The Buffalo Jazz Octet gave a commanding and captivating performance to a packed house last night at PAUSA Art House. The walls were filled with sounds, inflexions, and rhythmic beats by a stellar cast of musicians. The band consists of Michael McNeil, Steve Baczkowski, Nelson Rivera, Kelly Bucheger, Tim Clarke, and the two John juniors – John Bacon, Jr. and John Hasselback, Jr. Also, Dave Arenius is on bass and on vocalese is Esin Gunduz. Brendan Fitzgerald serves as conductor.
Before the concert got underway, Michael McNeil presented a virtuoso event on the baby grand piano. Flowing from one classical tune, beginning with Beethoven, into another. As you listened in a spellbound manner, you were taken on a musical and magical journey.
The concert by the Buffalo Jazz Octet, performing all original compositions, began with a John Bacon, Jr. tune called Homage. It starts with a flavor of R&B and funk, which then gives way to Steve Baczkowski on baritone sax. Steve is a free jazz artist (also Musical Director for HallWalls) who can produce sounds out of nowhere. And, when he does, he does so in a way where he is in a state of convulsion, rapture, and I swear – he may even levitate from his seat. Great opening song it was.
The next couple of songs were written by Michael McNeil, the first called What Are The 39 Steps? This song brought out the best of the group’s horn section as we witness mesmerizing Steve Baczkowski once again followed by exquisite playing by Kelly Bucheger on sax.
A favorite of the night was the 2nd tune by Michael McNeil called Picture Window, written in 2003. This beautiful ballad-like tune featured the brilliance of Tim Clarke on flugelhorn. Tim’s playing evoked a swaying melodic tune that comes in like an ocean wave.
The last tune of the first set was Flame, written by John Bacon, Jr. John sets the tone with a rapid tempo right away and keeps it there like a steady flame throughout as the horns, piano, bass, and the vocals of Esin Gunduz take free runs. A cool toe-tapping song.
This was just the first set – all I could stay for. I can imagine the second set was equally great. A few things are clear however. This group can compose, can perform, and put on a spellbinding show. Catch them when you can.
Keep Jazz Alive In WNY!!!