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Christopher Burnett: The Standards, Vol. 2 “Live at the Drum Room” (Review)

Chris Burnett’s recent (and second) installment in his live standards collection has energy and levity. It feels like being there, and that’s what the best live albums do. They put you in the room. The tunes are carefully selected, and many are fan favorites, including “All the Things You Are,” “Yesterdays,” “Triste,” “Invitation,” and “Nefertiti.” Burnett’s group is a strong and accomplished one, including Dr. Mike Pagan on piano, James Ward on bass, and Michael Shanks on drums. You can hear the trust and cohesion when they play. Shanks’ cymbal and press roll work on the head of “Yesterdays” is subtle, tasteful, delicate. It perfectly complements Burnett’s warm, golden tone on alto. Pagan moves easily over the organ keys, stride-like in his solo’s final section. Ward, always soulful, also solos on “Yesterdays,” pulling with understated emotion, making much with a few well-placed notes, and always choosing just the right ones. The fours Shanks plays on this tune respond perfectly to the others in the group: diminutive, but with drive, push. This is an album you can play if you miss a gig and can’t get out and into the city night. It is the next best thing to being there. It is also an album you can use to reflect on KC’s rich musical tradition: some of the tunes you’d hear or play on the stands, coming up. These are among our staples, handed down. To continue their influence and breathe new (and continuing) life into them is the goal, and that is just what Burnett and crew do. Recorded during Burnett’s stint of First Saturdays of the month at The Drum Room in the famous (Hilton) President Hotel (14th/Baltimore) in 2006-2007, the album serves a kind of contemporary time capsule of that time and place. In his liner notes, Burnett writes that “We played ‘standards’ that I liked but were not the typical tunes everyone played at the jam sessions in town. This was my first steady gig as a leader on the Kansas City jazz scene.” Burnett writes that after “serving for over 22 years with professional military music organizations in 1996,” he moved back to KC in 2001, and his “days typically consisted of practicing at least four hours per day, composing and arranging music, teaching a private studio of 30-40 woodwind students, and going to jam sessions in Kansas City.” Burnett also made a point to further his musical craftsmanship under the tutelage of Ahmed Alaadeen. Burnett took weekly lessons “every Wednesday…At age 45, I (Burnett) wanted to find a jazz master on the Kansas City scene who could teach me the history and mentor me musically as well.” All of that work paid off, as one can tell on this album, one more bit of evidence of Burnett’s coming into his own and producing an album of salient notice, and an album in the tradition.

—Kevin Rabas

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