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Rice and Jones Trio set a high jazz standard By Seamus Gallivan NEWS CONTRIBUTING REVIEWER A picture-perfect afternoon and pitch-perfect performance marked the midpoint of the 28th annual Buffalo News Summer Jazz Series at Albright Knox Art Gallery on Sunday, as California cool tenor saxman Don Rice celebrated his 20th year playing the series by delivering a splendid two-set serving of standards backed by Buffalo's Bobby Jones Trio. Set behind and facing the gallery, the makeshift stage boasts a beautiful backdrop of Hoyt Lake and Delaware Park, and turns the back steps and lawn into an ideal amphitheater for lazing on a sunny afternoon. Introduced by friend and fellow Omaha native and Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, Rice noted many familiar faces in the crowd before turn­ing to his local right-hand man Jones to "Strike Up the Band," the Gershwin classic and go-to opener that instantly established Rice's mission to both honor the standards and share the spotlight with Jones, upright bassist Greg Piontek and drummer Dan Hull. The now- Southern Californian Rice em­bodies the "California cool" sound, in which fluid and tasteful trump flashy and wild, even when venturing into bop territory with Cannonbail Adderly's 'Teaneck." Rice served each song as homage to its author and an invitation to discover its beauty, allowing Jones and his buoyant sweeps to earn some of the warmest ovations from the crowd — though surely some of the cheer was in simply seeing him at all after his brain tumor scare last year. He is surely back to form, fingers floating over the keys and toes constantly tapping as they must’ve been in 1962 when Sammy Davis Jr., playing the Glen Park Casino, saw the school- aged Jones tap dancing and hired him to hit the road with his revue. From bop to bossa nova, the band offered Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights," Rice guiding delicate notes like blossoms in the light breeze, Jones pulling them close with elegantly daring spins before handing them over to Piontek, who gracefully steered them back to Rice. The leader then stepped aside to watch the trio reach back for Chick Corea's "500 Miles High," highlighted by Hull's lyrical, minimalist four beat flourishes. Showing that a true stan­dard is not only timeless but suitable for any season, Rice explained that a song like "Have Yourself a Merry little Christmas" is too great to play only one month a year, and he led a rendition as serene as a silent snowfall, so much so that it brought a longing for that setting — quite a remarkable feat for a sunny summer day, and certainly more transcendent than any "Christmas in July" retail sale. Rice's solo intro to Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" seemed to stop time, even bringing the breeze to a halt before the band began to whisper below. These moments were matched by more punch-packing tunes like the second-set highlight 'This I Dig of You," a Hank Mobley number that saw Hull offer forceful fills and Piontek at his best, anchoring the low-line while playfully finding funky rhythms. The Charlie Parker bebop of "Billy's Bounce" brought the show to a blissful close, with Rice bidding, 'That's All" - until next year. Concert Review Don Rice with the Bobby Jones Trio Sunday afternoon as part of The Buffalo News Jazz at the Albright-Knox series.
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