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Victor and Penny Harness "Electricity"

(Photos by Chandra Ramey)
 
The Kansas City Jazz Duo Creates a New Spin From Classic Chemistry
 
Can music based on vintage tastes and ideals create something new? According to Victor & Penny, something as simple as a hook, a dress, or the right recording engineer creates a viable chance. When they planned to bring a specific genre of music into the Kansas City mainstream, they made sure it was based in craft, personality, and style. Against all odds it works and chances are, you'll love it.
 
You have most likely seen or heard their brand of ragtime jazz around town at several venues as diverse as recordBar, Hotel Phillips, Kauffman Center, and The Green Lady Lounge. Sometimes they play as a duo, sometimes they incorporate a full outfit known as The Loose Change Orchestra with trombone, upright bass, and clarinet.
 
Who are Victor & Penny?
In a word, they are “unique.” They create songs out of a time that harbors authentic musicianship and charm, yet the act telegraphs progressive idealism through virtuosity, fashion and playfulness. They find a joyous sound out of some of the darkest musical standards of the classic jazz age, as if blowing soap bubbles through a flophouse opium pipe. But it's not all fun and games. The duo creates music based in an era of serious songwriting skills. Watching them create tunes on stage prompts you to applaud time and time again before the song comes to a close because it's something made with love, humor, and blood.
 
“The way we present ourselves is vital to the way the audience perceives us,” says singer and ukulele player Penny (known locally as Erin McGrane). “We want to show respect for our audience by looking sharp. That also helps to set the stage and mood for our show.”
 
Victor (known around Kansas City as Jeff Freling) continues the thought. “The music and the presentation go hand-in-hand. As we continue to refine and expand our stage presence, we present a more sophisticated show.”
 
Sophisticated is a good description for this musical favorite about town. When you walk into a Victor & Penny showcase, the duo ushers you through classic jazz standards with the energy and vigor of a revival-era tent pastor, as they are unabashed converts to the art form. It's based in an honest love for the intricacies of the style.
 
“We offer the audience more than just a concert,” McGrane says. “We offer stories and a chance to get to know us as people, which is another way to connect to the audience and enrich the experience.“
 
Which is true: they're 100-percent show business, but their connection is real and based in the classic ideals of traveling theater. They parry corny jokes, natural chemistry, and undeniable musicianship out of quick scenarios in clubs, media appearances, and even impromptu videos in their car. Their semi-formal attire contrasts with the easygoing attitude on stage as they sway and jump between old standards and new treasures.
 
So it begs the question; in a town so focused on indie rock and stylized blues, how would they make an impact by focusing on early jazz standards? It's all about the lure of the common experience. McGrane says, ”In college, I got into 1930s vocal music from groups like the Boswell Sisters and the Mills Brothers. Jeff was listening to a lot of early guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian when we reconnected, and we found a common pool of tunes that we loved.”
 
 
Recording Electricity
Victor & Penny recorded a new album titled Electricity in August of 2015 and the finished product will soon be available here. They made the journey to Nashville's Sputnik Sound to create it with producer Mitch Dane, who made his cake working up alt-country gold with acts as varied as Woody Pines and Jack White. Even though the producer's tastes were outside Victor & Penny's specific genre, the moment they met with Mitch, they knew it was a special match due to his musical taste for the eclectic side of early Americana and his impressive collection of classic recording gear in his inspiring studio.
 
Did the experience live up to expectations? According to Freling, yes. After speaking with Dane, they immediately hit it off and the day-to-day labors allowed the trio to create something truly special.
 
“Working in Nashville was a great experience and we had the opportunity to partner with a producer to help us rearrange some older tunes and bring a fresh perspective to our music,” Freling says.
 
How did Victor & Penny begin?
According to them, it all came together in Chicago.
 
“Jeff and I met during college years when our rock bands played together in the local KC scene,” says McGrane.
 
Freling adds, “We reconnected in Chicago a few years ago. Erin was working up there as a commercial actress and I had been playing strings on stage with Blue Man Group for many years. We hadn’t seen each other in almost 15 years.”
 
 
Playing the Circuit
This kind of authentic atmosphere means the world to this turn-of-the-century jazz duo because they rely on a certain balance of classic and contemporary to create their singular stage presence. They work hard to create a personable and accessible feel that draws both new and schooled fans of jazz history into their realm.
 
“The tunes that we’re drawn to are endlessly fun to sing and to improvise over musically,” says McGrane. “For example, the melody on ‘Lazy River’ by Hoagy Carmichael is instantly recognizable and much trickier to sing and play than it sounds. It’s just beautiful. ”
 
Freling finishes the thought. “We love to do what we call sonic archaeology and dig for lesser-known songs from the early part of the last century. Our original material combines all of our personal influences to create a modern sound with a vintage vibe.”
 
So yes, it's true. A partnership born from a shared love of musical history proves something new can come from it all. The unique voice Victor & Penny creates gives music lovers in Kansas City an opportunity to participate in a true love of the artform. Experience their brand of musical joy at the Folk Alliance International Conference from Wednesday through Sunday. Check out their schedule here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
--Andrew Schiller
Andrew Schiller has been playing music and writing features for a couple of decades. To earn gear and beer money, sometimes he wakes up and travels to an office of some sort inhabited by your garden-variety marketing types.
 

 

Spotlight on Plaza Art Fair artist: Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle

This week, we’ll be highlighting some of the artists playing INK’s stage at the Plaza Art Fair this weekend, September 19-21.
 
Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle features a collection of KC’s finest musicians, fronted by pianist and composer Eddie Moore. The Houston native formed the group 3 years ago while working toward his Master of Arts in Jazz Studies at UMKC. We talked with Moore a bit about The Outer Circle’s jazz and soul-inspired sounds.
 
The Deli: Down and dirty: one sentence to describe your music.
 
Moore: My music can best be decribed as groovy, sophisticated soul.
 
The Deli: Give me some background info on The Outer Circle. How long have you been together? How did it all come to be?
 
Moore: The band has been together for about 3 years. The Outer Circle came to be while I was in graduate school at UMKC. We were all in combo together for the most part and shared common interests musically. We were often experimenting with ideas, and just having fun with them.
 
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a band?
 
Moore: I think one of the greatest accomplishments has been the opportunity to take our music aboard. This past year myself and Matt Leifer (drums) collaborated with musicians from Costa Rica in celebration for the Limon Roots African Culture Awards held at the National Theatre in San Jose. To be a part of the celebration of African American music was a very humbling experience and honor.
 
The Deli: What is your songwriting process like?
 
Moore: I don’t have a specific writing process. I usually like to sit at the piano and think of things in my life that move me to create. It could be anything from hanging out with friends and family to the car breaking down on the freeway. We are all human and life is full of twists and turns.
 
The Deli: You just released your album, The Freedom of Expression, last February. What can we expect from it? Are you recording again anytime soon?
 
Moore: People can expect to hear pieces that tell great and different stories that take the listener on a calm, at times ruckus groovy journey.
 
We are in the middle of our second project now. I am very excited for it, as it will be quite different from our last, but still true to our sound.
 
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
 
Moore: Supporting local music to me as an artist is more than just going to local shows—yes, that is a big part and we all need support. However, I think the real support to local music is through collaboration with other artists, thus making the scene stronger. I choose to mainly play with groups that contribute their original music to the local scene, regardless of genre. Groups like Book of Gaia, Various Blonde, 77 Jefferson, Zack Mufasa, and The Project H to name a few. The time is now; more creativity makes a strong scene.
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now?
 
Moore: Peter Schlamb and The Project H. Both are friends of mine and great bands. Have been groovin’ out to their music a lot lately.
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite non-local musicians right now?
 
 
The Deli: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Plaza Art Fair?
 
Moore: The Ink Stage is deep this year, I’m just gonna camp out there.
 
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
 
Moore: I am a specific lover of Houston Jazz being that I was raised there, and all the great musicians that are from the city. It would be a dream to one day share the bill with all those I look up to. Guys like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Jamire Williams, Walter Smith, and Mike Moreno.
 
The Deli: What other goals does Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle have for 2014, and beyond?
 
Moore: The main goal is to grow as band, creating more music to share with people all over the world.
 
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?
 
Moore: Please, listeners and patrons, go hear and support local music as often as you can. Here in KC we are blessed to have great and interesting scene brewing with lots of young vibrant talent across the board make noise nationally. Artists, collab with your friends—as well as those you may not know—to do interesting original projects.
 
Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle is:
Eddie Moore: piano
Dominique Sanders: bass
Matt Hopper: guitar
Matt Leifer / Ryan Lee: drums
 
 
Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle will be playing on INK’s stage at Plaza Art Fair on Saturday, September 20 at 1:00 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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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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