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Buffalo Jazz Octet: PausaLive

Patrick Keyes By

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The Buffalo Jazz Octet, a group of veteran musicians culled from the strong jazz community in Buffalo, NY, offers a boldly realized collective voice that sings of a wide-open future on PausaLive.

PausaLive both reinforces and obliterates notions of jazz as a convenient label. The writing is beguiling, the musicians contribute top-notch inside and outside playing amid an assertive group mindset, and the listener is pulled into an aural adventure of striking dynamic variances. This is an extremely impressive debut recording.

The band members—founder/pianist Michael McNeill, trumpeter Tim Clarke, trombonist Phil Sims, Kelly Bucheger on alto and tenor saxophones, Nelson Rivera on tenor and soprano saxophones, Steve Baczkowski on baritone saxophone, bassist Brian DeJesus, and percussionist John Bacon Jr.—are proven virtuosos; most are also adventurous composers and arrangers. But aside from credentials and instrumentation, this is not a traditional jazz band. Technically, it's not even an octet; Brendan Fitzgerald is a ninth member as a very active conductor.

The record opens with a unison ensemble melody, but thirty seconds in, it takes a turn that evolves into a boundless collective improvisation. Jazz devotees will want to liken the Octet to other ensembles, and there are comparisons to be made. But the Buffalo Jazz Octet has its own nuanced original conception that projects toward a future rather than reflecting on the past. This recording presents gritty inventiveness and an expressive attitude that engages and challenges the listener.

Two tracks are completely improvised, recalling Butch Morris' Conduction technique. Clarke opens "traffic.tactic" by extracting ghostly sounds from his trumpet amid scorching, complex lines. The saxophones contribute a lush underpinning while McNeill dances over them, and Fitzgerald manipulates the rest of the band into deftly supportive interplay. "Tracheal Rubric" features Baczkowski, unbridled on his "didja-tube" (homemade didgeridoo) and baritone sax, inspiring complementary band figures that eventually pull the proceedings together to a serene close. The other tunes, by Bacon and McNeil, present distinctly reasoned song forms with ample room for solo statements.

From a fiery duet of sonic invention between Bacon and Baczkowski on "Homeage" to the sauntering themes in complex time on "What Are the 39 Steps?" that implies an improvisational journey from Vienna to Venus and back, the Buffalo Jazz Octet shows widely varied influences in its musical explorations. PausaLive should put the Octet on a much bigger map.

Track Listing: Sculptured; traffic.tactic; Homeage; Second the Motian; What Are the 39 Steps?; Vampires; Tracheal Rubric.

Personnel: Michael McNeill: piano; Tim Clarke: trumpet; Phil Sims: trombone; Kelly Bucheger: alto and tenor saxophone; Nelson Rivera: tenor and soprano saxophone; Steve Baczkowski: baritone saxophone; Brian DeJesus: bass; John Bacon Jr.: percussion.

Title: PausaLive | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Cadence Jazz Records

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