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Jazz at Albright-Knox gets off to smooth start despite some glitches

The Buffalo News’ Jazz at the Albright-Knox series got rolling Sunday with a classic afternoon in the sun.

The mood was, as God intended, sweet and lazy. Taste of Buffalo, gobbling up most Western New Yorkers, made for a modest crowd on the back steps of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. That meant more room in the shade.

The breeze and cloud cover kept things cool. The $1 ice cream man pedaled slowly to and fro, helping himself from the freezer he keeps on his bike.

And yes, the band did “Summertime.” You just have to, you know?

This being the opening concert, it’s probably forgivable that some elements of it were touch and go. It started late. There were some sound glitches. There are new speakers – a good thing, but it took a little doing to get the balance right.

On keyboards was not Bobby Jones, as had been announced and as stated on the Albright’s website, but Michael T. Jones. That was OK. Anyone who has kept up with the Joneses knows you can’t lose with either of them.

Plus, the switch brought a surprise.

Though his musicianship is beyond question, Michael T. Jones has always had a style that could be called laid-back – cool, even. He was not like that on this occasion.

For whatever reason, he chose this placid, lazy day to tear it up.

It was fascinating to behold. He outlined Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly,” in big, bold chords, then romped through it, having the time of his life. In “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” he rocked the gallery steps with a rapid-fire, take-no-prisoners solo including shards of other songs (one that jumped out at me was “Give Me the Simple Life”).

He lent excitement to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” getting across that Cole Porter sultriness. He was bluesy and torchy in “Cry Me a River.” And in “Summertime,” presented with an up-tempo beat, he took it down in the alley, his playing rich and low.

Jones was aided and abetted by the always solid Wayne Moose, on bass, and Danny Hull, on drums. These musicians clearly know their way around each other’s styles.

As for vocalist Cindy Miller, she was something of a wild card. Her take on “Cry Me a River” was touching. And it was sweet, and unusual, to hear Natalie Cole’s “L-O-V-E.” But why turn Irving Berlin’s tender “Always” into a flip bossa nova? She did that the last time she was here, too, in 2013. I got through it then, though I questioned it. Now, I’ll just have to say it: Never again do that to “Always.” Never.

Miller did not appear to have rehearsed with the group and did a lot of fussing with papers and scores. It added to the afternoon’s slapdash qualities. Vocally, she seemed more hyper than I had remembered. She did lots of scatting and sky-high endings – too many notes might be one way to put it. It puzzled me because last time I heard her, I admired her grace and restraint. Well, some of that comes down to taste. And that is jazz for you, ever-changing.

Jazz at the Albright-Knox continues 2 p.m. July 17 with a performance by pianist George Caldwell and saxophonist Bobby LaVell.


Concert Review

Cindy Miller with Michael T. Jones, Wayne Moose and Danny Hull.

Sunday afternoon Jazz at Albright-Knox Art Gallery