The Necks – 3.3.17 – First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, PA

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Mystery, intrigue, the unknown, and discovery are all elements that are highly sought after when it comes to my musical tastes. This is especially true in a live setting. Some of my all-time favorite musical experiences have been ones in which I really didn’t know exactly what to expect from a performer. I was extremely fortunate to have one of these “all-time” type experiences this past Friday in a church basement in Shadyside.

The Necks are an Australian trio whose music can be described as improvised minimalist free ambient jazz. Even though they’ve been around for 30 years, I had never heard of them until I was handed a flyer by the show’s promoter after the Mostly Other People Do The Killing show at Alphabet City last month. After checking out their newest release, Unfold, I knew I couldn’t miss this show.

The two set performance brought upon so many thoughts and emotions that there’s no way that I could clearly or concisely put them into words in any sort of eloquent way whatsoever. The first 30-ish minute set started in a way that, to me, seemed like an intro or prelude. After a few minutes of anticipating a beat to drop or a melody to begin, I realized that that wasn’t at all what was happening here… and it was a beautiful and blissful “ahhhh” type of moment like “Ok. I get it.” The trio (piano, upright bass, and drums) just continued to slowly develop and deepen a groove, which was mostly implied but undeniably deep, like a groove within a groove, all without any sort of traditional drum beat. I found myself closing my eyes quite a bit, even though the room itself (with its industrial duct work and electrical lines contrasted with colorful hanging quilts and a stained glass window of fish), was almost as interesting as the music being created.

The Necks somehow are able to subtly tap into the frequencies and rhythms of the universe. The music is very primal, circular, hypnotic, spiritual and meditative. Within the hour (or so) long performance, they were able to cover a broad spectrum of human emotions from blissful joy and beauty to some pretty dark territory. When played together, their acoustic instruments often had a way of sounding electric. So much so, that I noticed a few people craning their necks or even standing up to decipher what was creating the sounds they were hearing.

The video below is a shot of the aforementioned duct work on the ceiling during the last couple of minutes of the second set. I normally would LOVE to share video footage of a show like this, but video and photography would not have been a good idea at this show. I felt it would have been highly irreverent and disrespectful and would have killed the intimate once-in-a-lifetime kind of vibe. So, I figured that it wouldn’t be too offensive to anyone if I simply recorded some audio while filming the ceiling above me. While this audio clip doesn’t do this show any justice whatsoever, it does give me something to look back on as a reminder of the incredible night. Enjoy.

 

Thoth Trio – 12.10.16 – The Space Upstairs, Pittsburgh, PA

Thoth Trio

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.

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Thoth Trio w/ The Pillow Project – 12.10.16 – The Space Upstairs

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.

Drummer vs DJ – 11.3.16 @ Spirit Lodge

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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.

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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.

 

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Tomas Fujiwara + Thoth Trio + Thumbscrew = AMAZING Weekend!!!

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.

 

 

 

Sun Ra Arkestra – 9.18.16 – New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

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.

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