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kansas city jazz

Spotlight on Plaza Art Fair artist: The Project H

(Photo by Aaron Linscheid)
This week, we’ll be highlighting some of the artists playing INK’s stage at the Plaza Art Fair this weekend, September 19-21.
Most people know that Kansas City is steeped in a rich jazz heritage that continues to this day. One of the groups that has helped carry on the city’s vibrant jazz scene is The Project H, who has taken the music’s tradition to a modern level. Though still tasteful to listeners of jazz standards, the band incorporates a range of influences and abilities, creating music that is relevant and colorful. Ryan Heinlein, the band’s trombonist and songwriter, answers a few questions for us about the group.
The Deli: Down and dirty: one sentence to describe your music.
Heinlein: Doesn’t matter if you want to dance to it or analyze it, you’re going to be singing it for a while after you hear it.
The Deli: Give me some background info on The Project H. How long have you been together? How did it all come to be?
Heinlein: The band started in 2007 when I lived in Wichita. It took a year or so to get the band up and running when I moved to KC in 2008. The lineup is: drums, bass, keys, guitar, trombone, trumpet, and tenor sax, but we have a lot of people sit in. Everyone in the band freelances and makes most of their money playing other gigs so I use a lot of subs. That’s the thing about the KC jazz scene though, the talent pool is deep enough that I can call quite a few people on any instrument before there is a drop off in musicianship.
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a band?
Heinlein: I think there’s something to be said for releasing three independent records with a band like this. Getting freelance musicians to commit their time and creative energy to a project like this is definitely an accomplishment, and the fact they still wanted to do another one was a win for me! Gig wise, we covered Beck’s “Song Reader” in its entirety (20 songs) last year with our friends Mark Lowrey, Shay Estes, and Jeff Harshbarger. Selling out the recordBar is always fun.
The Deli: The band has done educational clinics for schools in the area. What benefits have you seen it have on students, and also for yourselves as musicians?
Heinlein: Yes, we usually book them in bunches once or twice a year. I think it’s safe to say that we wouldn’t be the musicians we are today if it weren’t for music education. The day-to-day activities of being in a high school band or being a music major in college tend to run together but, for me at least, the lasting memories were the clinics that were provided as well as the performance opportunities. So I guess it’s just a “pay it forward”-type situation. The students get to see a group of younger guys making a living doing by being creative and doing what they love. And for us, it’s an easy way to let younger audiences hear us. We feel that we have an opportunity to attract people to more straight-ahead jazz if they hear our not-so-straight-ahead jazz. Basically we function as a gateway drug for jazz!
The Deli: You just released your third studio album, We Live Among the Lines. What can we expect from it?
Heinlein: A lot of layers and textures. The rock influence really sticks out to me on this record, probably because we added guitar to the group about a year and a half ago. I think there’s a commonality among the songs but at the same time, every song can stand on its own. I honestly think there’s something for everyone on this record.
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
Heinlein: I don’t get out as much as I wish I could with family and working on a doctoral degree but just getting out and seeing as many shows as I can. I don’t worry about genres, I like a lot of music and it’s pretty easy to find a good concert to go see when I do get out.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now?
Heinlein: This answer would be different for every member of the group so I’ll just give you mine. In no particular order: The Grisly Hand, David Hasselhoff on Acid, Peter Schlamb, and Katy Guillen & The Girls… there’s seriously a lot of really good music in this town!
The Deli: Who are your favorite non-local musicians right now?
Heinlein: Becca Stevens, Jose James, Tigran Hamasyan, Jaga Jazzist, and I have always had a soft spot for Dillinger Escape Plan.
The Deli: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Plaza Art Fair?
Heinlein: Aside from a couple groups I mentioned earlier, The Phantastics and My Brothers & Sisters on Friday, Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle and Diverse on Saturday.
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
Heinlein: Oh man, something really diverse. I wish Mr. Bungle were still around. Maybe have a classic jazz group like the Jazz Messengers or Weather Report. P-Funk would be awesome too!
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
Heinlein: This question is pretty much impossible so I’ll give you one based on my musical influences.
Mike Patton: His ability to explore and push the boundaries of music, no matter what genre he is doing.
James Brown: C’mon! He’s the Godfather of Soul! The pocket in his bands…
Bobby Watson: He’s pretty much responsible for igniting this jazz renaissance in KC. His playing and writing is the perfect combination of technique and soul. I owe him so much… Everyone in the band does too.
JJ Johnson: My influence, as far as trombone players are concerned, changes a lot. Right now I’m on a JJ kick. He’s just so soulful when he plays.
The Deli: What other goals does The Project H have for 2014, and beyond?
Heinlein: We are starting a collaborative series starting next month at the Westport Coffee House Theater where we act as a backing band for different KC musicians. October will be with Kelley Gant, December will be Emcee Reach and next February will be Lauren Krum. We are also talking with Julia Haile and Jorge Arana for later in 2015. I’d like to play some festivals outside KC, continue to support this record, and just expand our audience. I’d also like to do a Project H big band show…I have a lot of writing to do I suppose!
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web?
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
Heinlein: Get out and listen to a group you may not normally follow, or go to a club that you’ve never been to. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. There are great things happening in our city, let’s celebrate it!
The Project H is:
Clint Ashlock: trumpet
Ryan Heinlein: trombone
Brett Jackson: tenor saxophone
Matt Leifer: drums
Andrew Ouellette: keys
Dominique Sanders: bass
Jeff Stocks: guitar
The Project H will be playing on INK’s stage at Plaza Art Fair on Sunday, September 21 at 2:00 p.m. The stage is located at Ward Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue, next to Gram & Dun and Plaza III. Facebook event page.
--Michelle Bacon
Michelle Bacon is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.

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Album review: Diverse - Our Journey

If you’re looking for a Thelonious Monk reincarnate jazz style, you’ve found it in Diverse’s Our Journey.
Hermon Mehari’s raw trumpet, Ryan Lee’s toe-tapping drums, and Ben Leifer’s soulful bass all create a groovy, vibrant experience. This album is a serene soundscape of honest-to-roots swing jazz, while incorporating a soulful Kansas City 18th and Vine roots heritage. It’s a technical collection and in some ways experimental. Also on the album are pianist Tony Tixier (from Paris) and alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. It was recorded by Andre Charlier in Paris, mixed by Brendan McReynolds, and mastered by Mike Nolte. Our Journey is a follow up to Diverse’s first self-titled album released in 2009.
Take a breath and listen to this wise and prophetic classical jazz journey. It’s like walking into true legendary jazz at The Blue Room or Green Lady Lounge, a more recently opened downtown hot spot. So while you’re at home cleaning the dishes, playing with the cat and relaxing, take the dazzling ride and listen to this album. Let it take you. It begs to be seen live. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting at the back of the Foundation catching a whiff of Kansas City tradition. 
Because I wanted to get a sense of how the album was recorded, I asked McReynolds what direction Mehari gave him when mixing the album. According to McReynolds, his motivation was “to just mix it like it was a jazz club in Kansas City. Very intimate and very tight. It’s like walking into a place you have never been before and feeling comfortable.”
Whether it’s the time signature changes and beautiful technical work, or the sometimes wildly manic nature of jazz itself, each track is an imminent adventure. “Motherland” is a spirit awakening exploration. It’s a night dressed to the nines at a martini bar probably, having the time of my life, or maybe a night spent writing by the light of the moon. The final track on the album, “Rest in Peace,” offers a unique two-stick lassoing of the beat and melancholic trumpet. A funky groovy bass line bathes the soul with a warm dance to permeate the senses.
Our Journey is a testament to Kansas City’s rich jazz and blues culture and connects with a wide range of audiences. Choose your own journey with this album. It is a must listen.
--Chris Wenske

You can catch Diverse at The Riot Room on Thursday, September 4. Reach will be DJing the first set, followed by Diverse, and then New Orleans duo Hildegard, led by Cliff Hines. Doors open at 7:00.

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