Jazz Festival at WSU takes on Wichita flair
BY CHRIS SHULL — The Wichita Eagle
The Wichita Jazz Festival concluded a week of activities Saturday night at Wichita State University’s Miller Concert Hall, when a fine crowd braved threatening weather to hear three bands of international repute.The headliner of the Festival’s “Main Event” was Sakesho, a Caribbean-influenced jazz quartet based in Paris and led by steel drum player Andy Narell. Also playing was the Los Angeles Quartet featuring percussionists Steve Houghton and Emil Richards. But the band undoubtedly closest to the crowd’s hearts was Wichita Outpost, the opening act.
The quartet was formed especially for the Wichita Jazz Festival and featured three players — guitarists Greg Skaff and Glenn Alexander and drummer Matt Wilson — who were raised in Wichita or got their musical training at WSU. The odd man out, bassist Ben Allison, has worked with the others on various musical projects.It’s an understatement to call the players in Wichita Outpost local guys making good. These are some of the hottest musicians on the New York scene right now.Wilson’s latest record, “Humidity,” is on jazz charts nationwide; Allison was named by Downbeat magazine as a “talent deserving wider recognition.” Alexander has played with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Skaff is featured in saxophonist Bobby Watson’s band.Wichita Outpost’s performance at the “Main Event” concert on Saturday night had a modern, fusion feel but the playing was at times surprisingly delicate.
The tunes seemed to grow organically, and though they followed the traditional melody-solo-solo-melody format, there was nothing old-fashioned at all about the sound.The electric guitars played by Skaff and Alexander were easily compatible. Skaff usually played with a tuneful, Wes Montgomery kind of sound, while Alexander stretched out more frequently. At one point his guitar sounded like a Hammond B-3 organ.Wilson’s playing on a modest drum set was invigorating. Rather than providing strict rhythmic accompaniment, he integrated the sounds of the drums and cymbals into the melodies swirling around him.Wichita Outpost looked backward and forward during the six song set. One tune was written by Alexander in 1980 while he was a student at WSU; its melody was taken from a snippet of a solo played by his guitar teacher, Jerry Hahn.Another song — a jam, really — featured high school alto saxophonist Ben Kincaid, who has been on the scene in Wichita for several years and who has probably not played his last solo on the Jazz Festival stage.