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BPO enthralls with ‘Buffalo-style’ jazz

Sal Andolina is, technically, a classical musician with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. But he has a jazzman’s personality. He never misses a beat.

Andolina, who led the BPO on Saturday in a tribute to the big band era, kept the full house laughing throughout the evening.

He prompted the huge audience to say the words “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” then leaned back in satisfaction. “I love you people,” he said.

His finest moment came at the start of the second set, when the sound system emitted a loud, embarrassing crackle. Andolina joked to whoever’s problem it was: “You need some of that cling-free stuff.”

The evening could be called Buffalo-style jazz. The musicians seemed to be winging it.

It would be hard to list everyone involved. The BPO was clearly jonesing for a good pianist, and they got two of them: Michael Jones and Bobby Jones. Colleen Williams, a favorite at many a Jazz at the Albright-Knox concert, sang a couple of songs. Paul Zapalowski, no stranger to the Kleinhans stage, was on bass.

Both the Joneses were a pleasure to hear. Michael Jones can do a kind of Ellington plink-plunk style, and he turned out a few graceful solos that harked back to decades ago. His solo in a sleepy, muted “Mood Indigo” included a witty reference to Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” He went to town in “Strike Up The Band,” a nice choice on the part of Andolina.

Bobby Jones has that funk, and he contributed a unique jolt of energy. He and Williams, a longtime team, turned out a boisterous and captivating “I Got Rhythm” – complete with Andolina’s daughter, Giovanna, tap-dancing. They followed it up with “Cheek to Cheek.” It would have been nice to hear Williams sing more, but these two numbers were memorable. Andolina, meanwhile, cheered everyone on. It was a joy to see him looking on – nodding, smiling, digging it – as his bandmates played. All musicians should be so generous and involved.

Andolina was clearly in his element, and he showed what he could do. His silken saxophone playing fell into the smooth jazz mode for “God Bless The Child,” into Louisiana mode for “Basin Street Blues.” The BPO brass provided sparkling backup.

One surprise was a funky, down-and-dirty “Ain’t No Sunshine,” featuring bassist Jerry Livingston, who recorded with Rick James. Amazing to see and hear, it was a big hit, even though it didn’t fit with the concert’s promised theme.

There was so much going on that it was easy to miss associate conductor Matthew Kraemer, conducting without a podium, off a little to the side. Concertmaster Michael Ludwig, who appears at pops concerts only unpredictably, showed up for this one, but he was pretty much invisible, too, because the strings didn’t get a lot to do.

As often happens with jazz, the night was somewhat slapdash. The quality was uneven, and there were times when the orchestra and the jazz rhythm section seemed at odds. Some of the arrangements were frankly wacky. “Mood Indigo” ended in a sudden upbeat blare. “Manhattan,” a whimsical song by Rodgers and Hart, sounded overengineered. There was a kind of weird “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to,” which required the string players to play Bach.

The evening ended with a raucous “Avalon.”