Ben Opie – saxophone
Paul Thompson – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums
My reality over the past month or so has been, and continues to be, completely and utterly turned upside down. I feel like a hole has been torn in my basic understanding of everything. Never in my 37 years on this planet have I felt so fearful, uncertain, angry, and disgusted. This blog was never intended to discuss anything political whatsoever but it now completely permeates our reality whether we want it to or not. I’m currently split between taking the all-in activist route and the total opposite, which would be turn it off and to completely escape and mentally remove myself from this current mess as much as possible. FUCK.
With that being said, it is now more comforting than ever to be in a place and around people who see the world in a similar way or at least in a way that involves some sort of sanity or integrity. And what is even better than that is to be in a place with these kind of people experiencing something absolutely beautiful, imaginative, and unique. Saturday night was one of these precious moments.
Thoth Trio, a band covered pretty heavily on this blog, was the musical guest for this month’s edition of Second Saturdays, which is a monthly event hosted by Pittsburgh’s The Pillow Project. The Pillow Project describes themselves as being “all about creating and investigating new ideas in a post-jazz improvisation and challenging how dance and performance is experienced“. These “happenings” are held in a great loft space called The Space Upstairs above Construction Junction in Point Breeze. I’d been to one of these a couple of years ago, so I had an idea of what it was all about. The space and the event have a sort of 1960’s, artsy, counterculture, beatnik, hidden/secret/forbidden kind of vibe with people hanging out on couches, bar stools, on the floor, wherever. Basically, as the music starts, or sometimes even half way into a piece, dancers will appear in the center of the large room seemingly from nowhere to interact spontaneously with the music and with each other creating a truly unique experience. Personally, being as though Thoth is my favorite band in town, I was there for the music. But the dancers, undeniably, add a certain whimsy to the whole thing, especially when dancing in front a huge projection of falling snow.
Thoth Trio has the ability to go from a ferociously blazing sax solo to almost complete silence to a deep drum and bass groove (and anywhere in between and back again!) extremely effortlessly, so their music fit into the vibe of this event really really well. The video above is a clip from Thoth’s own “Carbon 60” from their second set, which was a request by guitarist Josh Wulff. Wulff is part of a another project entitled Sound/Unsound Trio with Ben Opie and Throck. Ben had mentioned that they have a release on the way. We here at Jazz Orbits will be eagerly awaiting that one.
On Thursday night, Loyal Order and Faresh Brand hosted an evening of music at Spirit in Lawrenceville entitled Drummer vs DJ. Apparently, this wasn’t the first event in this series. But for me, due to a few choice names on the bill, it was the first one that was an absolute must-see type of event. Those names, Selecta (James Scoglietti) and Throck (Dave Throckmorton), happen to be the best-in-the-city at their respective crafts IMHO, so I was SUPER excited for this. I was also really interested to see the other performers, most of which I had never seen.
The lead up to Selecta and Throck, who played fourth out of the five sets, was well sequenced. Pete Butta and drummer Loran Mann kicked things off with a hard hitting set of more popular stuff (Kanye, etc) that really set the tone for the night. Honestly, my expectations for this were for there to be about 25 people, mostly dudes wearing baseball caps and hoodies (like me!), nodding their heads to experimental hip-hop and break beats. I was really kind of surprised (pleasantly) to see a large and diverse crowd up on the dance floor from the get go.
Next up was DJ Hank D performing with drummer Young D. Unfortunately, apart from a few great moments, I ending up missing the majority of this set. I hadn’t seen Throck in a while so I chatted with him for a little back by the pizza counter. It was cool to hear what he’s been up to musically, including bits about (the sorely missed) Space Exchange Series and Thoth Trio, as well as to get some basic hints about what might take place in his upcoming set with Selecta. The third set of the night was by DJ/producer Preslav Lefterov and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch. This set took things in more of an electronic/house kind of direction and was a nice change of pace, especially for the dancers in the crowd. But honestly, with absolutely no disrespect to these guys, after about 30 minutes, I was ready for some hip hop. So much so, in fact, that when I noticed Selecta standing a few feet from me in the back of the room, I shared this sentiment with him to which he simply smiled.
It was probably inaccurate, but up until this point, I kind of got the impression that many or most of the people at Spirit did not know what was about to happen. Selecta is really popular but Throck hasn’t done a whole lot of his hip hop/drum ‘n’ bass type stuff lately. So when I saw Throck up there setting up his cymbals and re-tuning all of the drums in the house kit (including the bottom heads), I just smiled in eager anticipation. I don’t remember what they opened the set with, but I can say that they absolutely KILLED it for about 45 straight minutes. It was basically one classic-era hip hop banger after another with some ridiculous “Throck-Oc” solos mixed in between. In the video below, I was fortunate to catch what was possibly the highlight of the set for me (before my camera froze up). Selecta set up Throck nicely to stretch out with a short but high-level solo, which he managed to segue out of with the beat to Bobby Byrd‘s/Eric B & Rakim‘s “I Know You Got Soul“. It was perfect! For the whole magical 45 minute-ish set, I felt like these guys were tapped directly into my wavelength. This was EXACTLY what I wanted and needed on that particular night. Classic shit from start to finish. Unfortunately, I could not hang out to see DJ Nugget. It was just too late. But, I REALLY look forward to more of these events in the future! Attendance is highly recommended. Enjoy.
This past weekend in Pittsburgh was some sort of anomaly or like a glitch in the matrix. Not only do incredible jazz shows rarely happen around here these days, they almost never take place within one 48 hour period. But this was the case here beginning with a Mary Holvorson solo set on Friday and culminating in a killer Sunday night finale by Halvorson’s trio, Thumbscrew.
Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum had brought in a bunch of incredible musicians and poets over the last few weeks to celebrate the opening of their new Alphabet City mixed use venue in the North Side. Unfortunately, the building is not yet finished. But, fortunately for all of us music lovers, the shows weren’t cancelled but were just moved to their outdoor Alphabet City Tent. Knowing that there was no way I’d be able to attend everything happening this weekend, I chose to skip the Mary Halvorson solo set (as well as Rakim at VIA Fest). I’m sure it was amazing but solo sets are not really my favorite type of shows and I knew I’d get to see her play on the next two evenings.
Saturday night’s show was by drummer Tomas Fujiwara and his project called The Hook Up. The Hook Up consists of Tomas along with Michael Formanek on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar (all of which are also in Thumbscrew) along with saxophonist Brian Settles and special guest Dave Ballou on trumpet. This show was nothing short of amazing. I really enjoyed the variety of moods and energies throughout the set. At one point early in the set they broke it down to just drums and sax. It was so intimate and beautiful that a nearby cricket’s chirping became part of the piece. For me it was truly one of those, “THIS is why is love live music!” moments. After the show, a friend I was with said something about this being one of the best performances of any kind that he had ever seen. Pretty bold statement but certainly hard to argue with.
The next day, after watching the first half of the Steelers’ game, I took a ride out to Dormont in the South Hills. I lived near there several years ago but hardly ever go back these days. So, just the drive out there was kind of a surreal experience. It takes a good reason for me to make the journey through the Liberty Tubes and on this day, the reason was to see my favorite band in Pittsburgh, Thoth Trio, play at the Hollywood Theater. This event had the trio playing a live soundtrack to some of Buster Keaton‘s silent films. To be honest, I would have gone out there for Thoth alone. Due to the Thunderbird being remodeled, they’ve hardly played out at all lately. But I was blown away by how entertaining this show was overall. My initial focus, possibly because of the great acoustics in the room, was almost entirely on the band to the point where I found myself closing my eyes and just listening…only to realize that a movie was being shown on the screen. Then there were moments when I kind of got lost in the film. It was truly the kind of blissful, escapist experience that I look for in a show. The kind of thing where you can get completely removed from reality for an hour or so.
Somehow, after all of this, there was still another show to go to. Thumbscrew (Halvorson, Formanek, Fujiwara) were closing City of Asylum’s month of jazz and poetry with a set at 7:00. As I’ve written about here before, the trio took part in a residency last year where they stayed in Pittsburgh for two weeks writing, performing, and recording music. So it was very cool to get to see them revisit the exact place where their most recent album, Convallaria (Cuneiform Records 2016), was written and to perform several of those tunes again. I knew what to expect from this one and they certainly delivered. I’d really like to thank the people from City of Asylum, all of the musicians I just mentioned, and the people that book the Hollywood Theater in Dormont for a wonderful and unforgettable weekend.
Last weekend, Kente Arts Alliance brought yet another legendary jazz act to the city of Pittsburgh. This time around it was the Sun Ra Arkestra lead by saxophonist Marshall Allen. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this show 😦 But luckily, Jazz Orbits‘ good friend and contributor, Alex Bard, was there to capture a few minutes of their set as well as a few photos from soundcheck. I’ve read a few thoughts on the show from attendees and some terms that were used to describe the Arkestra on this particular night were “loose”, “raucous” and “having an outer space quality”.
I was certainly bummed out to have missed this show. At age 92, it’s unlikely that Marshall Allen and the Arkestra will be around for much longer. But, thankfully, I feel like I can rely on the good people at Kente Arts Alliance to keep the amazing streak of legends alive.
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.
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.
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!
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.