The Ninth annual Queen City Jazz Festival was a solid display of Buffalo (and Western New York) musical talent with a breadth of styles showcasing just how broad jazz as a category can be. There were big bands, small bands, straight-ahead hard bop ensembles, electric soul-powered groups, and a solo pianist to round things out.
Most of the music was played outdoors on a stage set up on Michigan Avenue but a fair number of artists took to an indoor stage next-door, upstairs in the Colored Musicians Club. Audience members could wander between both stages and catch snippets of all the festival acts or just hunker down in one spot and listen to the music. And if you wanted to eat while listening to music, vendors were ready and willing to provide.
The Carol McLaughlin Big Band started off the proceedings with a look back at the 1950s and 1960s versions of the Count Basie outfits. McLaughlin was particularly fond of the arrangements Sam Nistico and Neal Hefti did for the Count, a fact that was obvious during the first half of the group’s set, especially when a band member shouted out (to the band’s amusement) that their next tune (“You’ve Changed”) was NOT a Nistico setting but one that McLaughlin had done and featured him as the soloist.
Meanwhile, at the Club, Anthony Re and the Flat Five delivered songs that ranged from a Jamiroquai-like riff to a well-meaning, if uneven tribute to Charlie Haden, the Hall of Fame bass player. Then it was back outdoors to catch an awesome set from the New Buffalo Jazz Octet that featured a number of Buffalo’s finest players, including Kelly Bucheger, Tim Clarke and Phil Sims – all of whom also ended up playing in other groups at the festival. Drummer John Bacon was typically awesome and baritone player Steve Baczkowski’s initial solo was just the thing to set the band on fire.
If you pulled yourself away from that kind of music and ventured back indoors, pianist Ed Chilungu was playing solo improvisations that meshed Keith Jarrett’s stream-of-consciousness improvisations with fragmented moments drawn from the standard repertoire.
All of this was within the first three hours.
A short list of the other highlights in this year’s Queen City Jazz Festival should probably include the stunning set by the George Caldwell Quintet – one that caused one of the festival staff to talk about the group “swinging for the fences” – and the version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” played by Payazzo as if it were a chamber jazz piece.
Then one could tack on the tributes to legendary pianist Al Tinney that some of the older musicians performed: Sabou Adeola and Oasis (featuring vibraphonist Joanne Lorenzo) played a lovely version of “Green Dolphin Street” while DMW Jazz, a quartet led by guitarist Dennis Warne, performed “Five O’clock Shadow” in memory of Tinney.
Groups like Gruvology, whose set was marred somewhat by a nasty amplifier buzz for the first tune or so, and the Michael King Project brought a high-powered, plugged-in touch to the event to serve as yet another contrasting element.
This is the kind of event that just seems to get better year after year. It isn’t perfect but the improvements are steady and welcome. Next year will be the 10th for the festival. If you didn’t go this year, you might want to put it on your agenda for next year.