The People's Liberation Big Band's monthly residency at the RecordBar is one of the most consistently rewarding events in Kansas City. The opportunity to hear Brad Cox lead an inventive band of forward-thinking musicians in an exemplary listening room is deeply fulfilling.
Only one thing is lacking- patrons of the Westport venue tend to sit passively even when the music demands movement. That's just one reason the three performances by The Owen/Cox Dance Ensemble at the H&R Block City Stage Theater in Union Station during the last weekend of October were so essential.
Motion provided the central theme of the ensemble's showcase. TitledTheme and Variations, an all-star band led by Brad Cox performed bracing jazz-based compositions as dancers including Cox's partner Jennifer Owens displayed stunning athleticism.
The world premiere of "Theme and Variations for Nine Dancers and Nine Musicians" was the highlight of the program. Filled with surprises, the multifaceted piece included segments with free jazz, space-age bop and exuberant studies in rhythm. George Russell and Sun Ra would have been delighted by the contributions made by co-bassists Ben Leifer and Jeff Harshbarger. And the choreography? Spectacular!
Saxophonists Matt Otto and Rich Wheeler stood out on "A Tree that is a Tree is not a Tree." The piece ranged from Gil Evans-esque passages to noisy nods to No Wave. Fluid blue-clad dancers added congruency. The introspective minimalism of "Long Day/Good Night" was my favorite selection while the frolicsome skronk of "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream" served as a colorful send-off.
The Owen/Cox Dance Group will reprise their acclaimed version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King with the People's Liberation Big Band on December 22 at the Folly Theater.