The name of the 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival is misleading. While jazz and blues were included among more than two dozen performances at four stages, funk, soul and rock were integral elements of the daylong event.
Several thousand people attended the festival in and around the American Jazz Museum on Saturday.
The festival — formerly known as Rhythm & Ribs — was dealt a significant setback when scheduled headliner George Duke died in August. His replacements — the smooth jazz veterans Pieces of a Dream, keyboardist Bobby Lyle and vocalist Maysa — served as satisfactory surrogates for Duke.
A vivacious reading of “Round Midnight” typified Pieces of a Dream’s assertive version of commercial jazz. Lyle’s solo tribute “Farewell Mr. Duke” was bittersweet. Maysa, Lyle and Pieces of Dream joined forces for an inspiring rendition of Duke’s 1977 funk anthem “Reach for It.”
The synchronized dancing and sparkling horn section of Con Funk Shun helped maintain the freshness of the band’s vintage hits from the 1970s and 1980s. A sizzling set of ballads by the Kansas City-based collective Lee Langston’s Neo-Soul Lounge was similarly sensual.
Smoothness isn’t in the repertoire of the legendary soul survivor Bettye LaVette. The Michigan native completely immersed herself in uncompromising songs of heartbreak and defiant testimonials of endurance during her riveting performance.
Local favorite Lori Tucker almost managed to outshine LaVette as she sang a fervent version of “Steal Away” during a blues-soaked set led by organist Everette DeVan.
Millage Gilbert was responsible for the best-received outing by a blues-based artist. A packed audience in the Blue Room was fully invested in a rollicking outing by the Kansas City-based veteran.
An appearance by the Messenger Legacy, a sextet consisting of former members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, served as the festival’s centerpiece jazz booking.
While individual elements — particularly the opportunity to witness jazz giant Reggie Workman deploy his distinctive bass pulse — were remarkable, the band failed to meet expectations.
Not even the typically powerful contribution of guest artist and Jazz Messengers veteran Bobby Watson on two selections salvaged the set.
A brief outing by a jazz quartet dubbed the Alaadeen Youth Fellows was just as exhilarating as the Messenger Legacy was disappointing. The band featured two remarkable local tenor saxophonists.
The dignified work of Charles Glover, 18, was uncommonly thoughtful, while Ernest Melton, 17, played with invigorating recklessness.
The pair’s extraordinarily promising talent is undeveloped, but their presence at the Kansas City 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival heralds a bright future for the music that’s most closely associated with this city.