As jazz evolves in Kansas City, fresh new influences add to the spiciness and depth of the music. Steven Martin came from St. Louis. The saxophonist has carved out his own unique path with a weekly late night quartet at the Green Lady Lounge downtown.
Trombonist Marcus Lewis has a different approach. A recent graduate of the University of Nebraska, Lewis’s musical strength lies in writing and arranging for big band. This normally consists of 13 to 18 pieces, requiring a larger concert-oriented venue. A monthly Sunday-night-residency at The Record Bar has brought Lewis’s big band into the limelight.
Open Spaces presented the band in Swope Park on September 16, at the Village. There are several large ensembles scheduled as Open Spaces continues.
Almost a band of band leaders; Lewis features Martin on saxophone, Clint Ashlock and Nate Nall on trumpets, vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, Louis Neal on trombone and drummer Ryan J. Lee. Their presence makes it worthwhile to give this band a listen. Lewis’ charm and power as a performer, makes the band a joy to watch. Ten other musicians are highly recognizable from Kansas City’s vibrant music scene, all are talented musicians.
“I came here 5 years ago to take over,” Lewis shouted from the stage. “This is Gangsta Jazz!”
Trombonist Jason Goudeau is a member of Lewis’s band. He came to Kansas City from Houston, Texas in 1990. Goudeau attended UMKC’s music program and then made Kansas City his home.
“Marcus is enthusiastically invested in the Kansas City music scene,” said Goudeau. “He is an energetic music-writing-phenomenon.”
The monthly Record Bar gig features 2 lyrically-explicit rappers. For Swope Park’s Sunday afternoon program, an instrumental approach was presented. Jazz vocalist Eboni Fondren loves this orchestra.
“It’s smart and setting the mark for the jazz scene in Kansas City,” said Fondren. “The arrangements are fresh yet it has the feel of a classic big band.”
Lewis’s latest album, “Brass and Boujee” is fun to listen to and the music makes it easy to move your body. This is not a traditional big band; his is writing is somewhat reminiscent of a marching band, with series after series of eight bar cadences. The patterns are then layered with intricate 16th note lines from the horn sections. Adding strength is the heavy brass sound of the band.
Then there is Ryan J. Lee’s machine-like drumming and Peter Schlamb, who is known for his excellent performance in repetitive single note lines. This adds up to a complex layering of sound. A young band full of promise, it will be interesting to see how they develop. With a unique vision and a provocative sound, Marcus Lewis is dedicated to his crusade.