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Christian Sands' High Wire Trio impresses in Art of Jazz debut in Kleinhans

The Art of Jazz series is alive and kicking, albeit in a new venue, having left the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's Elmwood campus while it's closed for construction and resurfacing in Kleinhans Music Hall’s Mary Seaton Room.

The first concert there was a showcase for the amazing pianist Christian Sands who, along with bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Rodney Green, took the stage for a tribute to Erroll Garner on Feb. 2.

It made sense for Sands, as the creative ambassador for the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, to focus a large part of the concert on Garner, one of jazz music’s keyboard greats. It also allowed the audience to bask in a blend of melody and awesome technical prowess in celebration of an important historical figure by a stunningly talented acolyte.

It also was the first time this iteration of the trio had played together in concert. Claffy and Green were constantly scanning the sheet music during the first few tunes, following the scores while adapting on the fly to Sands’ wide-ranging solos.

Things were solid at the beginning of the gig and, as the musicians got more comfortable, they began finding a level of comfort that belied the time spent together on stage. Tunes started rolling into place, often at warp speed but nearly always with precision and a surprising amount of grace.

Sands usually focused on the music when speaking between songs, but the pre-recorded voices of Garner, Art Blakey and Martha Glazer (Garner’s manager), also were utilized as a way of giving listeners an even more direct line to what the pianist’s contemporaries thought of Garner and how the pianist approached his art.

Garner-penned songs like “Erroll’s Theme” and “Dream Street” were delivered with a nod to the composer’s style before undergoing a Sands driven re-shaping that elaborated upon the basic structure without hiding it. The same thing happened when the group took Garner’s arrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday “ and embellished the base without tarnishing it.

The piece de resistance came during the encore when Sands led the way into “Misty,” the most famous of Garner’s compositions and, when Johnny Burke added lyrics to the tune, a pop standard of near-mythical proportions. It was tender, beautiful and all that one could ask for. The crowd had already delivered a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the regular concert, but the roar of appreciation as the final notes of “Misty” faded into the air, was even more impressive.

The next concert in the Art of Jazz series at 3 p.m. March 15 will feature pianist Ethan Iverson and trumpeter Tom Harrell.

Art of Jazz

With Christian Sands High Wire Trio, Feb. 2 in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.

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