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10,000 Maniacs, the Violent Femmes and Fabulous Thunderbirds were part of the lineup Saturday for a Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor event. Jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson performed Saturday at the Calumet Arts Cafe.
10,000 Maniacs,
Violent Femmes, Fabulous Thunderbirds and others
It's hard to believe that downtown Buffalo is not alive and thriving, judging from the number of 1998 summer events that have drawn suburbanites to the city in droves.

Saturday on two stages in the Naval Park, nestled between the USS Little Rock and the deep summer shadows of the Skyway, seven local and national bands presented a rainbow of musical styles to please all tastes.

The Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor concert was blessed with ideal conditions.

Even a brief shower before the headlining Violent Femmes took the stage failed to rain on anyone's parade.

Opening acts Michael Civisca and Billy McEwen & the Soul Invaders greeted early arrivals with an eclectic blend of pop and blues.

Food and beverage tents as well as cigar stands lent a carnival atmosphere to the peaceful event, which drew thousands of young couples with children, singles and college students.

By the time 10,000 Maniacs and Lance Diamond took the stage, even toddlers in tiny sandals were bopping to the sunny music.

Maniacs vocalist Mary Ramsey sounded particularly strong on Patti Smith's "Because the Night" and the original "These Are the Days."

However, it was the band's balanced ensemble work that was most distinctive.

Buffalo Rock Hall of Famer Diamond had the crowd boogie-ing away their sneakers to soul and R & B classics such as Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," "Downtown" and "Shining Star."

For rock and blues lovers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds aimed the beat at the feet, with harp virtuoso and vocalist Kim Wilson and keyboard player Gene Taylor turning up the theatrics to white hot.

For swing dance enthusiasts, the Rockin' Highliners from Edmonton contributed a long set of jump, jive and wail '40s music mixed with blues in the style of Howling Wolf, T-Bone Walker and B.B. King.

But it was the Violent Femmes that captured the heart and political soul of the crowd. Opening with "It's Going to Rain," they dared the rain to persist. It didn't.

Singer/composer Gordon Gano's songs of alienation and rebellion had the crowd moshing in joyous abandon. "I Like American Music" and "I'm Nothin' " smacked of alternative Dylan.

After 18 years of performing, the Femmes are still tuneful, original and meaningful. Maniacs guitarist Rob Buck sat in and helped turn "Confessions" into a concert high point.

Forget about your Return to the Garden and Lilith Fair concerts; downtown Buffalo's free concerts have proved that "if you stage it right, they will come."
-- Jim Santella
Jacky Terrasson
It was a bit past midnight. Them Jazzbeards, the band scheduled for 11, were in full swing with their usual wall of loud sound, including violin, drums, heavily amplified electric piano and leopard-print sax.

Suddenly in front of the band, like a frightened rabbit, darted a short, skinny guy, clutching a drink, smiling nervously and shaking his head.

It was Jacky Terrasson.

Terrasson, one of the hottest young jazz pianists around these days, had only recently finished his own two sets at the Calumet, and it was easy to conclude that he and loud volume don't mix. He's the master of quietude, the prince of pianissimo. On Saturday, he proved it time and time again.

There was his rendition of "Love for Sale," which he tiptoed through with grace borrowed from Ahmad Jamal -- camel-walk drums from drummer Jazzy Sawyer, large empty spaces, notes etching only the outlines of the melody.

And "Nature Boy" -- introspective, exquisite.

Most oddly, a solo "Over the Rainbow" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," with interesting and unusual harmonies, and -- here was the biggest surprise -- intertwined. You heard a few bars of one, then a few bars of the other. One might question whether two such gorgeous tunes should be mixed, but mixing them was new, and it was different, and Terrasson did it well.

Make no mistake: Terrasson has outstanding technique and, especially in the first set, gave quite an athletic display. He can sit on one note, hammering on it like a woodpecker. (Al Tinney does this extremely well.) He tosses off parallel lines and twinkling strings of quick notes as if they were nothing. In his originals, he falls into endless grooves, repeating patterns over and over, rocking, pounding.

But the quiet parts of the evening were best. The whispery Caribbean vamp, the delicate "Days of Wine and Roses" featuring bassist Ugonna Okegwo, a gentle "In Your Own Sweet Way." The '20s song "Sweet and Lovely," which got a quirky stride treatment a long time ago from Thelonious Monk, got a spacious, capricious rendition from Terrasson, too.

And oh, the song was quiet. Like Chopin in his last days, when people used to complain he played so quietly they couldn't hear him. Yes, when Jacky Terrasson comes to town, Mark Goldman's controversial "quiet policy" is a fine idea. On Saturday, everyone in the packed house seemed to agree.

-- Mary Kunz

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