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Heat, humidity don’t keep fans away from Albright-Knox jazz series favorite Rice

Sunday’s concert outside the Albright-Knox Art Gallery took place under a hazy sky and in steamy temps, the kind of weather that made shade a premium. Hundreds of listeners jammed together beneath canopies of well-leafed trees (and/or umbrellas) as intermittent breezes provided varying degrees of relief.

The crowd spread to either side of the gallery steps and across the road near Hoyt Lake to catch the tunes while the oppressive heat settled in like an unwelcome guest.

As to the music they heard ….

It’s pretty safe to say, especially after performing in the Buffalo News Summer Jazz Series for 16 seasons, that saxophonist Don Rice has become a fixture on the program. Every year, Rice leaves California, brings his instrument to Buffalo, and works with some talented local performers.

This year, Rice’s associates – keyboard master Bobby Jones, bassist Wayne Moose, and drummer Dan Hull – have worked with him before and Sunday afternoon’s gig showcased an easy familiarity amongst the four players as they made their way through a set list drawn, mostly, from what Rice referred to as “The Great American Songbook.”

It’s a repertoire that the saxophonist has repeatedly drawn from over the years, undoubtedly influenced by his section work with the McGuire Sisters, the Four Freshmen, and big band-oriented vocal groups associated with Glenn Miller (the Modernaires) and Tommy Dorsey (the Pied Pipers).

Rice’s playing isn’t particularly muscular but that wasn’t that big an issue since most of the set was oriented towards ballads and mid-tempo riffs.

The material played leaned on some Ellingtonia (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “In A Mellow Tone”) and other mid-20th century standards. Early on in the first set, Rice did step out a bit with a worthy take on Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes” but a lot of the energy heard came via the interplay among the back up trio.

Towards the end of the second set, Rice brought vocalist Mike Costley on to sing and scat on an energetic rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Sunshine Of My Life.” In a way, this singular performance was a preview of next week’s concert at the Albright-Knox, where Costley will be joining Jones, Moose, and Hull in a highly anticipated set from saxophonist Bobby Millitello.

The trio was effective in support and, when they got their solo spots, showed they had the kind of chops that would make it worth one’s while to check them out on their own.

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