Jazz CD Reviews

Matt Kane Trio – Suit Up! – Bounce-Step

Matt Kane: well-outfitted to showcase his Kansas City roots.

Published on August 19, 2013

Matt Kane Trio – Suit Up! – Bounce-Step BST013, 55:14 [6/4/13] ***1/2:

(Matt Kane – drums; Dave Stryker – guitar, producer; Kyle Koehler – organ)

There are some cities synonymous with jazz: New Orleans, New York City and Kansas City come to mind. Those last two metro areas have been important for drummer Matt Kane. Like others before him, Kane learned his chops in the KC bars and nightclubs which cater to the jazz community. He arrived in 1989 as a fresh-faced enthusiast with ambition but not much experience. The young drummer tried sitting in during a famed jazz jam session but was rebuffed and told, “Kid’s night is on Wednesday.” But Kane studied his craft from local veterans and eventually earned the moniker “Main Cat” for his drumming skills. In 1995, Kane joined Ahmad Alaadeen’s esteemed ensemble, the Deans of Swing, and two years later, like many prior artists, Kane relocated east to the Big Apple, where he became a steady session player, sideman, music teacher, and now the leader of a guitar-organ-drums trio.

Kane’s nine-track, nearly hour-long excursion, Suit Up!, is an old-school, soul-jazz outing with plenty of swing and lots of the celebrated Kansas City cadence. Alongside Kane is another strikingly good player, guitarist Dave Stryker (he has worked with Brother Jack McDuff, as well as Stanley Turrentine) and up-and-coming Hammond organist Kyle Koehler, whose credits involve James Hunter, Don Braden and Dom Minasi. Kane deliberately intended Suit Up! to seem fresh and alive. He explains, “This is how jazz records happen best I think, don’t labor over it. Just do it and move on.” He states, “The feeling I really wanted to capture with this album was the trio in a small club, swinging and representing our thing. I think we got it.” Anyone interested can get a portion of the live-in-the-studio performance during a short video which includes some music as it was recorded.

The material consists of two Stryker tunes, two Kane pieces, two by Kane’s mentor, Alaadeen, and three covers. The threesome open with a groove-graced version of “John McKee,” a tribute to the KC jazz authority, penned by Pat Metheny (whom some might recall is also a KC jazz alum). This has swinging finesse on display: Stryker has a certain Grant Green/Wes Montgomery texture to his soloing; Kane maintains an appealing rhythm with kinetic facets while never losing the groove; and Koehler emulates McDuff and Jimmy Smith without necessarily copying either. Kane tweaks his soul-jazz approach a bit with the Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley classic “Who Can I Turn To?” Kane’s drum dexterity is wholly presented: he canters across his cymbals with a strong, adept flair and shows panache on the toms and snare. Stryker utilizes a warm, demonstrative tone with just a touch of tartness, while Koehler sustains a bluesy undertow which develops into a brisk highpoint when he solos. The album surprise is the closing cut, a memorable and modern spin through Earth, Wind and Fire’s best-selling tune, “That’s the Way of the World,” from the band’s 1975 album of the same name. This is not the first time the track has been done in a jazz vein: Sonny Criss, Ramsey Lewis and Turrentine have all taken it on. Here, the arrangement is stripped to the bone, emphasizing the infectious melody and Stryker in particular sounds great, as he effortlessly slices out single notes similar to George Benson’s tasty licks. This has a medium-burner revelry which even includes some party chatter added to the mix; the rendition is significantly better than Criss, Lewis or Turrentine’s pallid pop-jazz translations.

Kane’s originals establish his ballad and slow-swing prowess. “As You Left” mirrors the melancholy moment when someone special walks out the door, probably not coming back. There is a bittersweet underpinning accentuated by Stryker’s pinprick notes, Kane’s ticking cymbals and Koehler’s blues-hued organ. “Mr. Rogers” is another blues-burnished cut which is slightly more upbeat. Koehler provides some swaying organ, while Stryker furnishes some sweet-and-sour guitar: a perfect tune while downing one’s favorite bar drink. Stryker’s compositions are buoyant: this is social music meant to goad the body’s natural inclination to stand up and dance. “Shadowboxing” echoes the dynamic movements of a well-trained pugilist: there are punchy flashes; the rhythm instruments shift and twist; and overall there is a sense of primed progression. “Minor Mutiny” is a tad more rebellious: the pacing is quicker and veers with more tenacity: Stryker offers some rapid-fire guitar runs, while Kane’s drum kit gets a full workout.

The Alaadeen tracks arrive near the end. “Big Six” has a definite Kansas City blues-swing feel which bursts with the vintage sound which made that municipal area redolent with a specific jazz style. Anybody who pines for something with a retro dash but not passé will enjoy this romping number. During “21st Century Ragg” (purposefully misspelled) Kane keeps the tempo and melody the same as Alaadeen’s 1997 rendering, but changes the arrangement: Stryker and Koehler adapt Alaadeen’s sax timbre into a guitar-organ interplay which intensifies the tune’s strong points. At first listen, Suit Up! might seem like another in a long line of soul-jazz efforts which continue to be issued, but careful attention will reveal sharp details: Kane, Koehler and Stryker have a friendly and expert confidence: all three insert astute flourishes which deliver a subtle but potent quantity of depth.

TrackList: John McKee; Who Can I Turn To?; Shadowboxing; As You Left; Minor Mutiny; Mr. Rogers; Big Six; 21st Century Ragg; That’s the Way of the World.

—Doug Simpson




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