Booker T. Jones – 8.14.16 – Hartwood Acres

A couple of Sundays ago, the forecast called for rain most of the day.  That forecast was pretty much correct except for when it stopped raining around 6:00 pm.  Luckily for me, and for the rest of Pittsburgh, that was just enough time for the skies to dry up, for the sun to peak through, and for organist Booker T. Jones to take the stage at Hartwood Acres for his Stax Soul Revue.  I had just about ruled it out but when the rain stopped I knew I had to drive out there.  It’s Booker freakin’ T!

When my daughter and I pulled into to large grassy parking area, I thought for a minute that the show had been cancelled.  There were WAY less cars than I am used to seeing at free summer shows at Hartwood.  I assumed this was due to the weather.  But no complaints here.  Even though the start time was pushed back a half an hour or so, a trio came out in front of a relatively small crowd and went right into the intro groove of Booker T’s 1968 hit (w/ the MG’s) “Hang ‘Em High“, before introducing him out to the stage to enthusiastic applause.  Throughout the hit-filled set that included several MG’s tunes, Otis Redding songs and many more, this group was joined by horns and vocalists at various points.  Eventually Booker T even walked out from behind his organ to pick up a guitar for songs like The Beatles‘ “Don’t Let Me Down” and a take on Prince‘s “Purple Rain”.

As is the norm for a free show at Hartwood Acres, we had a great time.  The small crowd allowed for plenty of space for kid stuff like kicking a beach ball, dancing, and just being silly and having fun.  The band sounded great banging out one hit after another and with someone who is Booker T’s age, you never know when they are going to hang it up for good.  This was my second time seeing him perform and it would be really nice if it wasn’t the last.

 

 

Feastival – 8.6.16 – McKees Rocks, PA

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A couple of weeks ago I had some rare free time on a Saturday night. So I decided to take a trip to a neighborhood that I rarely visit just west of Pittsburgh, McKees Rocks.  Feastival is a free event, now in it’s fourth year, that exists mostly to do just this very thing….bring people to McKees Rocks who don’t normally go there. Mission accomplished.  The event is all day festival that features food trucks, merch vendors, beer, and live music. This year, the live music consisted of three nationally touring bands that all play their own brand of funk.  To me, in a region that has it’s fair share of rock ‘n’ roll fans and easily could have gone with all classic rock bands, this was a wonderful choice.

Out of the three bands, none of which I’ve ever seen, the one that was most appealing going in was not the band that I enjoyed the most. I really wanted to finally see Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.  They were about halfway through their set when I got there, but I feel like I got to hear enough of them to know what they were all about.  They have a bit more of a rock vibe than I normally look for in a funk band (they even played a Zeppelin tune).  But something I really dug about their set was the addition of the Steeltown Horns, which is a horn section made up of Pittsburghers Reggie Watkins on trombone, Rick Matt or sax, and J.D. Chaisson on trumpet.

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Brooklyn-based funk band Turkuaz was headlining.  Even though I’ve seen their name many times over the years, I had never made an effort to check them out.  I had actually never even heard any of their music at all. Not one song.  I actually kind of thought they were an Afrobeat band or something.  To my surprise, they were a funky, high-energy party band that really had their shit together.  This may not be the type of music I’d put on at home or in the car very often, but it’s great live.

Overall, this was a cool event.  There was a really nice variety of food vendors and the beer selection was pretty good.  Parking was easy and free.  I ran into some friends that I haven’t seen in a while.  And the music was perfect for a free summer time festival on a warm sunny evening.  Here are a couple of pics of Turkuaz and one of a super cool cupcake camper!

Bobby Hutcherson (1941-2016)

Jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson left the planet yesterday at the age of 75.  The vibraphone is one of my favorite instruments and this dude was the biggest reason.  Of all the names in jazz that I come back to again and again (Miles, Herbie, Bird, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, etc, etc), Hutcherson is WAY up there near the top of the list.  RIP.

Brett Williams’ Recording Project Indiegogo

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Keyboardist, and ex-Pittsburgher, Brett Williams is currently trying to raise some money to produce a new record.  I’ve been a big fan for a few years now and I’m really interested in seeing where his music is heading.  You can help him out by donating at his Indiegogo page.  He still has a long way to go to make it to his goal of 10K, but I’m really hoping he can pull it off.

Here’s a short video of a recent performance by Brett and his quartet at the Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival.

Pittsburgh Jazz Live Int’l Festival 2016

As luck would have it, I found myself with plenty of free time this past weekend.  I don’t have many days when I’m able to have very little-to-no responsibilities.  And if I do, there’s almost never a jazz festival going on ten minutes from home!  I don’t know if the lineup was better this year or if I’ve just adjusted my expectations, but I felt like there were a definitely a few acts I wanted to see.  I’ve been critical of the lineups over the past few years of the Jazz Live International Festival, it’s still far from amazing, but I can certainly say that this year felt like it was possibly better than the last couple.

The people/bands that interested me most were Nu Grid, Jeff “Tain”Watts, Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith, and Pittsburgh’s own Brett Williams. Somehow, I was able to catch all of these acts over the course of two days.  The only thing I wanted to see but missed was another local guy, bassist Tony DePaoulis’ Contemporary Dynamic, who was just finishing up when I got downtown on Saturday.

The whole festival seemed very well documented (cameras, video, press, other well known and more eloquent jazz bloggers), so I don’t feel that it’s necessary for me to elaborate too greatly.  So, aside from the usual photos and videos, I’m going to try something different and list some random thoughts/observations…

  • The weather was awesome.  A bit on the hot side, but sunny and no rain.
  • Nu Grid was cool.  Vernon Reid on guitar.  DJ Logic on turntables.  All improvised.  Guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly said something that stuck with me.  Something like, “Remember…improvised music is an expression of MODERNITY, not nostalgia.  Modernity!”  I don’t think this is a word-for-word quote.  But, that statement directly spoke to something that is missing from all too many jazz shows.  Great vibe.  Cool set.  I dug it.
  • Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith (piano & trumpet w/ minimal electronics/looping) sounded really really good.  This is the kind of delicate music that requires your full attention. I wish the social element hadn’t taken over and that I could have listened much more intently.
  • The beer in the beer garden was pretty pricey at $8 a piece.  Plus you had to keep drinks within the fenced-in area. So I only had one in there.
  • I didn’t want to stop at the pop-up vinyl tent where several vendors were selling used records.  I REALLY didn’t want to spend any money but I had to buy a couple of things I’ve never seen before (including a Curtis Fuller LP on Mainstream) and, ultimately, I’m glad I did.
  • I was surprised that so many people left the Tain Watts set to go camp out in front of the stage where Chick Corea was about to play, missing much of Tain’s set.  The audience ended up being so large and dense for Chick Corea’s set that I could hardly hear the trio (featuring Christian McBride and Brian Blade) from where I was standing in back.  This made me wonder where the hell all of these “jazz fans” are/were at other jazz shows throughout the year (i.e. Space Exchange, City of Asylum shows, Manny Theiner’s avant/free jazz shows, etc).  The large crowd also resulted in me leaving about two songs into Corea’s set.
  • Brett Williams‘ homecoming set on Sunday was great.  He had recently left Pittsburgh to move to New York.  Seems like he and his group are experimenting with things a little (bass keys, electronic drums pads, etc).  He said he’s raising money for a new record.  I’m excited to see where his career is heading.

Here are a few short videos from the weekend.  Enjoy!

RIP Dr. Bruce Marion (DrFBM)

Pittsburgh has lost one of its most loyal supporters of our local jazz scene, Dr. Francis Bruce Marion.  Although I have never actually met or had spoken with him, I’ve seen him around town at many many shows over the last twelve years or so.  Equipped with his video camera on a tripod, he was normally off to the side or discretely tucked in a corner of the room capturing so many of Pittsburgh’s local talented musicians.  He’s posted hundreds of videos on YouTube under the name DrFBM.

Dr. Bruce and I ending up attending and filming several of the same shows over the past few years, but mine were never as nice or as complete as his were.  It’s obvious that he loved this music and wanted to share it with the world.  This is something I certainly relate to and congratulate him for and it’s something I’ll continue to do as long as I’m able.   Due to the sudden and unexpected nature of his passing, his family is currently raising money to cover his funeral costs online.  You can donate HERE.

Here are just a few of the many performances that the world is fortunate enough to view because of him.  Thank you, Dr. Bruce!  May you rest in peace.

Foundation of Funk – 5.19.16 – Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

For me, last week was filled with anticipation for the Foundation of Funk show on Thursday at the Rex. Neal Evans and Eric Krasno teamed up with original Meters members, Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr. for a five-city mini-tour. Surprisingly (and fortunately) one of the stops was right here in Pittsburgh, PA. Foundation of Funk is a Meters-themed project all the way. And even though I really dig The Meters and their brand of swampy New Orleans funk, the appeal of this show for me rested much more heavily on the Soulive side of the group, i.e. Neal Evans and Kraz.

It’s been a few years since I’ve last seen Soulive perform. I think the last time was probably at the Rex a few years ago with DJ Logic opening. It was around the time that they released their Beatles cover album, Rubber Soulive (2010). So the FoF show got me feeling nostalgic for the time that I was first introduced to the young trio (Neal Evans, Eric Krasno, and drummer Alan Evans) and those few years when they were my favorite band on the planet.

The first time I saw Soulive perform live was sometime in 2000. I’m pretty sure it was the first annual Jammy Awards at Irving Plaza in New York.  After one performance, I was hooked.  Their first release on Velour Records entitled Turn It Out, which remains in my top ten of all time list,  entered into steady rotation, I saw the group play as many times as I could, and I acquired as many live shows on CD-R as I could get my hands on.  Something about these guys and their music just clicked with me immediately.  It was the perfect mix of high-energy funk, soul, groove, jazz, and even a touch of hip-hop.  I had grown disenchanted with most of the jamband scene that had sucked me in a few years prior and I had started to revisit some of the hip-hop I had loved in my youth (i.e. groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Snoop Dogg, etc).  It was also around this time that I had begun to dip my feet into the world of jazz and Soulive turned me on to all kinds of things like Grant Green, Herbie Hancock, Lou Donaldson, etc, etc, etc. which led to the endless rabbit hole that I’m still falling into to this day.

Over the years, Soulive experimented with their sound by adding an array of horns and vocalists to varying degrees of success.  In my opinion, they got slightly off track a bit possibly in an attempt for more mainstream appeal.  Whether this was their choice or their record label’s, I certainly can’t blame them for trying to make some money and/or to keep things fresh from their perspective.  But for me, it was all about the trio.  Some memorable performances, among many, for me from the early period were shows at South Burlington, VT’s Higher Ground, which was one of the first full length shows of theirs I attended, a trio set at the All Good Festival in 2004, and an unforgettable experience at The Tralf in Buffalo, NY in 2002.  It was at this show that I had the opportunity to meet the band as well as Neal and Alan’s mother (and sister?), who were all extremely kind and enthusiastic.  I was a HUGE fan at the time, so this was a big moment for me.  Here’s a pic of one of Alan’s broken snare drum heads that I asked the band to sign.

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Now, getting back to the Foundation of Funk show, I have to say that despite having a great time, I was slightly let down to hear not one Soulive tune.  Going into this, I knew that this was going to be two original members of The Meters playing Meters’ songs with two of the standout younger funk players on the current scene.  Having said that, I still held out hope that by this third night of the tour, they’d start to come together to perform as more of a group of equals and that this would open up a wider variety of song choices.  I knew this would not sound like Soulive or Lettuce (the two bands Krasno and Evans are a part of), but I think subconsciously, I was itching for some of that vibe.

But, I certainly did have a blast and these guys all sounded incredible.  I was really glad they made Pittsburgh one of the five stops on this short tour.  It’s nice to get a chance to see the legends do their thing because they won’t be around forever.  I shot a short video of The Meters’ most famous tune “Cissy Strut” as shown above.  My storage was full, hence cutting off Kraz’s guitar solo.  But fortunately, someone in the back of the room managed to film and post the entire show which you can check out here.  Enjoy!

Pittonkatonk / Record Fest – 5.7.16

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Saturday was good.  I got to spend time with family, drink a few (well maybe more than a few) beers, see one of my favorite bands (who happened to play a couple of songs by a favorite musician of all time), sell a few records, buy a couple of records, and bullshit with a great local MC.  Yeah, it was all happening and it was pretty great.

The third annual Pittonkatonk Fest was taking place in Schenley Park here in Pittsburgh.  I had a blast at last year’s edition and I was really looking forward to this one.  The forecast was calling for early-evening storms, so I was super glad to find out that Opek was going on fairly early at 3:30.  There’s not much more that I need to say about Ben Opie and his various projects that I haven’t said on the blog already other than that Opek doesn’t play nearly enough these days and that it was really nice to see this stripped down guitar-less version.  The jazz/funk/big band vibe was much different than most of the other bands playing that day.  But, it was refreshing and the crowd really dug it.  Of the 6 or 7 (?) songs in their set, two were Miles Davis pieces and favorites of mine, “It’s About That Time” and “Jean-Pierre”.  Here’s a short video of their funky take on “Jean-Pierre”.  I would have recorded the whole song if I didn’t get the infamous “storage full” warning on my phone. Apologies to George Jones for cutting off his conga solo!

The next stop for me was home to grab a few crates of records to sell at Spirit in Lawrenceville.  The Pittsburgh Record Fest has been happening biannually for years now, and this was probably the 6th or 7th that I’ve sold at.  As usual, the room was filled with a bunch of great records and I had to use great restraint to avoid spending most or all of the money I made.  But for the money, I did come away with two good ones that I’ve never seen before.  I also got to chat with local rapper/producer Moemaw Naedon who happened to be my neighbor for the night.  If if don’t know about him, you need to check him out ASAP.  I’m a fan of his work and it was nice talking with him about music, digging, concerts, stolen shoes, whatever.

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After the sale, I made my way downstairs to finally try the pizza from Slice Island and meet up with some more friends.  DJ Tom Cox, who I know from the period of time that 720 Records was located inside of Jerry’s, was in the booth rocking a 720 t-shirt printed by yours truly.  Overall, this was a really fun and diverse Saturday well spent with family and friends new and old. Now that summer is approaching, I’m looking forward to many more like it.