Roger Humphries & RH Factor – 10.6.17 – Sweetwater Center For The Arts

Roger Humphries – drums
Max Leake – piano
Ron Horton – trumpet
Lou Stellute – saxophones
Dwayne Dolphin – bass

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a good friend to join him for beers, burgers and jazz and it was a difficult combination to pass up.  We started things off with a few beers and some really good burgers out in Ambridge at the Bridgetown Taphouse.  The food was good and, having become accustomed to recent East End Pittsburgh pricing, the prices here were right!  The next stop was a short cruise down river to Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley for the jazz part.

For any jazz fan in Pittsburgh, not much else needs to be said about local jazz hero Roger Humphries and his all-star band, RH Factor.  If you are looking for that mid 1960’s / hard-bop / Blue Note / Jazz Messengers type of sound, these are the guys that will deliver every time.  On this particular night, they sounded REALLY good.  Not just their playing, but the actual sound in the room was incredible.  With the exception of a small amp for Dwayne Dolphin‘s electric bass, all of the instruments were acoustic with no amplification. There’s something about the concept of sound coming from just metal and wood that I absolutely love.  Of course I’m simplifying, but it’s rare and it’s amazing.

Through two engaging sets of music, some highlights for me were Lou Stellute‘s use of a soprano sax (which I had never seen him play before), as well as takes on “My Favorite Things”, one of my favorite Herbie Hancock tunes “Tell Me A Bedtime A Story“, and a version of Joe Henderson‘s “Mamacita” shown in the video above.  Also, I cannot forget the enthusiastic introductions by local artist/jazz singer/legend, Betty Douglas.

With all due respect to Sweetwater and the town (borough?) of Sewickley, it almost always seems like the people that come out to events here probably don’t make it out to see much live music.  Again, I mean no disrespect at all and I could be way off base.  The audience just always seems so incredibly appreciative and impressed by the music being presented and the audience on this night was no exception. To me, this certainly enhances the experience and makes for a more memorable night. Thank you to Alex, Shawn, and the Sweetwater staff for inviting me out.  As always, I had a blast and look forward to doing it again!


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.


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.

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.




Ben Opie – Concerto For Orkestra – 4.12.16 – Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

David Cutler: piano
Roger Dannenberg: trumpet
Emmett Goods: trombone
Ian Gordon: trumpet
Emily Hawkins: percussion
Ron Horton: trumpet
Dan Lindley: baritone saxophone
Ben Opie: alto saxophone, clarinet, theremin
Chris Parker: guitar
John Petrucelli: tenor saxophone, flute
Lou Stellute: tenor saxophone
Paul Thompson: bass
David Throckmorton: drums
Reggie Watkins: trombone

Nizan Leibovich:  conductor

On Tuesday night, I was fortunate to be able to attend the second performance of Ben Opie‘s concert-length composition entitled Concerto For Orkestra. Like the first performance of the piece, which I also witnessed, this took place at another of Pittsburgh’s various beautiful concert venues, East Liberty’s Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

Admittingly, I do not see many composed, orchestrated performances…musical, theatrical, whatever.  So, something that was fascinating to me was the idea of going into this performance knowing the exact piece that was going to be played by the almost exact same ensemble as last time.  I loved being able to recognize some of the movements quite well but also having some seem completely new, like I had never heard them before.  Also, during the parts that I was familiar with from the debut, I was fascinated at how different some of them sounded.  I think the room may have had something to do with this.  For better or for worse, the sound in the Strayhorn seemed to me to be more muted and blended or darkened, whereas at the previous performance at the Hazlett, I remember the individual instruments sounding more shining and clear.  I’d heard that part of the reason for Ben to do this show was to get a good recording of it.  For his sake, and for the world’s, I hope that he did and that many people will be able to enjoy and appreciate this incredible work.

It truly is amazing to me that someone can not only play an instrument extremely well (see the blazing solo in the video above!) but also compose a complete piece of music like this.  My impression was that it was even more cinematic and thematic than last time.  The dark and abstract sections were even more mysterious and suspenseful than I remembered and the upbeat movements were more swinging. Definitely worth the second listening/viewing.

Ben wrote a really nice message on his blog that summed up his post-show reflections.  Read the whole post HERE.  Here’s an excerpt from that as well as a few photos from the night.  Enjoy!

“…the work is a pretty intense experience. Probably from a listening standpoint, definitely from the player’s view. But even now I catch myself…any more intense the Rite of Spring? Turangalîla-Symphonie? No, of course not. (Although, Turangalîla was a model for a ten-movement work. My piece is not nearly as dense.) You’ll drive yourself crazy making such comparisons. But, it is a 75-minute extended aural experience. Hills and valleys, ups and downs, boredom and excitement, laughs and….not-laughs. An overarching experience for over an hour.”

Murray/Allen/Carrington – 6.20.15 – JazzLive International Festival, Pittsburgh, PA

The 2015 Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival took place in Pittsburgh’s downtown cultural district this past weekend.  As I said in a post about last year’s festival, I’m just not the target audience for this.  As someone who cares enough about the local jazz scene to write a blog about it, I would think that I should be.  But once again, with a lineup full of vocalists, Latin flavors, and fluff, I was just not all that interested.

The one act that did motivate me to head downtown on Saturday was a trio made up saxophonist David Murray, pianist Geri Allen, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.  The set had some great moments as well as a few that were much more subdued than I had expected or hoped for.  The highlight for me was probably the last song of the set, a piece that Murray said was an unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition, which exhibited the type of energy I had hoped for throughout.

Daniel Carter, William Parker, Federico Ughi ft. Watson Jennison- 5.28.15 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

William Parker – bass
Daniel Carter – soprano sax
Watson Jennison – flute
Federico Ughi – drums

While sitting at the upstairs bar at the Thunderbird Cafe awaiting William Parker and company to take the stage, a woman sat down near me and said, “Are you guys here for the music?”.  I said that I was and then, shortly after, she said something like, “So what are some places around town where I can see jazz……like, THIS stuff?  NOT, you know……like…..ELEVATOR jazz.”  I stumbled for a second, and I know I left out some places, but told her that lately, the T-Bird, occasionally James Street, and anything Ben Opie is involved with is pretty much it.

That conversation was a nice prelude to the set of music that followed it.  By saying “THIS stuff”, I don’t think she necessarily meant anything as specific as “Free” jazz or “Avant-garde” or whatever.  I took it to mean real jazz or just real music.  The Daniel Carter/William Parker/Federico Ughi/Watson Jennison Quartet plays real music.  This was what I enjoyed most about their 90 minute set last night…the spontaneity, the “now-ness”, the seeming lack of any feeling of obligation to “entertain” a certain group of people.

The set, overall, was a bit loose and varied.  I felt that it could have been slightly more cohesive and focused.  It also could have been, and I sort of expected it to be, a bit more fiery and intense.  But I thought it was quite enjoyable.  Jennison and Carter (and even Parker) played such a variety of woodwinds and brass instruments that I couldn’t list them all here. Carter had more of a lead role, mostly on saxophones, for most of the set while Watson Jennison sort of filled in with alot of nice atmospheric, textural type sounds.  Parker’s bass could have been turned up, but the audience was quiet enough throughout that it could definitely be heard.

Since I was seated in the back of the room, I didn’t really have a chance for any really good photos or videos.  Maybe somebody near the front was more fortunate.  But I did manage to capture a few minutes of shaky footage on my phone shown in the video above.  A clip like this doesn’t really do this music justice.  You kind of have to be there.  But it does give you a glimpse.  Enjoy.

Matt Booth’s Palindromes – 1.13.15 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Ben Opie – alto sax
John Petrucelli – tenor sax
Matt Booth – bass
Jeff Grubbs – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Matt Booth
brought another incredible version of his jazz project Palindromes to the Thunderbird last night as part of the weekly Space Exchange series. Some of the more intriguing Space Exchange nights in recent memory have been Booth’s due largely to the revolving cast of Pittsburgh’s finest jazz musicians that he invites to be part of his group. Last night’s lineup consisted of two saxes, two basses, and a drummer.

There have been very few occasions when I’ve seen two bass players in a band, so I made sure to clear my schedule for this one. I sort of assumed that one of the basses would have been an electric and the other an acoustic upright. Booth and Jeff Grubbs, however, both played upright acoustic basses with each player utilizing a bow at various points in the set. There is something about a group of people making music with basically just wood and metal that is just so human and raw and awesome.

palindromes_1.13Booth’s quintet delivered two sets that included compositions by Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane among others. The music was exploratory and captivating. The first set seemed slightly more composed overall whereas the second seemed slightly more free and adventurous. I’m not a huge fan of the more extreme and chaotic side of the free/avant jazz world. But I really enjoyed the place where these guys took the music last night. It was easy to get lost in sound which to me is a wonderful thing on a cold Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. I’d love to see this group play again and I know I’m not alone.

Thoth Trio – 2.25.14 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA


Thoth Trio

Ben Opie – saxophone
Paul Thompson – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Last night’s Space Exchange was the first one I’ve been to in a while.  Actually, it’s the first show of any kind that I’ve attended in quite some time.  The weather this winter has been awful and has not motivated me to leave the house much.  But I hadn’t seen Thoth Trio in over a year and I wanted to hear some live jazz.

The “Thoth” in Thoth Trio comes from the first letters of the musicians’ last names, THompson, Opie, THrockmorton.  (I somehow just figured that out last night!)  As I’ve said on the blog before, this trio is probably my favorite jazz group in town.  I love all of the configurations that these guys play in (OPEK, Flexure, Throckmorton Quartet), but Thoth just kills every time.  Last night was no exception.  This may have been only the 2nd or 3rd Space Exchange night where I’ve actually stayed for the entire performance.  And as a perfect close to that performance, the band honored my request for Sonny Clark’s “Voodoo” and it was fantastic.

Here’s a video I shot in the 2nd set.  Enjoy!

Lina Allemano Four – 9.17.13 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Lina Allemano – trumpet
Brodie West – alto saxophone
Andrew Downing – bass
Nick Fraser – drums

Last night’s Space Exchange at the T-Bird featured Canadian jazz quartet, the Lina Allemano Four.  It was a refreshing break from the normal projects of Opie, Throck, Parker, & Booth and, in keeping with all other Space Exchange shows, there was no charge to get in, although I definitely would have paid a couple of bucks to see this group.

Having arrived late after leaving the Pirates game, I still managed to catch a few tunes, as well as couple of Lina’s little stories between songs which kept the vibe light and positive.  Mike Shanley of the City Paper wrote a nice article about the quartet in this week’s edition.

The first tune I caught was a newer piece called “Middle Finger”, which according to Allemano is dedicated to the mayor of Toronto (I’m pretty sure it was Toronto).  Here’s a video of that performance.  Enjoy!