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Tonight: "Phantom Of The Opera" & Members Of The New Buffalo Jazz Octet

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Michael McNeill A little over a year ago saxophonist Kelly Bucheger and I talked about starting an octet to play some of our original jazz music. The musicians we gathered into the New Buffalo Jazz Octet were: tenor/soprano saxophonist Nelson Rivera baritone saxophonist Steve Baczkowksi, trumpeter Tim Clarke, trombonist Phil Sims, bassist Dave Arenius and drummer John Bacon. We also brought on board conductor Brendan Fitzgerald to help steer the band through the new material. Looking at this list of improvisers from disparate (though overlapping) scenes, with such distinct styles and approaches, I thought, “This is so crazy, it has to work!”

If the palpable excitement in the band and in the audience at our first two concerts is any measure of the band's success, then this crazy conglomeration of musicians is working just great! I think we even surprised ourselves.

Tonight we take on a new challenge, with a slightly different lineup. Bassist Cameron Kayne will substitute for Dave Arenius, and trombonist Phil Sims will be off at a conducting engagement. But we'll welcome a special guest for the evening: the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera, directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney in the title role. Like any member of the band, the film will be “featured” in some sections; at other times, it'll accompany some of the other players. It'll even have a couple unaccompanied cadenzas!

The soundtrack we'll play is put together from all-original (and almost entirely all-new) material composed by members of the band (principally John, Kelly, Tim, and me), and of course it's filtered through the improvisational sensibilities of the band. The music touches on the sound-worlds of film noir and spy-movie soundtracks, of Duke Ellington, the minimalism of Terry Riley, the Expressionism of Alban Berg, Keith Jarrett's “European” Quartet, and post-Ayler free jazz. Looking at that list of diverse influences, one might wonder how this could possibly hang together to make a soundtrack for our featured film. Or, one might say, as I said about this band last year, “This is so crazy, it has to work!” You just might be surprised.

The event is at Lafayette Presbyterian Church (875 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo). The evening gets underway at 8pm with arts-and-crafts activities for the family. At 9pm, we start the film and music. Admission is free, and there's even free popcorn and drinks. (Freewill donations for the musicians are very much appreciated!)


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