Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet – Acknowledgement – Bounce-Step

Drummer Matt Kane proves that, yes, you can go home again.

Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet – Acknowledgement [TrackList follows] – Bounce-Step 88295524038, 64:10 [3/4/16] ****:

(Matt Kane – drums; Ben Leifer – bass; Andrew Ouellette – piano; Michael Shults – alto saxophone; Hermon Mehari – trumpet; Steve Lambert – tenor saxophone)

Author Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go back home.” The phrase has entered the American vernacular as a metaphor for how it’s impossible to return to one’s childhood; how memory rose-colors our past into nostalgia; and how it is sometimes not possible to realize how things change. But, in fact, people can “go back home” if they embrace the past and how it affects the present and future, and understand the difference between what was and what is.

That idea is an inspiration for drummer Matt Kane’s latest project, the 64-minute Acknowledgement. Kane is based in New York City, but was born in Hannibal, MO and studied jazz at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, before relocating to NYC. He never forgot his roots, and when he felt he was ready and had the concept he wanted, he returned to where he began. The result is nine tracks performed by Kane and a new sextet which comprises musicians who have gone through the UMKC Conservatory of Music. Kane’s objective was simple: exhibit appreciation for previous Kansas City talents; provide recognition for upcoming Kansas City jazz artists; and in the process, showcase mighty-fine, up-swinging jazz. All of the tunes were penned by jazz musicians who are or were linked to the KC jazz community: three by saxophonist Bobby Watson (the director of jazz studies at the UMKC Conservatory of Music); three by guitarist Pat Metheny (born and raised in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb southeast of Kansas City); and three by Ahmad Alaadeen (born in KC and passed in 2010; he was a longtime member of the Kansas City jazz scene). The young, gifted ensemble, dubbed the Kansas City Generations Sextet, has pianist Andrew Ouellette and alto saxophonist Michael Shults (both from Hannibal) alongside additional Kansas City players, Ben Leifer (upright bass), Steve Lambert (tenor saxophone) and Hermon Mehari (trumpet).

The material is well chosen and well-rounded, from traditional-based arrangements to modern influences. Metheny’s tracks are all outstanding. Kane wisely did not choose necessarily familiar ones. This isn’t the first time Kane has covered Metheny; Kane recorded Metheny’s “John McKee” on Kane’s 2013 CD, Suit Up! Metheny’s “Timeline (for Elvin)” was initially on Michael Brecker’s Time Is of the Essence (1999), which Metheny guested on. The number is a tribute to Elvin Jones, the late drummer who was in John Coltrane’s group. “Timeline (for Elvin)” is tight, bop-ish music with lots of horn contributions from trumpet and both saxes. Kane’s mellifluous rhythmic flow brings to mind Art Blakey. The lengthiest cut is the 11:34 interpretation of Metheny’s “Midwestern Nights Dream” (found on Metheny’s 1976 debut, Bright Size Life). Kane’s version is almost twice as long as Metheny’s. It dispenses with Metheny’s electric impulses (no guitar, no electric bass) and maintains the lovely, prairie-inclined deportment which Metheny presented, akin to watching miles and miles of pastures and fences slide by outside a moving train. Kane and his sextet also have a light-hearted magic on Metheny’s “Question and Answer” (the title track from Metheny’s 1989 LP). The original was a trio setting. Kane and his band open up the arrangement. The piano adds to the rhythmic possibilities, the different saxes bring in coloring, and Leifer’s stirring bass solo is a beautiful enhancement.

Watson’s compositions are also wonderful. The CD begins with the upbeat, upfront “In Case You Missed It,” which Watson’s former employer, Art Blakey, occasionally performed. Kane and Leifer keep the pace jaunty, and there is some impressive horn interaction and memorable solos. “Wheel Within a Wheel” is another bang-up, post-bop Watson track from his days in Blakey’s band, with driving horn improvisations. The gem is Watson’s pellucid ballad, “Jewel,” (the title track from his 1981 record) which is arranged differently, as a sax/piano duet, and for the better. There is picturesque interplay between horn and keyboards, and the lyrical quality means this piece is one which bears repeated listening. The least known material is probably Alaadeen’s music. Kane is a huge fan. He had a couple of Alaadeen pieces on Suit Up! Here, Kane arranges Alaadeen’s “The Burning Sand” (from his 2005 CD, New Africa Suite), which Alaadeen furnished in a time-honored streak. Kane’s translation has a more contemporary stance, with a three-horn set-up, a faster rhythmic tempo, and another sublime Leifer solo. Alaadeen’s “And the Beauty of it All” (which dates from 2007) is a smoky ballad where Kane highlights cymbals and lightly rolling toms; the saxes percolate with improvised aplomb; and the bass and piano layer some sympathetic cadences.

There are few jazz albums issued so far this year with this much to offer—an introduction to emerging musicians worth attention; music which deserves further respect and belongs in more jazz collections; and a project which resourcefully blends jazz past with jazz present. Yeah, you can go home again.

TrackList: In Case You Missed It; Timeline (for Elvin); The Burning Sand; ASR; And the Beauty of it All; Wheel Within a Wheel; Midwestern Nights Dream; Jewel; Question and Answer.

—Doug Simpson

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