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Bill McCann

University at Albany
Albany, NY
April 17th, 2010

by J Hunter

Notes (most of them written with a head full of cold medicine) from the 25th anniversary celebration of Bill McCann’s weekly radio show:

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – Given the size of the bill that was scheduled to play at the gala, I thought UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center would have been a better venue. But when I walked into Assembly Hall, I realized what a good choice it was. The Campus Center space was split into two sections, with bands playing in one room while a buffet table was set up in the middle of an open area. People could come and go as they pleased, grab a nosh or a break, and then return to their seats in the “club” area, where the UAlbany Jazz Ensemble warmed up early arrivals with some nice big-band fare. This arrangement maximized socializing, allowed McCann to greet all comers, and gave everyone else the chance to meet up or catch up. Instead of a just concert, this was a community gathering in the best sense of the word. Besides, where else would you see Lee Shaw being taught a dap-heavy handshake by Keith Pray’s son Maceo?

OLD FRIENDS – With the comfort zone established, things got even more relaxed with the arrival of Peg Delaney’s quintet. It was all familiar faces: Peg on piano, her husband Bill Delaney on bass, Paul Couch (playing tenor sax on this day) manning the front line with trumpeter Mike Connanico, and Tim Coakley behind the drums. It was all trad and all great, whether they played classics like “Gone with the Wind” and “Sister Sadie” or originals like Bill’s “Dr. Blade” and Couch’s “Wretched Rat.” Before they closed, Peg announced that the group had prepared a tribute to McCann. With that, they played Ben Webster’s “The Catwalk”… the theme song from Coakley’s weekly radio show on WAMC! After they got big laughs from everyone (McCann included), they segued right into McCann’s theme song, Mercer Ellington’s “Things Aint What they Used To Be.”

RIGHT-SIZED LIFE – As with his radio show, McCann told us he had wanted “different sounds and different grooves” at his party. Well, Troika sure did its part! Wryly described by keyboardist Rob Lindquist as “a budget version of New Regime” that “does different things with funk and fusion”, the trio evoked Medeski Martin & Wood with their stripped-out electric groove. They actually did close out their set with MMW’s “Shake”, but they also did some get-down-low originals and a Latin-spiced take on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” Lindquist’s sizzling keyboard lines were light years removed from his trad-jazz disc Old Roads… New Paths, and saxman Eric Walentowicz hit even dizzier heights than the ones he reached when New Regime played Albany Riverfront in 2007. For all the potential their old unit had, Troika is a new direction that needs to be followed.

FAMILY AFFAIR – Although Colleen Pratt’s work with Empire Jazz Orchestra has been exemplary, I still love to hear her with a smaller unit, because you really get a sense of Pratt as an instrument. Her love for the classics is just as strong, as we saw with her set-openers “I Remember You” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s sultry “Corcovado.” But in a small-group setting, Colleen gets to show her talent for nuance and texture. She could also scat on “There’ll Never be Another You” without being out-shouted (which frequently happens with EJO), and the support and solos she got from pianist John Nazarenko, tenorman/cousin Marc Pratt, bassist/other cousin Bobby Van Datta, and EJO/Big Soul Ensemble drummer Bob Hallek were right on the money. They closed with “Everyday I Have the Blues”, but Colleen’s massive grin said it was all good.

YESTERDAY AND TODAY – Pianist David Caldwell-Mason isn’t a new discovery for Brian Patneaude: They first met back when the Van Dyck had a weekly jam session. That said, this was the first time I’d seen the Patneaude Quartet with a piano instead of a guitar; it made the overall sound a little more trad, even though Patneaude’s tenor was firmly in the 21st century. This configuration also gave Patneaude a very muscular foil – Caldwell-Mason’s piano lines had a carbon-fiber spine – and it allowed Patneaude to take the audience in new directions with the Esbjörn Svensson free-styler “Behind the Yashmak.” Along with favorites like “Exit” and “Double Trio”, Patneaude also played “Lake Timeless”, a happy new composition inspired by his childhood summers on Schroon Lake. My reaction was predictable: “New BPQ music? Sure, back up the truck!”

BETTER LIVING THROUGH… UH OH – The Lee Shaw trio had just finished “Fats’ Blues”, and was starting in on “Blossom” when the drugs began to lack effect. I was still battling the cold that kept me away from the Jack Fragomeni tribute at Proctors the previous Sunday, and I’d hoped I’d slammed enough Sudafed to be able to see the gala’s headliners, Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble. But my head & lungs were telling me it was not to be, so I made my apologies and started off towards the parking lot, cursing my immune system and feeling like a total wimp.

The campus still had a few stragglers from UAlbany’s Accepted Students Open House, and I wondered how many of them shared Patneaude’s experience of listening to McCann “for as long as I can remember.” Bill McCann has been bringing this music to the Capital Region for 25 years, with no end in sight. I think Lee Shaw summed up everybody’s thoughts when she wished McCann to “be your own best friend for the next 25 years, and do it all again!”

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.