chord changes of "Honeysuckle Rose." Everyone soloed around, some more fluently than others (perhaps they were not used to having this much fun), none with more savvy eloquence and swing than the wily veteran anchor of the reed section, David (Fathead) Newman. Guitarist Mark Whitfield stoked the rhythm section with the solid swing of a reborn Charlie Christian, and Henry Butler chipped in some astonishingly physical solo piano, including a brief manic outbreak of virtuoso boogie woogie. Richard S. Ginell

Kansas City All-Star Band (House of Blues; 1,000 seats; $ 27.50 top) Presented by Verve Records and House of Blues. Band: Steven Bernstein, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Curtis Fowlkes, David (Fathead) Newman, Jesse Davis, Craig Handy, Peter Apfelbaum, Don Byron, Mark Whitfield, Henry Butler, Brad Jones, Alvin Queen. Reviewed Jan. 9, 1997. The idea behind the new roving Verve Jazzfest was to revive the old barnstorming flair of former label chief Norman Granz’s fondly remembered Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. Consciously and unconsciously, they partially pulled it off Thursday with the rip-roaring retro set of the Kansas City All-Star Band, which may be the most (only?) enduring legacy of Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” film. Interestingly, while most of the Jazzfest’s appearances in other cities take place in formal concert spaces like Atlanta’s and Boston’s Symphony Halls, in L.A. they chose to play in the cluttered and noisy House of Blues. Yet perhaps by accident, the ramshackle atmosphere of the House was a perfect match for the raucous, rowdy Kansas City-style swing that this band served up, much more so than the opening sets by Charlie Haden’s Quartet West and the Joe Henderson Trio. Moreover, it was a great idea to have these guys most of them nice, straight-laced, over-reverent young neo-boppers in the real world take to the road and riff and blow on ancient charts that have had the effect of loosening them up. Hearing Nicholas Payton, whose physical resemblance to the young Louis Armstrong at last had its proper musical setting, firing away with fellow trumpeters Steven Bernstein and a plunger-muted James Zollar on the propulsive “Lafayette” is far more impressive than the polite sets he turns in as a leader. And the music is not all that simple: Coleman Hawkins’ downright peculiar tune “Queer Notions” sounds almost avant-garde today, with its weird whole-tone riffs and Don Byron’s angular clarinet. Toward the end, the all-too-short set actually began to take on the spirit and feeling of a JATP jam session first with the rapid two-beat “Yeah, Man” and then a wild 14-minute encore built on the chord changes of “Honeysuckle Rose.” Everyone soloed around, some more fluently than others (perhaps they were not used to having this much fun), none with more savvy eloquence and swing than the wily veteran anchor of the reed section, David (Fathead) Newman. Guitarist Mark Whitfield stoked the rhythm section with the solid swing of a reborn Charlie Christian, and Henry Butler chipped in some astonishingly physical solo piano, including a brief manic outbreak of virtuoso boogie woogie. Richard S. Ginell

Kansas City All-Star Band

House of Blues; 1,000 seats; $27.50 top. Reviewed Jan. 9, 1997.

Production

Presented by Verve Records and House of Blues.

Cast

Band: Steven Bernstein, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Curtis Fowlkes, David (Fathead) Newman, Jesse Davis, Craig Handy, Peter Apfelbaum, Don Byron, Mark Whitfield, Henry Butler, Brad Jones, Alvin Queen.
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