American culture has a rich history when it comes to the art of the big band. Running through the stream of our American conscious is the influence of popular big bands dating back to the era of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Glenn Miller. Duke Ellington, and to a large degree Count Basie, brought sophistication to big band composition and arrangements. Creating a gateway for the modern big bands to follow.
I think these saints of the big bands may be looking down on David Sanford with reverence. Nodding in agreement that the modern big band is definitely in the good hands of a master composer and arranger.
For those who attended the David Sanford Pittsburgh Collective at the Art of Jazz Series at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, we were introduced to modern big band compositions performed by stellar musicians. We also heard echoes of the forerunners of the modern big bands. The influence of Maynard Ferguson, George Russell’s New York Big Band, Mingus Big Band, Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Big Band, Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, and the Village Vanguard Big Band seeped through every song. These influences brought some familiarity in the sound but make no mistake the music is clearly the stamp of David Sanford. An originality that is refreshing and awe inspiring.
The band opened with the tune Fenwick, which featured a duo opening by John Bacon, Jr. on drums and Andrew Weinzler on tenor saxophone. The two set the tone for what was to come with a contemporary rock-fusion groove by Bacon and Weinzler giving us a controlled yet effusive soloing that was breathless. Here is the tune performed live in another setting and you can take note of the beginning:
This was followed by Woman in Shadows. A sweeping soft ballad featuring a solo by saxophonist Ted Levine who has been with the band for thirteen years.
The tune Popit showcased a performance filled with punctuated blasts and transitions. Held together by the rhythmic funk drumming par excellence of Bacon. Sanford presence as a conductor is large and the gestures at critical moments make for compelling optics.
V-Reel and Soldier and the CEO offered up a contemporary progressive sound that gave us a testament to the musicianship on display. Tight horn sections contrasted with a rhythm section that kicked a rock and jazz-fusion groove. Ken Kuriscak shone on these tunes and Zane Merritt on guitar gave us shades of a Led Zeppelin overture.
The band included one of the top trumpeters in jazz – Hugh Ragin. Ragin had a stint with Maynard Ferguson in the early 1980’s and was prominent with Anthony Braxton, David Murray, and Roscoe Mitchell. On the tune Link Chapel, we heard an entrancing solo by Ragin on a moderate tempo arrangement.
On the song Alchemy, the trumpet section was a tour de force that encircled a masterful solo by the legendary baritone saxophonist Bruce Johnstone. John Bacon, Jr. on drums and Theo Moore on congas jointly soloed on Una Notte all’ Opera with an infectious funk-fusion groove. The ballad Bagatelle brought to the forefront once again the impressive solo talents of Andrew Weinzler.
The final tune was appropriately named Full Immersion. By the end of the concert, you were truly fully immersed in the unique genius of David Sanford. The tune begins with the superb solo of percussionist Theo Moore backed by a captivating solo on trombone by Jim Messbauer. Here is the tune in another setting:
The collection of local jazz artists included the local representation of Jon Nelson and Mark Filsinger on trumpet, Ken Kuriscak, Andy Weinzler, and Bruce Johnstone on saxophone, Danny Ziemann on bass, and John Bacon, Jr. on drums. Who all performed in notable fashion some of the most complicated and sophisticated arrangements ever presented in Buffalo.
The revived Art of Jazz Series ended the season on a big band note. Produced and presented by Art of Jazz Series Artistic Director Jon Nelson, the series gave us an eclectic taste of jazz that stretched our notions of the genre. Expanding our consciousness of the malleable boundaries of jazz that makes this music continuously surprising and new.
Keep Jazz Alive In WNY!!