This came in today from Pitch contributor Alan Scherstuhl, fresh from answering a survey from the Rev. Al:
Here's a long-winded summation of our fun at the Rhythm & Ribs Fest, located right there behind that museum I'd call the 18th & Vine Jazz Mausoleum if it didn't looks so much like a suburban library.
We felt real excitement in the crowd as we bussed over from Union Station at around 6:30, and then even more as we queued up for the $20 tickets, and even more as the sixteen-year-old ticket taker shouted at us to "Go drink all you want!"
Excitement ebbed a little once we were inside. The woman dispensing wrist bands to drinkers wasn't really carding anybody, explaining "Kids don't like rhythm and ribs." Approaching the smaller stage — the "Blue Cross Blue Shield Pavilion," for anyone out there who bases insurance choices upon what naming rights providers have managed to secure — I was pleased to hear Kansas City mainstay Angela Hagenbach, looking trim and lovely, bringing heart and heat to a couple standards. The crowd — a respectful, older bunch, black and white and all making more money than I am — never looked to into it, but they clapped politely.
After a couple songs, Hagenbach introduced a number that translates from the Portugese as "Heart of Brazil." As this one involved her making lots of jungle and monkey noises, we pushed on to catch Kevin Mahogany at the Sprint Stage.
Mahogany was, as always, a treat: that voice is so thick and rich that it always makes me think of the creamy nougat being poured out in candybar commercials. The big fella (suited in cream and a jaunty hat) purred through "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and then introduced the fine Kathy Cousins, who sang a long piece built upon that "Ricky Don't Lose That Number" bass line Horace Silver came up with for "Song for My Father" like forty years ago. Saxman Red Holloway took over for a while, blowing tastefully through "The Way You Look Tonight", and then Mahogany was back, digging into the Johnny Hartman songbook with "Kiss and Run" and "If I'm Lucky," ballads he perked up with his signature swoops and scoops. By the time he closed, with a take on "Kansas City," slower even than the one spun at the K when the Royals lose, the sun was all melty behind downtown to the west, and the crowd, for the first time since we'd arrived, seemed a little melty, too.
Back at the small stage: Aladeen & Group 21, a quartet with that exploratory sixties vibe, blowing instrumental jazz just diffuse enough not to be labeled trad. Still, the first thing we caught from them was a Monk song we'd all heard a thousand times before, and we — like lots of folks, seemingly — nodded along politely. A little later, a song called "Race" woke us up: a good drum solo, some spirited ensemble playing, and then a lyric, searching lead line from saxman Ahmed Aladeen, laced with real feeling, and a grand solo from pianist Oscar Williams, who seemed to be feeling all sides of every idea that came from him.
For a moment it felt like we weren't all here celebrating something dead. Jazz might feel more vital to people if it weren't always so steeped in the past. Has any other artform ever spent so much time celebrating its own history? Aladeen killed with fresh material and bored with the rote and reverential; Mahogany's a talent the size of Macy's parade float, so why's he required to so endlessly trumpet older singers' glories? It's no wonder that decades old catalog releases outsell contemporary jazz by such a margin: even today's performers are constantly reminding us how much better the music used to be,
None of this mattered as nine o'clock came around, and we were all relieved of paying tribute to the ancestors. An actual great was among us: Al Green, who has nothing to do with jazz but still has loads to do with lovin', no matter what he insists. Tuxed-out and bulbous bellied, the Rev took the stage dispensing roses, smiling wildly, and asking both KCK and KCMO if we'd come to have a good time.
Then he asked again.
The he asked KCK how they were feeling.
Then he asked KCMO.The Rev.
Then we as a crowd got together, chose a stenographer, held a quorum, certified the results, and let him know officially that we were doing fine and that he could start the damn show.
Which he did, with "I Can't Stop" off a recent release, and an hour-long run of classics: "Let's Get Married," "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," "Here I Am," "Love and Happiness," "Tired of Being Alone," "Let's Stay Together," and the sublime "Simply Beautiful," off I'm Still in Love With You, a song that, almost thirty years after he recorded it still sounds light as angel food.
The band was tight, with the organ player warranting special recognition both for the general warmth he frequently summoned but also for bringing some of that percussive "Love Ritual"-style funk to the wildest of the instrumental passages. A pair of skinny dancers flanked Green, running simultaneously through routines that seemed to loop over and over, resembling nothing so much as thirty second .gif files. As for the Rev: he can't do all that he used to, and not just because the good Lord forbids it. He's growly these days, spending much more time in a lower register, and he left too many of the choruses for the crowd to sing, but when inclined he can peel off a falsetto thrill just like in '72. A total pleasure, all the way through. Even the crowd dug in, standing up, shouting along, often dancing. Here we were paying tribute to something still living.
Shuttle bus service coming back was a clusterfuck, but that's no surprise. Everything else ran smoothly, save the endless rib lines. Beer was 4 or 5 bucks; water a dollar, evidence that the people running this must be good hearted.
Not going back, though. Tonight's the kings of fusion or some damn thing.