Concert Review: Peg Delaney Big Band @ A Place for Jazz (SUNY Schenectady), 11/04/2022

SCHENECTADY – A Place for Jazz saved its biggest for last on Friday when the biggest band of the season roared onstage at the Carl B. Taylor Auditorium at SUNY Schenectady and drew the biggest crowd.

Pianist-composer-arranger Peg Delaney led a black-clad crew of local heroes in two sets of her original tunes, then lit up “Seven Steps to Heaven” in their departure-less “encore.”

Peg Delaney (photo by Rudy Lu)

The show had a warm family feel. Six of the band’s 18 members also play in Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble and many Delaney tunes described family members. In her relaxed, easy way, Delaney proved a most entertaining, funny host, dropping quietly witty asides into song intros. Fighting yards of charts in exaggerated confusion, she exclaimed “So many PAGES!” with mock dismay.

In fact, her explosion of new songs – and reworked older ones – may be one of few unmixed blessings of the pandemic. Delaney explained how enforced solitude had revved up her creativity, and seemed genuinely grateful for the two-year delay in getting this show onto the stage after two postponements. “I’m writing so much better now,” she said, as if a bit surprised. 

She later told me, “I’ve been living with the melodies for years and knew they needed a bigger place to develop them than just a trio or quartet form. (I’m) really glad I got the time to get it into this big band.”

Peg Delaney Big Band (photo by Rudy Lu)

Responding to the sturdy architecture of her compositions, with clever chordal and rhythmic explorations, the band swung their asses off.

They started basically right in Delaney’s home with songs affectionately, energetically portraying first her now-46-year-old son, then paying tribute to both children together, then a tune composed as a birthday card for husband Bill Delaney. 

Bill sat in the crowd, while Peg’s nephew Gregg August, a giant talent in his own right, played right between her and drummer Gene Garone and percussionist Brian Melick. Stage left stood trumpeters Dylan Canterbury, Scott Thompson, Steve Lambert and Steve Horowitz on risers at the back. Below sat trombonists Ken Olsen, Elias Assimakopoulos and Mark Giardano, alongside bass trombonist Shaun Bazylewicz. The reeds section mixed baritone saxophonist (and, later, singer) Jeanine Ouderkirk, altoists Awan Jenkins and Jim Corigliano, tenor players Brian Patneaude and Dave Fisk, and flautist Patty Fusco.

Brian Melick (photo by Rudy Lu)

Delaney’s arrangements gave everybody plenty to do, smooth or jagged section playing that required and rewarded heads-up sharp attention, and solo time for here-I-am expression. 
She grew her tunes from a particular life but jumped right into the universal without needing translation. And the band brought their own gifts to her tunes.

For all the fireworks from the burly brass and reeds sections, the band’s not-so-secret weapons were all packed together stage right: the rhythm section of drummer Gene Garone, puckish percussionist Brian Melick, bassist Gregg August and Delaney herself. 

Garone was the big band’s rock, muscular like Buddy Rich, swinging with direct clarity and punch. Melick mainly rode and embellished the groove, but occasionally burst through to dazzling effect, as in “My Tuna.” An ambitious composer and bandleader himself, August led his own band in a previous A Place for Jazz season. He plays in JD Allen’s trio and numerous orchestras and ensembles. He released “Dialogues on Race” in 2020 to widespread praise for its courage and ambition. On Friday, he proved a modestly supportive team player. And Delaney’s too-scarce solos were often the clearest statements of the melodies she expanded into the massed or solo voices of her many players.

Gregg August (photo by Rudy Lu)

On the morning after, Delaney graciously shared her plan for the show, song by song, with my comments indented after each:

  1. Melontime– solos Brian P, Jeanine, Jim C, Dylan, Geno Delaney wrote this originally to welcome her now 46-year old son; the band swung it sharp and clean to open the show.
  2. Beloved– solos Patty, Steve L, Brian P, Brian M 24 bars Delaney wrote this for both her children, but it felt unified rather than bifurcated or divided.
  3. Your Birthday Card-solo Steve H, Ken O This is an answer to a musical birthday card bassist-husband Bill wrote for her; hers swung sweet at a mid-tempo.
  4. Hotline– solos AA Jim C  BA Dave Fisk   REPEAT AA Steve Lambert BA Elias Assimakopoulos This tune grew, Delaney said, from a scary utility mishap in which sparks flew from overhead cables outside her home as her speakers crackled. She sardonically dedicated it to Verizon and National Grid, but it carried no bitterness at all and instead described this potentially dangerous situation in fun, frisky funk.
  5. Feelin’ Hazy– solos Steve H, Steve L, Dave F, Ken O, Brian P A mid-tempo waltz with emphatic back-beat, the trumpets singing through plunger mutes and Patneaude grafting an exposed, eloquent solo as coda.
  6. My Tuna– solos Dylan, Brian P Delaney set this lively number – somewhere between jump blues and bossanova – with an anecdote on how the band Brassomania used to parade around the Saratoga track, including forays into the ladies room…
  7. Crystal Sunrise- solos Awan, Dylan, Peg, Gregg, Patty, Dylan What a sweet, easy groove this is, with one of few solos by Delaney herself.
  8. Twelve Toed Blues-solos A- Peg, Gregg, 2 choruses each Brian P, Dylan 2 choruses each E -Jim C, G-KenOThis beautifully balanced tight section riffing with go-anywhere solos.

BREAK

  1. Head Swingers Blues– solos Jim C, Brian P, Dylan,  Ken O, Gregg In gracious nods to jazz-radio hosts Tim Coakley and Bill McCann – both present at the gig – she included quotes of both their show themes; these blues swung, especially when Canterbury soloed with plunger mute.
  2. Flame-solos Awan, Brian P, Brian M, Peg Geno Delaney dedicated this punchy Latin-swing portrait of her daughter to the late, great A Place for Jazz board member and super-fan Tom Pierce; it’s a favorite of his among her tunes.
  3. Hey Mon– solos Elias Assimakopoulos, Jeanine, Brian P, Awan Delaney announced this grew from a vacation visit to a Bahamian market where vendors greeted each other this way; and she built this backbeat funk number from that cadence.
  4. Lullaby for Jessica– solos Jeanine vocals, Steve L Sole vocal number in the show, this brought Ouderkirk to the mic out front, and she earned the spotlight with an elegant expression over soft muted trumpets.
  5. The Offering-solos Dave F, Awan, Dylan, Ken O This Latin-swing tune showcased terrific playing from the soloists.
  6. Dr. Blade– solos Dave F, Awan Another spotlight-sharing number, swinging funk with a two-part Fisk breakout. He played, sat, then popped up and played some more.
  7. The Pollinator-solos Brian P, Dylan, Brian M, Geno A wry tribute to Delaney’s dog, a small mixed-breed, but a good jumper who managed to impregnate a neighbor’s doberman.
  8. Dream vacation– solos Jim C, Brian, P, Dylan, Peg, Gregg, Jeanine, Geno, Brian M Delaney said she wrote this breezy number years ago, originally on a Casio keyboard husband Bill, then a Xerox employee, had gifted her. On this trip, she heard the “Hey Mon” market-vendor salutes she turned into a tune played earlier in the set.
  9. Seven Steps to Heaven– solos Steve L, Brian, Dylan, Geno, Gregg Delaney brought some fresh ideas to this venerable Miles Davis-Victor Feldman classic.

At the end, Delaney exclaimed, “This was a gas for me.”

Us, too.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

Comments are closed.