Mahogany's Tribute Does Justice to Kansas City Jazz
by Dan Emerson, Twin Cities.com
July 21, 2008
While it may lack the glitz and glamour of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the Midwestern town of Kansas City, Mo., also ranks as one of the important breeding grounds of classic jazz. K.C. vocalist Kevin Mahogany and his blues-savvy band re-emphasized that point in swinging fashion Monday night at the Dakota jazz club in Minneapolis.
At the Dakota, Mahogany has the sure-handed backing of the combo billing itself the Godfathers of Groove: Hammond B-3 organist Reuben Wilson, guitarist Grant Green Jr. and drummer JT Lewis, filling in for the group's regular time-keeper, the legendary Bernard Purdie.
While the award-winning Mahogany can make just about any song his own, on his current tour he's featuring tunes by his predecessors on the Kansas City scene, including Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Big Joe Turner and Joe Williams, who fronted several of Count Basie's great bands. Mahogany, in fact, portrayed Turner in the late Robert Altman's 1996 film "Kansas City."
Like each of the tunes played Monday night, Mahogany's version of the tune honoring his hometown featured an irresistibly swinging beat, with a "double-shuffle" played by Lewis. Partway through the song, the band made a quick, midstream key change that segued into a slick display of scat singing by Mahogany.
The velvet-voiced Mahogany followed that with a ballad standard often sung by the late Williams, "Little Girl Blues."
Midway through the set, Mahogany brought on the group's other featured vocalist, red-haired Kathy Kosins, a Detroiter whose smoky voice makes her an ideal fit for the Godfathers of Groove — who return to the Dakota at 7 and 9:30 tonight.
Kosins surprised the band with "a tune I just learned today," Kansas City pianist Jay McShann's relatively obscure ballad "You Turned Your Back On Me." After the band kicked off an up-tempo opening, Kosins had to stop the music and then restart the song at a slower tempo, better suited for ballad singing. But, with the band and audience in high spirits, nobody seemed to mind the glitch.
Kosins, who records for Mahogany's record label, showed impressive vocal range and control on that piece and the one that followed, Joe Williams' bouncy "All Right, Okay, You Win."
Then Mahogany returned to the stage to trade verses with Kosins on Williams' signature piece, "Everyday I Have the Blues." The two sang the chorus in unison, and both did some adept melodic improvisation.
Mahogany's rich baritone has been compared to the late jazz-ballad master Johnny Hartman, not blues-shouter Big Joe Turner.
Making his first appearance at the Dakota was Green, whose father, Grant Green Sr., was one of the great jazz guitarists of the postbop era, until his death in 1979. The younger Green, who plays left-handed, tends to rely more on fast, legato picking than his father. But signature licks used by Grant Sr. occasionally popped up in his solos Monday night, along with trebly, string-bending trills that were one of GG Sr.'s trademarks.
Mahogany's opening set also paid tribute to Turner's role as one of the early architects of rock 'n' roll. He and Kosins romped through Turner's "The Chicken and the Hawk," segueing into "Shake Rattle and Roll," the 1950s radio hit that made the blues-shouting Turner an unlikely teen idol — for a brief period, anyway.
Later, Mahogany revisited "Centerpiece," a tune first popularized by the great jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and covered by Mahogany on his latest CD.
The song had room for some meaty B3 organ licks by Wilson, a 1960s soul-jazz star who has made a comeback thanks to a recent resurgence of interest in organ jazz.