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May 05

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The Forecast
Late Night ConversationsVictory Records

One of the best things about pop bands that originate on the great and wide and rather flat Midwest is that they don’t rush to “jump the shark” as quickly as possible. The first release of Peoria, IL’s own four-piece group The Forecast is a prime example: As Goldilocks would say, this band is “not too hot, and not too cold.” The result is Late Night Conversations, a competent if somewhat standard album of ten tracks of fairly competent of somewhat bland light rock and pop, with a little country thrown in.

The real problem here is the material: All four are adequate musicians, but the imagery behind the music is carefully neutral. The first track, “Seating Subject to Availability,” is a good example of much of what’s here: an average rock song, with average vocals (which are shared by lead guitarist Dustin Addis and Bass Player Shannon Burns with a lackluster result) that starts to get a little repetitious just before it ends.

All that being said, there’s a lot of talent here: The playing is tight and drummer Tony Peck and guitarist Matt Webb also clearly know what they’re doing. With some good songs under their belt, The Forecast could be a really good group. Sometimes, it takes time for things to jell into place: These guys just need a good form to fit in, and then the weather should be nice and clear. —Brandon Whitehead (posted 5/20/05)

The Haji Ahkba-Ervin Brown Assembly
The Haji Ahkab-Ervin Brown AssemblyBox of Chalk

Last September, at The Zona Rosa Summer Jazz Series, five of Kansas City’s best jazz musician got together — after a few rehearsals — to play a nearly three-hour outdoor concert. I wasn’t there but Mark Valentine of Box of Chalk said it was a windy day and getting a good recording of the quintet was a little dicey.

But the jazz gods prevailed. The Haji Ahkba-Ervin Brown Assembly is a world-class, top-tier recording that will wow the most sophisticated jazz connoisseur. If the Convention and Visitors Bureau needs something to convince the world that jazz still exists here, send this CD into the beyond.

Haji Ahkab came to KC a year or so ago, picking up small gigs and quickly earning the respect of local musicians. He’s studied with Roland Kirk and Blue Mitchell, has played with James Brown and toured with Su Ra. He plays trumpet, flugelhorn and keyboards. On this CD, Ahkba is on the flugelhorn. Ervin Brown, on tenor saxophone, spent time with Barry White. Ken Lovern, piano, is much in demand, particularly with female jazz vocalists. Theodore Wilson, bass, and Arnie Young — recognized as an “old school” drummer who emphasizes the cymbals over the snare — complete the group. Valentine calls them “consummate side men.” It’s a comment that doesn’t seem to quite sum up the talent.

The superb 6-cuts, 50-minute CD showcases jazz at its creative best. Both Brown and Ahkba are commanding, enlightened and soaring in their playing. Lovern, Wilson and Young remain impeccable in their support and perfectly subtle when asked.

The Haji Ahkba-Ervin Brown Assembly delivers the kind of jazz where heads nod in wonderment and smiles keep time in awe. And hot damn, it’s Kansas City jazz, too! —Bruce Rodgers (posted 5/13/05)

The High Speed Scene
The High Speed SceneInterscope

While most music critics, including yours truly, are loathe to hear the new CD of yet another lame band's attempt to claim the pop thrones left vacant by the likes of Devo and The Ramones, it must none the less be done, much like going to the dentist or filling your taxes.

That being said, here goes: L.A. based (big surprise there...) trio The High Speed Scene is a decent if highly corporate group with competent musical skills. Their self-titled debut album is twelve tracks of mostly radio-friendly stuff that tries a bit too hard not to take itself seriously. It's catchy, short and simple, almost like a Chinese buffet of old school pop: a dollop of R.E.M. here, a smattering of Pixies there...

Unfortunately, there's also plenty of the pop psuedo-activist shit here, which vocalist Max Hart smartly keeps simple enough to swallow, at least most of the time. "For The Kids" and "Revolutionary Fervor" are so-called “Calls to Action” songs for the kids today, who are apparently about as interested in the political process as they are algebra.

The music arrangements do evoke some nostalgia for the ol' good stuff, and tracks like "In The Know", which sounds a lot like a sort of speeded up Devo, are fun if a little rare. It would be interesting to see these guys live, but since pop bands last as long as free pizza at a hemp fest, they better tour soon: The music scene is indeed high speed...just watch out for the turns. —Brandon Whitehead (posted 5/6/05)

Mocean Worker
Enter The MoWo!Hyena

Adam Dorn — a k a Mocean Worker — is the mixmaster genius behind Enter The MoWo!. Dorn creates “genre-defying” — a term used a lot in describing an electronic sound delivered by other artistic innovators as St. Germain, Gotan Project, Mister Scruff and Nicola Conte — music joining jazz with electronica, layered with a little funk, R&B and vocals. Another term tossed around is “fledgling genre.” Whatever. Dorn knows his dials, platters, wires and musicology. Enter The MoWo! just cooks.

Cut number one, “Chick A Boom Boom Boom,” is a hot, infectious, jittery combo of intimacy and big band in which David “Flathead” Newman’s sax evaporates away that bad rap of “sterility” usually laid on electronic music. Of course, the subtle crowd noise and an opening voice-over announcement to the tune, which makes one feel he got back from the john just in time, helps.

“Right Now” opens with some Ray Manzarek-like keyboard work right out of The Doors in front of a thick bass beginning then leads into a tinny cornet 1920’s sound cleanly delivered courtesy modern electronics. There’s some more back and forth then the cornet takes off, with it all closing through that repeating thick bass thump fading to the drum machine and a final horn toot. It’s a truly original piece of work.

“Shamma Lamma Ding Dong” is even better. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s flute breathes life onto the plastic disk, merging — as if on a dare — emotion with intellect in a musical stew that loosens the mind/body connection. It’s what jazz is about. Dorn has Nina Simone continue a transformation away from digitalization in the sultry “Blackbird.”

While a couple of cuts lay down too much of an electronic pulse, that tiring strident beat that quickly burns a hole in a listener’s patience with the new, Enter The MoWo! may spin its way through the masses and hopefully light a little jazz-loving fire among the uninitiated. —Bruce Rodgers (posted 5/06/05)

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