by Ed Healy

The Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz Series at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is always a classic Buffalo experience. Seated in the ultra-modernist auditorium designed by Buffalo-born Gordon Bunshaft, a listener can be excused for being distracted by the surroundings. The glass walls to the right and left of the stage reveal bucolic Delaware Park on one side and the impressive architecture of Rockwell Hall and the Burchfield Penney Art Center across Elmwood Avenue on the other. The beauty just outside the walls imbues the space with a spirit that makes it among the most memorable in all of jazz. No wonder the series continues to attract the very best jazz musicians to Buffalo.

Used for lectures, film screenings, and other public events, the Gallery auditorium truly comes to life during the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon Art of Jazz concerts. Produced by local impresario Bruce Eaton, the series annually brings an exciting mix of contemporary and classic performers to Buffalo. This past Sunday I had the pleasure of hearing the post-modern jazz provocateurs Ted Nash and Odeon.

Saxophonist and clarinetist Nash leads a band featuring a violinist, accordion player and tuba player – a line-up that may be unique in all of jazz. This eclectic ensemble, along with a very talented and creative drummer, is both brainy and brawny, playing sophisticated, intricate arrangements of original compositions and more obscure standards while at the same time keeping things funky and fun. Highlights of Sunday’s set included the pulsing rhythms of the Brazilian “Tico Tico” and the Argentinean flavored “Tango Sierra.” The group’s innovative, rocking rendering of Duke Ellington’s “Amad,” from his “Far East Suite,” was Ellington for the 21st Century — playful, multi-textured and propelled with genuine fire.

The Albright-Knox is justly renowned for its world-class collection of modern and contemporary art, but it should also be recognized as the host of world-class cross-cultural programming like the Art of Jazz Series. The series continues on May 2nd with a special double bill featuring vocalist Kendra Shank and pianist Frank Kimbrough. For more information visit www.albrightknox.org.

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