Alton Merrell Quartet – 4.13.13 – James Street Gastropub, Pittsburgh, PA


Alton Merrell – piano
Erik Lawrence – sax
Lorenze Jefferson – bass
James Johnson III – drums

Last night, I finally made it down to James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy.  I’ve wanted to check this place out for a while and I finally had the opportunity.  There are 3 floors and they have shows on 2 of them, sometimes at the same time.  The Alton Merrell Quartet was playing in the “Speakeasy Lounge”, which is located in the lower level, and the room was packed when I got there.

I’ve seen Erik Lawrence and James Johnson III play on several occasions.  But, I have never seen Merrell or Jefferson before last night.  I knew that Alton Merrell is part of the trio that hosts the jazz night at 720 Records every Wednesday, and I wanted to check him out.

Overall, the song selection was a bit too fluffy for me.  I really don’t want to give a negative review here because that is not what this blog is about.  However, for the talent this ensemble demonstrated (which is noteworthy), this set really didn’t do much for me.  Again, all of these guys can really play, but Merrell’s song selection was much too safe and way WAY too smooth for me.  I expected a group led by a younger guy like Merrell to really push boundaries and offer something fresh and innovative, especially in a room like this, which was only about half full at the end of the 2nd set, where they could have done absolutely anything they wanted.  There was no specific audience to please. But that’s kind of what this set felt like.  Also, some of the tones Merrell chose on his piano were a bit questionable and a distraction for me.

I’m going try to hit James Street as much as possible.  The beer selection is good and their schedule is packed full of things that I’d like to see.  Hopefully, I’ll have many more posts about this place.

Here’s a short video I shot from last night’s performance.


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