Sunday’s episode of The Buffalo News’ Jazz at the Albright-Knox festival began with “Blue Skies.”
“Blue skies – thank you, God,” exulted singer Pat Flaherty. “We were worried.”
She spoke for us all, as musicians are supposed to. It was almost a miracle, how the skies cleared Sunday in time for the concert. The crowd began on the small side, but more people drifted in as it became clear that the blue skies were here to stay.
The combo’s approach was as sunny and breezy as the day. Flaherty is a singer full of bright attitude. She has a low, rich voice, with wide vibrato. Her style could remind you of the late Rosemary Clooney – high praise – or Dinah Washington, especially in “What a Difference A Day Made.”
Bob Sneider, on guitar, had a delicate touch that added color and texture. On organ, Craig Kastelnik burbled and warbled, as if suggesting the subconscious. In Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” accusing rumblings accompanied the singer’s laments. What a treat, to have a Hammond B3 on the gallery steps. So often we have had to content ourselves with wan electric keyboards.
It must have been a task, getting that big instrument to the scene, and Kastelnik made the most of its capabilities. You could tell that when he played a solo his heart was in every note. A bravo should go in this department also to Danny Hull, on drums. “He’s the man who pins everyone down,” Flaherty said. It was true. As Kastelnik wailed out on “Bessame Mucho,” Hull was with him every step of the way, cheering him, egging him on. Every soloist should be so lucky.
Kastelnik took the mic himself for several numbers including, memorably, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” His voice was full of energy and soul. That was a kick, with its funk groove, and Hull bobbing along to the beat. The spirit was catching.
We had a few hipster numbers (Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” and “Oleo,” plus Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song”) but the band did not overdo that angle. Instead the musicians happily concentrated on standards and ballads, to the delight of the crowd. “Trust In Me,” a Dakota Staton ballad you never hear, was a high point. The band took its time, Flaherty gave it a lot of feeling, and Sneider played a beautiful and sensitive solo. Flaherty also did a wonderfully straightforward and soulful “Teach Me Tonight.”
A grooving “Lullaby of Birdland” was full of organ squalls. Other gutbucket numbers included “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Lover Man, Where Can You Be” and “My Foolish Heart.” The afternoon ended with Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” ending a series of massive organ blasts. I think Kastelnik used his entire forearm for the last one. There was one additional song still in store – a kind of encore, if you will. A singer named Calvin Harrison got up from the crowd and joined the band for “Stormy Monday.” It was sketchy but fun.
Jazz at the Albright continues at 2 p.m. Sunday with the great laid-back saxophonist Don Rice.