End of an Era: People’s Liberation Big Band’s Final recordBar Show

For seven and a half years, The People’s Liberation Big Band have played a monthly show at recordBar. Since the venue is slated to close January 1st, this Sunday will be the final iteration of this show series. For those who are unfamiliar with the musical madness of The People’s Liberation Big Band, this is definitely a must attend event. The band jazzes up music from The Nutcracker to Loud Reed’s Metal Machine Music to Katy Perry to classic jazz standards. Featuring some of the best players in the area The People’s Liberation Big Band continues the jazz legacy of Kansas City in the best ways.

Listening to The People’s Liberation Big Band is an exercise in pure joy. Even at their most somber, the big band keeps a tremendous amount of energy at their core. Whenever a player solos or when the band is together, it’s clear that not only is there a chemistry that takes near a decade to create but also a passion for playing itself. When the music starts, you can see the members are doing what they intensely love–and that sort of passion (and the technical skill every member brings to the stage) makes for a sound that is ideal.

The band itself features two very different leaders: Brad Cox and Jeff Harshbarger. Brad Cox, lithe and warm, infuses the band’s compositions with a palpable physical presence. Whether he’s behind his Rhodes or conducting, Cox adds a je ne sais quoi energy to the band. Cox is the David Byrne of jazz–jittering his way through compositions and pulling every thread together.

Jeff Harshbarger commands The People’s Liberation Big Band from his cornered upright bass. Harshbarger’s cool and brooding bass lines gel the band’s hot riffs together. More of a gesture a looming, Harshbarger leads by following, by tightening up any loss ends almost imperceptibly. These two leaders give the band a nice balance.

But these two aren’t the only leaders of the band. Each member has the ability to lead, to coax the best from each instrument and the band as a whole. Despite the band’s musical acumen and rigor, The People’s Liberation Big Band plays like a family–giving and taking leadership as it benefits the music.

This nonchalance only underscores the band’s talent as a whole. Any big band can play a variety of music, but only The People’s Liberation Big Band can playfully reconstitute a song. Their ability to stay true to the song’s core while riffing on its melodies allows the band to clear away any preconceptions of stuffiness one might have of jazz. The People’s Liberation Big Band is certainly a gem of Kansas City, and this Sunday will only emphasize it.

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