The Buffalo News Jazz at the Albright-Knox series got off to a lovely, lazy start Sunday. The concert, featuring vocalist Cindy Miller, was everything Jazz at the Albright-Knox should be. It played up the joys of a long, hot summer afternoon.
Miller’s style was supremely unhurried and relaxed. Which is not to say it could not be exciting: A veteran performer, Miller has a youthful joie de vivre. If you heard her on the radio, you would think she was in her 20s. She has a marvelous treble range and hits amazing high notes, sometimes out of the blue. Singing Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay” – complete with the seldom-heard opening verse – she made sudden leaps into the stratosphere and always landed on her feet.
She is virtuosic without being pretentious or annoying. Her choice of repertoire was fun. She opened with a good-natured, uptempo “Almost Like Being in Love,” from “Brigadoon.” “Scottish jazz,” she joked.
A bass solo kicked off Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly.” I could not recall the last time I had heard that song’s lyrics. Irving Berlin’s bittersweet “Always” became a chipper uptempo Latin romp, which you could argue about, but Miller pulled it off.
One of her finest numbers was the challenging Michel Legrand ballad “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” She set the bar high, taking it at a tempo that was luxuriously leisurely. And again, she did well, her long phrases expressive and sustained.
She had band mates of like-minded grace.
On drums, Dan Hull kept things moving and helped hold the team together. There was something metaphoric about that. Hull has done a great job for years of holding the area’s musicians together with his jam sessions and his organizational abilities. As Miller said, “He’s a Hull of a drummer.”
Miller’s charming, laid-back sense of humor went perfectly with the slow, sunny ambience.
When she got series organizer Don Metz’s name wrong and called him Tom, she shrugged. “You can call me Sandy.”
She asked Lisa Hasselback, “Is your husband the football player?” That is NFL humor. From what I understand, a Don Hasselbeck played for the Patriots.
Miller sang every song – there were no saxophones to take over – but she always sounded fresh and energetic. In only one song, the bluesy “At Last,” did she sound overextended. She knew her strengths and played to them.
She did some scatting, and bravo to her for doing it well and not overdoing it. A few times she extemporized her own scat lyrics. Ending the first set with “I Just Found Out About Love,” she sang as the song was winding down, “You can get a pretzel over there” and “Thank you, Buffalo, you’re such a hip place.” That’s an obvious trick, working announcements like that into the song, but I can’t remember hearing anybody else do it.
Jazz at the Albright-Knox continues at 2 p.m. next Sunday with singer Mike Costley, joined by a heck of a band, including Bobby Jones on keyboard, saxophonist Bobby Militello, guitarist Chuck Buffamonte and bassist Bill Staebell. Danny Hull will again be on drums.
Here’s hoping for another lovely, lazy day.