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Jazz classics form heart of concert at Albright-Knox

The rain held off and the music went on. That’s how Sunday afternoon was for those folks lucky enough to brave the weather forecast and spend some time down at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery for a couple of hours worth of splendid jazz performances.

An ad hoc septet of regional players with impressive “chops” and the résumés to prove it, the Three Brothers and a Distant Cousin (long name, cool group) delivered two sets of tunes heavy on material written by saxophonist Hank Mobley and written or arranged by trombonist J. J. Johnson. The actual “name” of the band is a nod to the old Woody Herman sax lineup which included Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff but adapted to include the trombone played by Phil Sims.

Sims and drummer Dan Hull were at the core of this particular ensemble, having talked about similar settings before finally piecing the current project together. The players in the front line along with Sims were tenor saxophonists Russ D’Alba, Andy Wenzler and Kelly Bucheger while the rhythm section consisted of Hull, bassist Paul Zapalowski and pianist Michael T. Jones.

All the musicians were given moments to shine and made the most of their opportunities. It wasn’t as if any one particular player dominated a tune because every song showcased multiple players, allowing the listener to hear just how good these guys were. That said, there were plenty of standout moments.

“Night and Day” featured well-constructed solos from Wenzler and Sims while “Devil May Care” spotlighted Jones and Bucheger, and “Body and Soul” found just about all of the frontline players hitting their marks. Bassist Zapalowski’s instrument led off a clever take on “Penny’s From Heaven,” and Hull’s solos, especially in Mobley’s “Soul Station,” were tightly focused, proving that drummers don’t have to play ad infinitum to prove their worth.

As you can probably tell from the songs mentioned earlier in this article, the reliance on chestnuts, standards, and genre classics was at the heart of the concert. Other familiar works heard included an interesting riff on “Happy Birthday” which was dedicated to Sims’ wife, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”, and “You’re Mine, You.” Some of them were arrangements from J. J. Johnson’s book while others owed their existence to Sims’ work.

The fact that so much of this concert was packed with familiar material didn’t detract or enhance the total experience. What made the concert work was the interplay of the musicians and the commitment they had to supporting each other while having fun and delivering the goods.

One can only hope that the same sort of thing happens next Sunday afternoon when the rain date for pianist Doug “Trigger” Gaston’s concert (originally scheduled for July 13) is supposed to take place.

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