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Sunday, May 03, 2009

To the Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz last night, a double bill with Frank Kimbrough opening on solo piano, then returning as part of the Kendra Shank Quartet.

I liked Kimbrough, who we already knew to be a versatile instrumentalist, having seen him in past seasons with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and with Dewey Redman. This evening we got a more cerebral performance, in both of his iterations: as a solo he was channeling his inner Keith Jarret, sort of, with a strong left hand setting up some interesting atmospherics. The Quartet was more about experimentation in rhythm, I think. Anchored by drummer Tony Moreno, and bass player Dean Johnson, Shank worked the post-bop style, frequently scatting and incorporating whoops, pops, and other unusual vocal techniques so that the overall effect was more or less instrumental. I liked the things she did with the numbers from her Abby Lincoln tribute-- particularly the opener, "Throw It Away", and I liked the two sort of standards. She slowed down "Blue Skies" and took it in a minor key, which is completely counter-intuitive. It personalized the song, I thought, although Jeff Simon singled it out for a slam in his review of her new side. Her set closer, "Black is the Color" was more up-tempo, and nicely incorporated all of the strengths of the quartet-- Johnson's limber bass, Moreno's expressive drumming, and, especially, Kimbrough's versatility. It was challenging music for most of the set, not really a singer with a trio behind her, more of a band performance, but although it took some concentration to stay with it, the overall sound was warm and pleasing.

It occurred to me as I sat there, and not for the first time, that what Bruce Eaton has done over the past ten years with this series is quite remarkable. There is a core of regulars in the room, in the audience and on the stage and over the years this has given the series a distinct personality. We are all smarter listeners because we have taken Bruce's programing on faith, and as a result we are a better audience. The auditorium at the Albright-Knox has become a room that the best jazz musicians working know about, and want to play. Bruce booked the Bad Plus a year before they broke because bassist Reid Anderson's had been through with Claudia Acuna and gave Bruce a demo of his other project. We have acquired a reputation as a good audience, and we work hard to live up to it. The other night PBS had a Bill Frisell concert-- a tape from a Rochester Jazz Festival show from a few years back-- and A. and I were reminded of the time Bruce brought him to Buffalo. In fact, Frisell was part of the first season, which also had Jack DeJohnette with David Sancious, and the Phil Woods Quartet. The audience was not as well prepared for Frissel as it would be today, and people were streaming out during the first half, prompting the guitarist to quip, "Now that the squares are all gone we can get down to business." That wouldn't happen today. Bruce Eaton has managed to turn Buffalo into a jazz destination by doing two things-- booking the best, and getting us to trust him.

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