Sound/Unsound – 6.10.17 – The Space Upstairs (VIDEO/PICS)

Sound/Unsound:
Ben Opie – saxophone/electronics/samples
Josh Wulff – guitar
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Saturday was my friend Ben’s birthday.  Coincidentally, Saturday was also the night of a Sound/Unsound show at The Space Upstairs, which is literally a block from Ben’s house.  So, it was a pretty natural fit to get a few people together for a little pregame and then walk over to the show.

My appreciation of Ben Opie and Dave Throckmorton has been well documented on this site.  But, this was my first time seeing them with guitarist Josh Wulff under the name Sound/Unsound.  I had seen Wulff in a somewhat similar project a few years ago with Throck entitled Smash Your Wagon.

Sound/Unsound is a change of pace from other Opie/Throckmorton collaborations Thoth Trio, Flexure, OPEK, etc. Here we find Ben Opie experimenting more with samples and electronic textures than playing alto sax.  Wulff’s effects-heavy guitar also pushes the project into much different territory.  I spoke with Throck briefly during the break and he commented that the band was little more groove oriented and more aggressive on this particular night than what can be heard on the CD they were celebrating the release of entitled 15728.  After buying and listening to the CD, I can agree that this was certainly the case.  The music on the disc (all improvised btw just like the music on Saturday night) is more subdued and textural and slightly darker. Check out Mike Shanley‘s review in the City Paper here.  Overall, despite the room being a bit hot and sticky, this was a great show.  Be sure to support these guys (and local music in general) by buying a copy of the CD HERE or locally from Juke Records in Bloomfield. 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.

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.

 

 

 

Pittonkatonk / Record Fest – 5.7.16

pittonk_5.7.16

Saturday was good.  I got to spend time with family, drink a few (well maybe more than a few) beers, see one of my favorite bands (who happened to play a couple of songs by a favorite musician of all time), sell a few records, buy a couple of records, and bullshit with a great local MC.  Yeah, it was all happening and it was pretty great.

The third annual Pittonkatonk Fest was taking place in Schenley Park here in Pittsburgh.  I had a blast at last year’s edition and I was really looking forward to this one.  The forecast was calling for early-evening storms, so I was super glad to find out that Opek was going on fairly early at 3:30.  There’s not much more that I need to say about Ben Opie and his various projects that I haven’t said on the blog already other than that Opek doesn’t play nearly enough these days and that it was really nice to see this stripped down guitar-less version.  The jazz/funk/big band vibe was much different than most of the other bands playing that day.  But, it was refreshing and the crowd really dug it.  Of the 6 or 7 (?) songs in their set, two were Miles Davis pieces and favorites of mine, “It’s About That Time” and “Jean-Pierre”.  Here’s a short video of their funky take on “Jean-Pierre”.  I would have recorded the whole song if I didn’t get the infamous “storage full” warning on my phone. Apologies to George Jones for cutting off his conga solo!

The next stop for me was home to grab a few crates of records to sell at Spirit in Lawrenceville.  The Pittsburgh Record Fest has been happening biannually for years now, and this was probably the 6th or 7th that I’ve sold at.  As usual, the room was filled with a bunch of great records and I had to use great restraint to avoid spending most or all of the money I made.  But for the money, I did come away with two good ones that I’ve never seen before.  I also got to chat with local rapper/producer Moemaw Naedon who happened to be my neighbor for the night.  If if don’t know about him, you need to check him out ASAP.  I’m a fan of his work and it was nice talking with him about music, digging, concerts, stolen shoes, whatever.

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After the sale, I made my way downstairs to finally try the pizza from Slice Island and meet up with some more friends.  DJ Tom Cox, who I know from the period of time that 720 Records was located inside of Jerry’s, was in the booth rocking a 720 t-shirt printed by yours truly.  Overall, this was a really fun and diverse Saturday well spent with family and friends new and old. Now that summer is approaching, I’m looking forward to many more like it.

 

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.”

UPCOMING: Ben Opie – Concerto for Orkestra – 4/12/16 – Kelly-Strayhorn Theater

12814799_10153821898172891_4860869732903026823_nPittsburgh-based saxophonist, composer, and innovator, Ben Opie will bring an all-star ensemble to the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater this Tuesday to perform his symphonic suite entitled Concerto For Orkestra.  This will be just the second time and possibly (but hopefully NOT) the last time that this music is being performed for an audience.

I was fortunate enough to attend it’s debut back in May of 2014 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side. You can check out my thoughts here.  Overall, the piece is very cinematic, diverse, intriguing and extremely cool.  Ben provided a nice description of the movements on his blog.  I’m not yet sure if the lineup of musicians (including Jazz Orbits favorites Dave Throckmorton, Paul Thompson, Lou Stellute, Ian Gordon, etc.) will be the same, but I assume most, if not all, will be returning from the 2014 performance.

If you will be in Pittsburgh, around Pittsburgh, or are able to find a cheap flight!, I strongly urge you to make plans to be there.  You do not want to sleep on this one!  Advance tickets are still available.  $15 advance and $20 at the door.  I hope to see you there.

Here’s a video of the movement entitled “Incline”.  Enjoy!

Throckmorton 4 – 2.23.16 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Dave Throckmorton – drums
Ben Opie – electronics/saxophone
John Shannon – guitar
Paul Thompson – bass

Drummer Dave Throckmorton dusted off his jazz/fusion/electronic/hip-hop/ambient/groove quartet for a performance at the Thunderbird Cafe last night. He mentioned that this project had been “on the back burner” for a while, but that he thought it was time to bring it down off the shelf.

To me, or anyone else familiar with Throck’s work over the years, this group is sort of a rebooted/reincarnated all-instrumental and less-hip-hop version of BEAM, which also featured Paul Thompson on bass and had a very similar vibe.  The last few appearances of this group, billed last night as the Throckmorton 4, featured former-Pittsburgher Chris Parker on guitar. Filling in for Parker last night (on a flying V guitar I might add!) was John Shannon.  The show consisted of two long sets of almost non-stop improvised genre-spanning music that always maintained a deep Throck/PT groove.

Being a huge fan of these guys, I always look forward to seeing any and every one of the various Opie/Thompson/Throck projects (Thoth Trio, Flexure, Opek, etc.).  I can’t really say that I have a favorite (although it might be Thoth), but I certainly wouldn’t mind if Throck decided to keep this one on the front burner for just a little while longer.

Flexure – 6.9.15 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Ben Opie – saxophone
Ian Gordon – trumpet
Paul Thompson – bass
George Jones – percussion
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Flexure, Ben Opie‘s (normally) electric sextet that brings to mind the dark groove of Miles Daviswork from the ’70’s, changed things up a bit for a performance at the Thunderbird Cafe this past Tuesday.  Due to the frequent absence of guitarist Chris Parker, the group decided to try out an all acoustic quintet format.  The result was obviously quite different but, to me, just as incredible.  There wasn’t as much atmospheric sort of texture or layering, but the key characteristics (strong rhythm, interesting melodies, and blazing solos) were unchanged.  I caught one of those solos on the video above played by Opie in an original tune entitled “Lime”.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that Flexure (along with Opie’s other projects Thoth Trio and Opek) are my favorite musical acts/projects in Pittsburgh by far.  Those of us who live around here are EXTREMELY fortunate to be able to see these guys perform in small local venues, especially being as though most of them are free of charge.  I strongly recommend for anyone who lives elsewhere (or locals who have slept on it) to go get a copy of Flexure’s limited edition 2013 vinyl Insert Title Here LP.  I believe there are still a few available.  You can purchase one HERE.  Don’t miss out!