Deft improvisation by the organizers of the Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival allowed the event to proceed in spite of Saturday’s stormy weather. Performances scheduled on the festival’s primary outdoor stage were moved to the Gem Theater. The change of venue created tight quarters for a highly anticipated appearance by silky soul balladeer Brian McKnight at the American Jazz Museum’s annual affair.
While hopeful concertgoers stood in the rain on 18th Street, 500 lucky fans were treated to McKnight’s intimate solo performance. Men in the boisterous audience shouted encouragement while women screamed for McKnight’s attention. He serenaded a fan with a smoldering rendition of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” Romantic hits including “Anytime” and “Back at One” inspired sighs of desire. McKnight was worthy of the fuss. His piano and guitar work impressed and his persuasive voice is one of the most sensuous instruments in popular music.
McKnight’s satisfyingly stark performance was followed by a busy outing from a sextet led by Arturo Sandoval. The incendiary attack by the Cuban-born trumpeter included an earthy vocal exercise of scatological scat.
Veteran guitarist Joe Louis Walker, the festival’s blues-based headliner, played raunchy rock and roll, soul-stirring gospel, rafter-shaking R&B and dirty gutter blues in a startlingly wide-ranging performance. While Walker’s versatility was a rare treat, blues lovers also indulged in several tasty locally based options including a party band led by harmonica master John Paul Drum and the streetwise Southern sound of Linda Shell & the Blues Thang.
The regional jazz scene was well represented at the Blue Room and on a makeshift stage in the atrium shared by the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
A septet fronted by David Basse focused on Kansas City-style swing. The exceptional saxophonist Matt Otto sat in with a band from New York led by baritone saxophonist Claire Daly. Everette DeVan and Chris Hazelton, two generations of organists, offered a unique set of double-barreled funk. Miguel “Mambo” DeLeon led a talented band in a sizzling serving of Latin jazz.
The day’s most adventurous sounds were created by a quartet co-led by saxophonist Charles Perkins and bassist Gerald Spaits.
An appearance by the McFadden Brothers was far less experimental but no less satisfying. The consummate entertainers displayed a winning combination of soft shoe theatrics, remarkable instrumental talent and engaging personalities.
Sets by the day’s youngest and oldest ensembles indicated that festivals in Kansas City should continue to have plethora of notable talent on hand for years to come.
|Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star