Horace Washington’s funky flute work on an exuberant reading of Herbie Mann’s “Memphis Underground” shortly after noon on Saturday set the tone for Kansas City’s 18th & Vine Jazz & Blues Festival. After Washington transformed the performance of a band billed as the Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz into a robust party in the Blue Room, dance music continued to play a central role at the event.
Although Gregory Carroll, the American Jazz Museum’s chief executive officer, claimed that “this is all about jazz here at the American Jazz Museum” as he introduced trumpeter Roy Hargrove, his claim wasn’t entirely accurate.
Plenty of terrific jazz was offered at the daylong event, but the wealth of danceable sounds heard on four stages made the festival all the more appealing.
Midnight Star, the headlining act on the primary outdoor stage, faithfully re-created “Freak-A-Zoid” and other 1980s R&B dance floor hits for an audience of more than 1,500. Members of locally based Latin folk-rock band Grupo Aztlan repeatedly encouraged an audience in the Gem Theater to dance.
The dozens of people who enjoyed Hearts of Darkness, one of Kansas City’s liveliest dance bands, didn’t require any extra inducement to move their bodies. Blues lovers were swayed by the gospel-infused attack of energetic multi-instrumentalist Lucky Peterson.
Washington wasn’t the only jazz-oriented artist to get funky. The Kansas City vocal trio Book of Gaia broke from its swinging sensibility for a scintillating rendition of the Gil Scott-Heron protest song “Gun.” Groove 101 and Groove Axis, two locally based bands loaded with promising young musicians, freely combined jazz with dance music.
Creating danceable rhythms weren’t the top priorities of three groundbreaking artists at the festival. Hargrove, Meshell Ndegeocello and Jessica Care Moore validated their stellar reputations with breathtakingly dynamic appearances.
An exceptionally imaginative bandleader and agonizingly candid trumpeter, Hargrove remains capable of conveying anguish more effectively than almost any of his peers. Backed by a stellar band, Hargrove’s 80-minute set contained several moments of heartbreaking beauty.
Ndegeocello’s jazz-rooted electric bass was the only common thread in a spellbinding outing that included intricate folk, icy funk and dramatic arena rock.
Moore and a five-piece band from her hometown of Detroit successfully revived the often dubious tradition of jazz poetry.
While Moore played to a capacity audience in the Blue Room, attendance was light at many of Saturday’s performances. The most artistically rewarding festival presented by the American Jazz Museum in years deserved better.