Mcneil ex­plores jazz stan­dards at re­lease party for new CD

The Buffalo News - - GUSTO SUNDAY - By Michael Far­rell

Jazz vo­cal­ist Mari McNeil sings from the heart. Her emo­tive voice can warm the body like a win­ter night’s em­brace, and her ex­haled lyrics can soothe even the most rest­less Nickel City soul. This is her sound, al­ways laced with words of love.

That’s why it’s no sur­prise that McNeil used Fri­day’s per­for­mance and CD re­lease party in­side the Marfield Room at Buf­falo’s Trin­ity Epis­co­pal Church to both stoke pas­sions and raise money for the nu­tri­tion­fo­cused ef­forts of the city’s Mas­sachusetts Av­enue Project.

“All the songs that I sing are about love,” said McNeil, who hoped to raise $2,500 for MAP’s work con­cern­ing eq­ui­table food sys­tems through­out the com­mu­nity dur­ing a two-hour show. “If you don’t feed people prop­erly and help them to be healthy, you’re not lov­ing them. That’s why I think [MAP] is one of the most lov­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions for the work they do.”

McNeil’s own work has in­cluded a tran­si­tion from 12 years (and two al­bums) of folk to her cur­rent 4-year-old jour­ney into jazz stan­dards and hid­den gems. Her new al­bum, “Here Be­neath The Blue,” ex­plores both, and it does so with a home-based quin­tet be­hind it. Lo­cal names like Wayne Moose (bass), John Ba­con (drums), Tim Clarke (trum­pet), and Michael McNeill (piano) are a fab­u­lous four on their own. Add the end­less re­sume of sax­o­phon­ist and flutist Bobby Militello to the mix and you’ve got a su­perb start­ing five for any record­ing, per­for­mance or fundraiser.

Fri­day’s sold-out event con­firmed this.

On the night’s open­ing tan­dem of E.Y. Har­burg’s “Old Devil Moon” and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It,” which both

Mari McNeil ap­pear on “Here Be­neath The Blue,” McNeil set the mood as mu­si­cians put their stamp on sec­tions of each. Moose’s base­line walked McNeil into Porter’s clas­sic be­fore Ba­con, Stevens and Clarke eased in to carry the tune to its con­clu­sion. On Har­burg’s num­ber, Militello sim­ply flashed his flute and stole the song, de­light­ing the house with same skills that have backed the likes of Doc Sev­erin­son and Dave Brubeck.

“When Bobby was play­ing on the al­bum, I re­al­ized I had to up my game sig­nif­i­cantly in or­der to not be­come a wall­flower,” McNeil said. “He’s changed the way I sing, just as all the other band mem­bers have.”

They spent the rest of the night’s ben­e­fit re­lax­ing the crowd with such note­wor­thy se­lec­tions as the Academy Award-win­ning “Shadow of Your Smile” and the Judy Gar­land-in­spired “I Re­mem­ber You,” as well as McNeil al­bum tracks like the Frank Si­na­tra­helmed “Cof­fee Song” and Ray No­ble’s “The Very Thought of You.” All served no­tice that McNeil has in­deed moved on from her folk genre days and into a new realm of artis­tic in­ter­ac­tion.

“People have said [jazz] fits me like a glove. They liked my folk in­car­na­tion, but with those songs, I was writ­ing from a place of un­hap­pi­ness. This mu­sic comes from pure joy and con­nec­tion. There’s no gui­tar be­tween the au­di­ence and me. It’s pure in­ter­ac­tion be­tween me and the lis­tener.”

Such was ev­i­dent on McNeil’s sec­ond-set ren­di­tion of “Car­a­van,” made pop­u­lar by Duke Elling­ton and the in­spi­ra­tion for McNeil’s al­bum ti­tle. The song is about ro­mance, but also about sep­a­rate en­ti­ties tak­ing a united jour­ney un­der the same blue sky.

“That song cap­tures the idea of con­nect­ed­ness,” said McNeil. “It’s not just about my fam­ily and me. It’s about the com­mu­nity.”

On a night that fea­tured one of Buf­falo’s best vo­cal­ists and some of its finest mu­si­cians to ad­vance the work of one of the city’s strong­est grass-roots pro­grams, there may not have been a more per­fect theme song for their union.

Mark Mul­ville/buf­falo News

Mari McNeil per­forms in the Marfield Room at Trin­ity Epis­co­pal Church in Buf­falo on Fri­day.

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