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!

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!

Dave Throckmorton Trio – 4.18.15 – James Street, Pittsburgh, PA

Chris Parker – guitar
Tony Grey – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Last night, Dave Throckmorton brought a trio of familiar faces to James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy for three sets of eclectic and electric music.  I was fortunate enough to catch parts of two of those sets.

When I arrived, the trio was about halfway through Eddie Harris‘ “Freedom Jazz Dance”.  After that, they played a sort of reggae-ish version of Miles Davis‘ “Blue In Green” reminiscent of Jeremy Taylor‘s take from his Reggae Interpretation of Kind of Blue which was re-released a few years ago.

The video above was taken in the second set and I’m pretty sure the song was entitled “Awaken”.  Of all of the videos I’ve posted in the last few years, this might just be the first one that features a Throck solo.  Enjoy!

Chris Parker 3 – 11.25.14 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Chris Parker – guitar
Matt Booth – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

Last night, I was able to make a brief visit to the Thunderbird for this week’s Space Exchange featuring guitarist Chris Parker accompanied by Dave Throckmorton and Matt Booth.  I don’t know Chris personally but I heard that he had moved from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn a little while back, so his appearances at the Space Exchange series have been more scarce than in years past.  Maybe this is the reason that this was one of the most heavily attended Space Exchanges I’ve been to.  Or maybe it was just because Chris, Throck, and Booth are incredible musicians whom people should feel extremely fortunate to be able to see for free in such an intimate setting.

For the first time in a while, I did not go to the T-Bird alone!  In fact, the night turned into a mini-date of sorts with my lovely and amazing wife who doesn’t make it out to things like this very often these days.  She is not as big of a jazz fan as I am, but she really enjoyed the rootsy/alt-country/Americana vibe that Chris brings.  There aren’t too many bands that I can think of that can jump from a Sonny Rollins tune into something that sounds like (or was a cover of?) “Chris’s favorite band”, The Band.  It’s a unique blend and it works really well. A while back I posted a video of Chris playing Thelonious Monk‘s “Blue Monk” on slide guitar.  Again, nontraditional but really really good.

From the few songs that we were able to catch I could tell that this was a great night of music.  I wish we could have gotten to the T-Bird earlier and stayed later, but it was nice to see that there were a bunch of people there to hear this trio.  Parker has another Space Exchange scheduled for 12/23 where he’ll play Christmas music accompanied by Ben Opie, Paul Thompson, and Dave Throckmorton.



Ben Opie’s “Concerto For Orkestra” @ The New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA


Friday night was a pretty good night for jazz on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  At the New Hazlett Theater, performing the debut of his “Concerto For Orkestra” piece, was Ben Opie and a beefed-up big band version of OPEK. Opie put together a 16 piece ensemble featuring the usual suspects (Throck, PT, Ian Gordon, Lou Stellute, etc.) as well as some fresh faces (to me) like John Petrucelli and Emmett Goods to perform his first concert length work entitled “Concerto For Orkestra“. Opie discussed the piece and the upcoming performance with Mike Shanley in last week’s City Paper. Check out that interview here.

Max Leake……………..piano
(not listed on program)

Despite the long miserable Winter, this year has gone by quickly so far.  So I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when Ben Opie had asked me if I was coming the show “next week”.  I knew his performance at the Hazlett was happening in the Spring, but I was slightly taken back to discover that May had already arrived.  Having seen Opie perform many times in several different groups and settings, I have a pretty good idea of his style both as a musician and a composer.  But with this concert length work, it was great to get a more thorough look inside his head.

The piece, which probably lasted for about an hour and a half, was much more composed than a normal OPEK show and, to me, very cinematic.  Maybe “cinematic” could be used to describe most composed performances of this type, but it really had all the elements of a good film, i.e. suspense, action, mystery, and even some subtle humor.  I really dig music that has this sort of  “film score” vibe like the music from James Bond films or by composers like Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, and David Axelrod.

Overall, this show was incredible.  Going in, I simultaneously knew and didn’t know what to expect.  But either way, the performance exceeded my expectations.  I hope Ben recorded the set because I’d love to hear it again.  I shot a couple of short videos from the performance and decided to share this one because it features solos by two of my favorite musicians in town, Lou Stellute and Ian Gordon.  This movement is entitled “Incline”.

After leaving the Hazlett, I drove a few short blocks over to James Street to see Pittsburgh drummer/legend, Roger Humphries and his quintet.  Several other people, including quite a few of the musicians from the Opie show, had the same idea.  I’ve actually only seen Humphries play once or twice before and since some members of his quintet from the last performance I attended were playing at the Hazlett with Opie on this particular night, I was curious to see who would be joining him for this gig.  I wasn’t familiar with his saxophone player, local Tony Campbell, but was happy to see Brett Williams on the keys. I only hung out for about 3 songs but was able to catch their take on Stanley Turrentine‘s “Sugar”.

Roger Humphries – drums
Brett Williams – piano
Dwayne Dolphin – bass
Jeff Bush – trombone
Tony Campbell – saxophone

Matt Booth Quartet – 10.8.13 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Matt Booth – bass
Sean Jones – trumpet
Chris Parker – guitar
Dave Throckmorton – drums

It’s been a little while since my last post.  It’s also been a few weeks since I’ve gone to the T-Bird for a Space Exchange night.  Neither are due to lack of interest.  All day yesterday I was thinking that, if time permitted, I might be able to make it down to see Matt Booth‘s Quartet. Then around dinner time, when I got a text message with the lineup, I knew I couldn’t miss it.

Being somewhat of a regular of the Space Exchange Series, I expected Parker and Throck to be part of Booth’s group.  What I never would have guessed is that they would be joined by trumpeter Sean Jones.  I’ve seen Jones play at the Interval jazz night over at Ava in East Liberty a few years ago, so I’m not totally shocked to see him play on a weeknight, at a somewhat mildly attended, free show, but again, I was surprised.  He just strikes me as the suit wearing, crowd pleasing, big money type of musician.  But that is in no way an insult or a put down.  Dude can blow! Seriously. You do not get asked to be the lead trumpet in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra by Wynton Marsalis if you are anything less than incredible.

So, again, I was excited to see this lineup.  All of these guys are great musicians, but I had no idea what it would sound like.  I’d say that of all of the Space Exchange shows I’ve been to, this one was right up there as being one of the most clear cut “jazz” shows.  That’s not to say the music wasn’t dynamic or exploratory, it just really felt like a jazz show.  The set featured some burners as well as some of the most delicate and beautiful pieces I’ve ever heard played in a “bar”.  Overall, it was a cool show. I couldn’t quite stay til the end, but I did make it into the second set long enough to hear their take on Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners”.


Chris Parker Trio (CP3) – “Summertime” (Gershwin) – 8.27.13 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Chris Parker – guitar
Matt Booth – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

This time of the year is always a little bittersweet.  Kids are back to school, football is starting up, and Fall is just a few short weeks away.  Autumn in Pittsburgh brings arguably the best weather of the year – highs in the 70’s, cool evenings, clear crisp sunny days, etc.  However, Fall just means that Winter is coming fast and it’s going to hang around for a LOOOONG time.  So this is the time of the year when I embrace the last few weeks of summer and try not to let go.  Shorts, flip flops, ice cold Mexican beers, reggae, etc.  I LOVE the summertime.

So, for me, it seemed appropriate to post this video from last night’s Space Exchange of the Chris Parker Trio, or CP3, playing George Gershwin’s classic “Summertime“.  This song, no matter which version, has a certain beauty as well as a touch of heartache, which, for me, nicely sums up the emotion that late August brings.  This version, as well as the rest of the show last night, was tip-top.  Enjoy!

Flexure – 8.18.13 – Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA

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!

Paul Thompson Plays Bond – 6.11.13 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Paul Thompson
Plays the Music of James Bond Films
Space Exchange Series
Thunderbird Café, Pittsburgh, PA

Paul Thompson – bass;  Ben Opie – saxophones;  Ian Gordon – trumpet;  Chris Parker – guitar;  Thomas Wendt – drums

Last night, bassist Paul Thompson brought a group to the Thunderbird for the Space Exchange Series to play 2 sets of music from James Bond films. The music in a James Bond film, or any other spy/secret agent movie, plays a integral role in creating the sexy, stylish mystique that the films and the character are known for.  The themes that play along with the montages at the beginning of each film are the most popular and obvious Bond music (think “Diamonds are Forever”,  “Live and Let Die”, etc.).  But it’s the score that accompanies the film itself that really sets the mood and creates the mystique of 007. Thompson and his quintet covered a little bit of everything from the themes to Moonraker and Man With The Golden Gun to more obscure score pieces like “Bond Meets Solitaire”, and they sounded really good doing it.

Last fall, right before Skyfall was released, in anticipation of the film, I was listening to quite a bit of “secret agent music”, which not only consisted of music from Bond movies, but also different things like drum-n-bass, downtempo, and crime jazz,  as well as specific artists like Lalo Schifrin and Erik Truffaz.  I also really got into to the soundtrack to the film, Haywire, by David Holmes, which I thought was much better than the film itself.

When I think of the combination of jazz and James Bond, I automatically think about the 2001 Sex Mob release “Sex Mob Does Bond” on Ropeadope Records.  This record is incredible from start to finish and features several amazing John Berry compositions. I had to leave the show a little early last night so I missed the last few tunes.  I was a bit bummed today when I heard that they closed with “You Only Live Twice”, which is probably my favorite of the Bond themes.  I’m not sure if Thompson’s arrangement sounded anything like this one by Sex Mob, but I’m sure it was very cool either way.