Butterfly Garden @ Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA – 2017

Something wonderfully beautiful, simple, and mesmerizing is currently happening at Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory.  The 120 year old facility’s Stove Room has been transformed into their annual Butterfly Forest.  This year (and maybe in years past ?), a incredible ambient soundscape entitled Kaleidoscope was created by CMU students that plays throughout the entire room and greatly enhances the experience.

From the Experimental Sound Synthesis website:

The students in this course designed their sonic compositions to support and uplift the experience of visitors walking amongst the butterflies. They also wrote code that makes their sound pieces into “generative” compositions – the sounds that one hears are created through algorithms that produce continuously changing sound experiences.

I was there on the 4th of July with family and friends and if it wasn’t for the heat (Phipps IS a giant greenhouse!), I honestly could have stayed in this room all day.  I’ve been to Phipps many times and this is one of the best (if not THE best) things I’ve ever seen there. The exhibit runs though September and I will definitely be back for at least one or two more visits. It’s a truly serene and meditative experience.  Here are a few of the compositions from Soundcloud.


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

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.

UPDATE (7.27.17):  Check out the complete audio from the show…..





Peter Evans Septet – 4.11.17 – Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA


Peter Evans – trumpet
Mazz Swift – violin
Sam Pluta – live electronics
Ron Stabinsky – piano, synth
Tom Blancarte – bass
Levy Lorenzo – percussion, live electronics
Jim Black – drums, electronics

Last evening, I went to check out trumpet player Peter Evans and his septet at the Warhol Museum.  I really like the small theater/auditorium there and I’ve seen a few pretty incredible sets over the past few years.  The set last night was another to add to the list.

The most intriguing and over-arching element throughout the whole set, to me, was the combination/mixing/blending/balance of acoustic instruments and electronics.  This was obvious from the very beginning of the continuous 50 minute set. Mazz Swift (violin) and Sam Pluta (electronics/modular synth/laptop) started together for at least a couple of minutes before any other members played a single note. It was like simultaneously looking into the past as well as at a version of the future as depicted in sci-fi movies.  I thought it was somewhat fitting that the bass player wore a Star Wars t-shirt.  Some of the sounds created by Pluta throughout the night definitely approached R2D2 territory.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  At certain points within the set, one side of the ensemble would sort of take over the other (electro vs. acoustic), but they would always come back to a beautiful and interesting blend.

I really dug this show.  It was one where I found myself closing my eyes and just absorbing the sound in the room and it felt really nice. I’m not always the best at describing music or musical performances in a very technical or even interesting way.  It’s really all inside my head and difficult to put into words.  But, I like shit like this that makes me think about things like good/evil, past/future, yin/yang, chaos/bliss, etc etc etc. There were two shows I wanted to attend this week but I could only pick one.  Since I’ve seen Charlie Hunter a bunch of times (playing Club Cafe on Saturday btw), I’m really happy I got to see something new and truly unique.

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.

Deantoni Parks – Technoself (2015)

Drummer Deantoni Parks is ridiculous…in the greatest way possible.  I first heard of Parks when he was playing in the eclectic New York-based band Kudu around 2001 or so.  Around that same time he also played an insane drum & bass/jungle beat on a track entitled “Frequency One” on DJ Logic’s The Anomaly record (Ropeadope).  At the time, this beat and Parks’ playing blew my mind!

Tomorrow, Parks is releasing a new record entitled Technoself on the Leaving Records/Stones Throw label.  Technoself features Parks solo on a drum kit and sampler played live with no loops or overdubs…and it’s pretty amazing.  Here’s a video of from the 2014 dublab anniversary concert…

The album is currently streaming on Soundcloud but you can buy it in a variety on formats at the Stones Throw online store.  Get it!

Herbie Hancock Tribute by Mark de Clive-Lowe

Musician/composer/beat maker Mark de Clive-Lowe recently performed a live Herbie Hancock tribute set at the Lock & Key Bar in LA.  The 90 minute set spans Herbie’s entire career and is now available to stream on Mixcloud.  This has been the soundtrack to my day so far.  Here’s the setlist…

Oliloqui Valley
Watermelon Man
Trust Me
Steppin In It
Sun Touch
You’ll Know When You Get There
Death Wish (Main Title)
Stars In Your Eyes
Fat Albert Rotunda
Ready Or Not
Knee Deep
Hang Up Your Hang Ups
Wiggle Waggle
I Have a Dream
Kuru/Speak Like A Child
Jack Rabbit
Maiden Voyage
Survival of the Fittest
St Louis Blues

Rob Mazurek & Black Cube SP – 4.10.15 – Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Rob Mazurek – Cornet, Electronics
Guilherme Granado – Keyboards, Synths, Sampler
Thomas Rohrer – Rabeca, Electronics, Soprano Saxophone
Mauricio Takara – Drums, Cavaquinho

Circumstances beyond my control have caused me to miss quite a few shows around town within the last couple of months….Rakim at Mr. Smalls, Ben Goldberg Trio at the T-Bird, and Cory Henry at the T-Bird just to name a few.  The Rob Mazurek show at the Warhol last night was not going to be another missed opportunity.  To be sure of this, I bought tickets early and cleared my schedule.  I attended Mazurek’s last two performances at the Warhol (Sao Paulo Underground & Starlicker) and both were incredible.  So I was REALLY looking forward to this.

bcsp_tickThis project, called Black Cube SP, is basically Mazurek’s Sao Paulo Underground trio with the addition of Thomas Rohrer on various instruments including the Rebeca (a Brazilian fiddle), electronics, and soprano saxophone.  I don’t think you could describe or classify this music in one or two words.  It’s not “jazz”, but like much of the music I love, “jazz” might just be the easiest and most appropriate word to apply to it.  It’s heavy on rhythm which I love.  The bass tone provided by Granado’s keys is warm, heavy and pulsating.  As was Takara’s kick drum.  These guys are from Brazil so there is a definite tropicalia vibe throughout all of the pieces. Takara’s drumming has a real human element that is hard for me to put into words but it’s great.

The set was sort of a dense eclectic stew of electronics, heavy rhythms, textures and voice with Mazurek’s cornet shining on top of it all. The dynamics were fantastic as they went from spaced out loose atmospheric stuff, to heavy droney type material, to driving rock-ish grooves.  Again, it’s hard for me to really put it into words.  It’s just something you need to sit down and experience for yourself.

The video above was from earlier in the set. In it, they touch upon a few different types of pieces giving you somewhat of an idea of what the 2 hour program was like.  Enjoy!


DRKWAV (Skerik, Medeski, Deitch) – The Purge (Feb. 24, 2015)

Saxophonist Skerik (Garage a Trois, Dead Kenny G’s, Critters Buggin), keyboardist John Medeski (MMW, The Word), and drummer Adam Deitch (Lettuce, Break Science) have formed a new-ish trio project called DRKWAV.  They’ve played a few gigs together over the past few years but, until recently, had not yet taken the project into the studio. Their debut album, The Purge, will be released on February 24th by Royal Potato Family records.  The label calls it:

“…an entirely uncompromising debut album that delves deep into the psychedelic corners of the human psyche…. DRKWAV conjure a wall of intricately detailed sound. Each of The Purge’s eight tracks seemingly designed as cinematic overture. True to its name, the trio revels in the pitch black, yet continually discover beauty and shed light through sonic exploration.”

DRKWAV will be touring in support of the release. Unfortunately (for me), the closest stop to Pittsburgh is in Ardmore (Philly) or DC.  Here are the rest of the dates…

02/28 – Asylum – Portland, ME
03/05 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
03/06 – Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA
03/07 – The Hamilton – Washington, DC
03/13 & 03/14 – Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom – Denver, CO

Here’s a video (not mine) of DRKWAV playing at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge from 2012.  Enjoy!

Beauty Slap – 11.15.14 – Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA

This weekend started with disappointment about being unable to make it to Mr. Small’s Theater for DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist playing a set using hand picked records from Afrika Bambaata’s personal collection. However, if this show had been taking place back in 2004 versus 2014, I would have been CRUSHED.  Now I can live with missing a DJ set even if it is by two of my favorite DJ’s of all time.  So, I looked forward to Saturday night when I was going to have some free time to hang out with a good friend that I don’t see very often these days.  The only thing of interest that I knew was happening was a Horace Silver tribute at James Street Gastropub featuring six local jazz all-stars.  I can’t say that I’m the biggest Horace Silver fan. Not one of his records as a leader comes to mind as something I’ve really really loved.  But a night of live jazz at James Street with a good friend can’t be a bad thing.

Part of my free time early on Saturday was filled by a trip to Jerry’s Records and a couple of slices at Mineo’s.  While at Mineo’s, I normally like to look at the City Paper mostly to see what shows are coming up in town.  Well, my plans for the evening immediately changed as soon as I began reading a feature about local DJ/producer Jake Berntsen’s live project called Beauty Slap and their performance at the Altar Bar in the Strip District that very evening.  The band is made up of students from Carnegie Mellon University and includes Jake on an Ableton Live interface and keys, an electric guitarist, and a six piece horn section.  I had heard of this project a little while back and I knew it was something I needed to witness on stage.

The start time for the show was listed as 7:00.  So we were surprised to discover that none of openers had even starting playing yet when we arrived at 9:00.  Beauty Slap was scheduled to start at 11:00.  Since James Street is almost literally right across the river from The Strip, we figured we could catch some of the Horace Silver tribute after all.  We walked into the lower level “Speakeasy” section of the three story restaurant which was totally packed with seated attentive 40-70 somethings.

The guys on stage were all familiar to me and included Alton Merrill, Thomas Wendt, James Moore, Jeff Bush, Eric DeFade, and Paul Thompson. Again, all excellent musicians and Pittsburgh jazz all-stars for sure.  We arrived in time to catch two songs before they took a set break, so our timing wasn’t great.  But those songs sparked a conversation with my friend, a fine arts professor at a local university, about jazz, music and art.  Some points that came up were things like  “What is jazz?”, “Is jazz art?”, “Is music art?”, “What is art?”, “Couldn’t I just pull my phone from my pocket and retrieve every Horace Silver recording within seconds to enjoy anywhere?” etc.

What we witnessed was a very traditional, very safe, hard-bop/post-bop style that featured a “solo….clap, solo….clap, solo….clap” routine that people seem to eat up.  This was a Horace Silver tribute night so the style was right in line with what we expected. No surprises here. But to me, the music lacked real genuine grit, intensity, exploration, and a sense of 2014, AKA “now”.   Shawn explained that a big part of art, whether visual and sound, is “now”, “the present moment” and a reaction to it and reflection of it.  The music this sextet played last night was originally recorded in the 1950’s or early to mid-60’s.  This was the music of 60 years ago, definitely not the music of 2014.  The best analogy we could come up with is a Civil War reenactment.  It’s pure theater.  And people love it (or act like they do).

Through my experiences with live jazz in this city over the past few years I’ve determined that this is just a Pittsburgh phenomenon, tribute night or otherwise. This is the norm.  Shawn seems to think it’s broader and more of an American phenomenon. The approach is just so academic and scientific.  In fact, two of the six musicians were introduced with “Doctor” in front of their names.  I suppose the reason why I’ve become such a dedicated follower of Ben Opie and his projects is that he is the first guy in town who comes to mind who is keeping up with the present, the “now”.  (In fact, I’ve actually intentionally refrained from posting anything lately about Thoth Trio shows as to not make this blog seem like a Ben Opie/Dave Throckmorton fan club page!) But, having said that, I’m in no way disrespecting or downplaying the talent of the musicians who WERE on that stage last night, especially Paul Thompson and Tom Wendt. I do think it’s extremely important to know the history and roots of “jazz” music and I actually really do love most of that stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. But it just seems like in Pittsburgh, very few talented individuals want to push it beyond that.

So, a discussion about music, jazz, art, and creativity in 2014 was well underway.  I couldn’t think of a better way to continue this discussion than by going back to the Altar Bar to see a group of eight 20-somethings play something far different than what was happening right across the river at James Street.


Beauty Slap doesn’t play jazz.  But as mentioned above, “What is jazz in 2014 anyway?”.  What they do play is a horn-heavy, lively, instrumental dance music that sounds great at a high volume.  Band leader Jake Berntsen manipulates the beats in Ableton Live by using an audio interface and keyboard while sort of leading and conducting a powerful horn section.  The City Paper article I referenced above says that they changed band’s name from Jakeisrain and the C Street Brass to Beauty Slap.  But, there’s no question that this is his project.  The well rehearsed set lasted a little over an hour and was well received by the younger audience.  The energy was high, the bass was heavy and the horns were big.  It was exactly what I had hoped for.  Besides being a DJ, producer, and songwriter, their website lists Jake as a pianist as well and I think some more live keys could have made this set even better, along with more volume on the horns which wasn’t the band’s fault.  I’m interested to see where a project like this will go.  With so many younger guys in the group, I won’t be too shocked if this ends up being short lived.  But, hopefully, I’ll be able to catch at least another set by this talented local group.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead (2014)

The official release date for You’re Dead, the new album by LA-based producer Flying Lotus is tomorrow, 10/7.  To say that I’ve been looking forward to hearing this record is quite an understatement.  So, imagine my level of excitement when I randomly found a copy of You’re Dead on vinyl at a local record store on Saturday (3 days before the official release).  I’m not sure if the street date was broken, which means it’s fair game for everyone to start selling it early, or if they had it out by mistake.  Either way, I was afraid to ask the girl at the register thinking she would realize the mistake and grab it out of my hands!

Having only listened to the first LP of the 2LP set so far, I can’t comment too much beyond saying that it’s pretty incredible.  The video above is one of the few tracks that features bassist Thundercat and HERBIE HANCOCK!  Ever since the release of FlyLo’s Cosmogramma LP, I kind of saw his music as an example of what the current state of jazz SHOULD sound like. Long before the Herbie collaboration, I said that if Miles were alive, I think he’d be very into Flying Lotus.  From what I’ve heard so far, I think this new record sort of confirms that. I can’t wait to sit down with this one over the next week or so.