Under perfect giant fluffy clouds evoking more of an autumnal, than midsummer, afternoon, the Western New York Jazz Orchestra performed Sunday as the ultimate act of the five-concert Buffalo News Summer Jazz Series. The free jazz show (meaning: 100 percent gratis, not 100 percent improv) drew an impressively diverse audience of hundreds nestled into every available space.
Traditional in its 17-player lineup, the Western New York Jazz Orchestra played two compact sets in 2½ hours with one short break allowing for musician hydration – and rearrangement of illegallyparked cars nearby. Jazz Series curator, the ever-affable musician Don Metz, warned during the beginning of the break that police were on site – and ticketing. A small wave of jazz aficionados left their carefully staked-out vantage points, ever so briefly to take care of vehicular business.
During his welcome and introduction to the orchestra’s first set, Metz commented that he’d “saved the best for last.” The ensemble had a cohesive sonic vibe (and were visually unified in their summery concert-wear of red T-shirts), clearly enjoying one another’s solos. The program was a blend of bandleader Dave Kayne’s originals and retoolings of jazz, R&B and funk standards.
Speaking moments before the show began on the steps of Albright-Knox Art Gallery facing serene Hoyt Lake, Metz noted that this was the series debut of the orchestra; they’ve been together officially for about one year. Kayne, an educator and keyboardist, according to Metz, “writes some of the greatest arrangements of anybody in Western New York – he’s actually one of the top writers and arrangers in the country.” Expectations were high.
Nearby, sitting in lawn chairs with a cooler of snacks at the very top of the stairs, looking quite ready for a happening, were series fans Joe and Antoinette Calabrese, of Williamsville. The couple had arrived just before noon to grab this, their favored spot.
Him: “The sound up here is very good, plus we’re protected from the elements.” Her: “He likes to see the performance, and not have anyone in front of him.”
Dave Kayne soon gave a hearty welcome, explaining that he’d be introducing each section of the orchestra in time, “otherwise it’d take about fifteen minutes to introduce everyone.” He went on to say “I am the other Dave Kayne,” referring to well-known Buffalo keyboardist David Kane.
Each set began with a “medium swing” standard, “Old Devil Moon” in the first and “Caddy Club,” in the second, a retooling of “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club,” by jazz composer and saxophonist Bob Berg. Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” written by the sax-swinging composer for a jazz quartet, got big band – and Brazilian – expansion in its melody. Lead saxophonist Brian Tervo performed the first of several solid solos.
It was then on to one of Billie Holiday’s signature tunes, “God Bless the Child,” getting a collective rush of approval from the audience when announced. “The oldest chart” (and perhaps the most sobering) during their set, it was also saxophonist Ken Kuriscak’s time to shine, standing in the bright light. The arrangement’s sexy opening built to defiant punches of horns.
Kayne’s compositions included “N.T.P.A.” Needing a title for a new piece, he had presented it to his family at the dinner table. The children, he said, came up with “Ninja Turtle Pizza Ambush.” It stuck. Kayne was overheard leading the trumpets with a note to play the funk tune with some “pizza,” probably with spicy abandon in their orchestra’s parlance.
Tribute was paid to Kayne’s late father, also a jazz keyboardist: “His Music Had Soul” featured baritone saxophonist Bruce Johnstones’s delicate poetry. Written for his wife, “Blues for Shelley,” a mildly-swinging piece, was performed late in the set and featured excellent bassist (stand-up and electric) Cameron Kayne, son of the band leader, a striking player with his very-blond hair and dark shades. It was also lush solo time for trombonist John Hasselback, Jr. After the composition ended, Kayne proudly reported that his son, who’s been playing since third grade, has landed a plum spot in The United States Air Force Jazz Band.
The orchestra’s set ended with “Squib Cakes,” a fast funky number with a 1970’s vintage by Tower of Power. It was a chance for all the deft players to shine. The audience swayed, and one delightfully uninhibited series regular, June, gushed “I just love to dance”: she was the lone dancer in front of the band.
Summoning the sounds of all 17, after well-positioned solos by trombonist Dave DeWitt, saxophonists Ken Whitman, Kuriscak, Johnstone, and plucky guitarist Mike Moser, the song ended crisply. “Thank you! Thank you Buffalo,” exalted Kayne as the audience applauded wildly.
Western New York Jazz Orchestra
Part of Jazz at the Albright-Knox, Sunday afternoon on the steps overlooking Hoyt Lake, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.