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Rod Fleeman Leaps In...

With “Saturday Afternoon Live at Green Lady Lounge, Vol. 2” (2023)

With the change in live music because of the pandemic Rod Fleeman, KC jazz (guitarist) staple, began writing a lot of music, and in 2022 released his first album, “Saturday Afternoon Live at Green Lady Lounge.” This led to more in that vein, and the most recent is the subject of today’s album review, “Saturday Afternoon Live at Green Lady Lounge, Vol. 2.”

As Fleeman told KPR with the first album’s release, “Well, the pandemic for sure, because I had a lot of time…They want live music and original music at the Green Lady Lounge…and it’s been a great thing for me to write more.” (Original music is “the thing” at the Green Lady Lounge.)

Fleeman has been an important figure on the KC jazz scene for more than 40 years, and KPR’s Steve Kraske and Reginald David aptly called Fleeman’s playing “tasteful and imaginative.” I particularly enjoyed Fleeman’s playing, as kind of balm, during the beginning and middle stages of the pandemic, when he joined (pianist, vocalist, songwriter, bandleader) Jackie Myers in her weekly back patio streamed series. I tuned in as a regular viewer and listener.

Let’s take a tour of some of the tunes on this album: “Collapso Mon,” a calypso, is energetic and highlights Ray DeMarchi’s light, engaging cymbal-work and staccato drum-tap comping. It grooves. The album’s first tune, “Shipfitter Blues,” highlights Fleeman’s bright, melodic playing. Fleeman is a real wit, and that intelligent melodic phrasing is spotlit on this opening number. Also, Gerald Spaits (bass) and DeMarchi (drums) both solo passionately on this opening tune, and, as in radio broadcasts of earlier years, Fleeman introduces the other members of his trio at the tune’s close.

Fleeman played and spoke in-studio with Kansas Public Radio’s host Bob McWilliams on 20 July 2023 at 9 pm as part of a special the “Live at Green Lady Lounge” series, usually hosted by David Basse. Fleeman talked about an earlier band he was in, Dry Jack, and its run in Lawrence. Experiences from those gigging years led to many musician friendships, including with Eddie Jefferson (1918-1979), a singer and innovator of vocalese, and there is a Fleeman tune on this new album named for Jefferson:

“Mr. Jefferson (the tune)…the roots of that…began right here in Lawrence…Dry Jack (band)…we played once a week…It’s in reference to Eddie Jefferson (the musician)…his energy boundless (on the stage), just like a teenager,” Fleeman said.

To give background on another tune or two, Fleeman said,

“Many years ago, I was on the road…I was smitten (with a woman on the road)…She was never my girlfriend, but she was certainly my muse,” and there are a number of “Karina” tunes in dedication to her, including one on this new album, the titular “Karina.” “The Karina thing,” Fleeman said, “was inspired by…one of the greatest one-sided love affairs of all time…and that’s where lots of music and art comes from.”

Fleeman is Kansas City proud:

“I am very proud I am from Kansas City, born and raised…I lived on the East Coast a little bit with Dry Jack, but most of my musical life has been lived in Kansas, City,” he said to McWilliams.

McWilliams noted Fleeman’s work with Dry Jack, Karrin Allyson and Interstring, (2 recordings in the 1990s with Fleeman, Bob Bowman, Todd Strait, Danny Embrey – Igmod Records)

Then the announcer spoke of the new album, “Finally, an album as a leader.”

McWilliams said of the Green Lady Lounge,

“A lot of young people are there,” noting KC jazz is alive and well. Fleeman concurred, saying if just a small percentage of those listening at the lounge get into jazz, through that performance and performance venue, “we have them for life.”

Fleeman talked about the backstory and origin of one of his tunes on the album:

“I wrote that some time ago, the bulk of it. It was really a solo guitar piece…The song, why did I call it ‘Django’s Dream’?…I realized it encapsulates what Django had gone through…Before he became famous, he was very badly burned in a caravan fire (including his hands)…When they took him to the hospital, they also wanted to amputate his legs. They said, he’d never walk again--or play the guitar…his heart and soul.”

The tune works to reveal that struggle and eventual redemption: through song.

Ken Lovern, who produced these Fleeman live at Green Lady Lounge albums, said

“That second one (album) shows Rod coming into his own as a composer…You really hear his identity as a composer, and that’s what distinguished volume 2…as a composer’s record.”

Lovern continued,

“What made volume 2 necessary…was that he (Rod) had all of these great tunes.” Lovern continued, “The good news is there’s also a volume 3 that is recorded…We need to…get it mixed…Maybe next year,” Lovern said. “He’s probably got more tunes for a volume 4,” said Lovern. “Rod’s doing a great job as an elderstatesman, being very creative, writing all of these tunes…I’m glad were able to capture them and get them all out.”

Lovern also spoke about Rod’s unique brand of playing:

“Rod’s a pretty unique guitarist. It’s just really fun to hear him play…you can hear his sense of humor…it’s really funny and smart…it’s just really entertaining…he’s just a really unique and captivating entertainer…he’s got a lot of tricks…and he leaves it all on the field…a very present player…he really brings his wide breadth of knowledge and experience to bear…he’s really present with the other players…he’s just a master musician.”

As one very minor complaint, the bass seems low in the regular mix. We can hear Spaits when he solos, but, as with many live recordings, the bass seems a little low. (You have to work to hear him.)

Overall, though, this is a stellar album. You have likely had a chance to hear Fleeman live, but now you can hear him anytime: through your computer, stereo system, or phone, whatever. Dig it.

—Kevin Rabas

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