Ben Opie – saxophone, electronics
Ian Gordon – trumpet
Chris Parker – guitar
Paul Thompson – bass
George Jones – percussion
Dave Throckmorton – drums
Ben Opie brought his sextet, Flexure, to Highland Park in Pittsburgh on Sunday night for 2 sets of electric and eclectic music. It was part of Citipark’s Reservoir of Jazz Series that goes through the month of August. Opie describes Flexure as his homage to early to mid-70’s era Miles Davis fusion. Great examples of this style are Miles’ records Bitches Brew, Big Fun, On The Corner, Tribute to Jack Johnson, etc. Miles was not a performer, think Louis Armstrong, as much as he was an ARTIST. Miles’ reason for making music wasn’t to please a crowd. He was creating. He was pushing the limits of “jazz” in a way that pleased him. I read a quote somewhere, and I will paraphrase it here, where Miles said something like, “I like strong melodies and alot of rhythm”. That quote sticks with me because that simple statement sums up my love affair with music, especially with “jazz” music, if that’s what you’d like to call it. This is why I am such a huge fan of Ben Opie as well as Dave Throckmorton, Paul Thompson, Chris Parker, Ian Gordon, and George Jones (among MANY others).
People come out to these free summer jazz shows to hear a soothing night of music on a nice summer evening while enjoying some wine or a game of cards or a picnic in the grass. Many of these people go to all of these concerts no matter who is playing. It’s usually a good vibe and I feel fortunate to have these free family friendly shows around town at Highland Park, Riverview Park, etc. But, last night, It seemed to me that much of the audience was a bit bewildered, or mystified, or even hypnotized by what they were experiencing. And I loved it! This built-in crowd probably expected the same old familiar jazz standards where everyone takes a solo followed by polite applause. What they did not expect was to embark on a cosmic musical journey through space and time where anything could happen. In my opinion, this is what jazz music could, and should, offer the listener.
Flexure’s sound, like Miles’ groups from the 70’s, is built upon deep groove, whether blatant or implied, (Throck, PT, Jones) that becomes a canvas for some of the most talented improvisers in Pittsburgh today (Opie, Gordon, Parker). At yesterday’s performance it seemed like the grooves were even deeper than the last time I saw them. I also noticed more prominent atmospheric and textural things from Chris Parker’s guitar and Ben’s electronics that filled everything in just a little more than I can recall from previous performances. Overall, they sounded incredible. I think this audience needed to see this type of performance and it’s one they will probably not soon forget.
Opie announced an October release of the debut Flexure LP, tentatively called Insert Title Here, that was recorded during their week long residency at The New Hazlett Theater this past January. To say that I’m looking forward to this release is a huge understatement. I shot two videos from the show, one from each set. Enjoy!