Kamasi Washington – 11.27.17 – Mr. Smalls – Millvale, PA

It could have been the lukewarm reception I got from some friends when I mentioned this show. Or maybe it was the $30 price tag.  Whatever the reason, I did NOT expect to see a line wrapped around the building and down the stairs outside of Mr. Smalls Theater when I arrived at 7:05 last Monday night. Being somewhat of a cheapskate, I don’t like paying service fees when buying tickets and therefore I try to avoid them whenever possible.  What that meant for me on this chilly night was standing in a line for 20 minutes so that I could buy a ticket at the door and go have a few beverages at another less expensive establishment.  While I was mildly unhappy to have to wait in the line, it was SUPER cool to see people excited about jazz!  Think about that, about a hundred people in a line outdoors in November to get into a JAZZ show. It was truly remarkable. I will say that the performance by saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his band were certainly worth the wait as well as the price tag.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t fall in love with Kamasi’s hugely successful 2015 release The Epic (Brainfeeder) or this year’s follow up Harmony of Difference (Young Turks), but I did appreciate them both.  I listen to a good amount of mid to late 60’s era jazz and, although he’s certainly no novelty act, to me these records didn’t really offer anything drastically new or different. Maybe I need to revisit. But what WAS drastically new and different for me was being in a large room (capacity 800) packed full of people to see a jazz group in 2017.  For that I was really excited and appreciative to be able to experience.

Washington’s octet offered a full variety of styles from swing to funk to R&B to 60’s-ish spiritual free jazz and everything in between.  This variety is undoubtedly part of the reason for the popularity. None of this music felt too traditional or stuffy nor was it too intellectual, abstract or mathematical …things that tend to bog down some other current jazz acts IMO.  The set included a mashup of the jazz standard “Cherokee” with Curtis Mayfield-esque funk rhythms.  There was also a shredding key-tar solo and an explanation of why he needs, not one, but TWO “incredibly dope drummers”!  His drummers (one of which was Ronald Bruner Jr., brother of bassist Thundercat) were REALLY good BTW. Overall, the vibe was great, the audience was attentive and diverse, and Washington even brought out his dad Rickey Washington who played soprano sax for rest of the show!  I’m really happy that I chose to attend and to experience this band first hand.  It truly was a beautiful night of music.

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Roger Humphries – “A Night At The Hurricane” – 8.25.17

On Friday evening after dinner, I put on a recently purchased copy of Charles Earland‘s Black Talk LP.  I’ve owned this soul-jazz classic for years, but due to finding a cleaner copy, it had reentered rotation at the house.  About halfway through the last song on the LP, “More Today Than Yesterday“, I got a audio text message from a friend who was at James Street. So I muted the Earland record to listen to what Wayne had sent me….an short audio clip he had just recorded of Roger Humphries and friends playing…..wait for it………..”More Today Than Yesterday”.  No joke! I was aware of the show happening at James Street that night and I was sort of planning on going.  But this message was too much of an awesome coincidence for me to NOT attend.

The show was billed as “A Night At The Hurricane”. The Hurricane was a now-legendary jazz club in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 50’s and 60’s. A ton of soul-jazz and hard bop acts played there over the years including Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Jimmy McGriff and many many more.  On Friday, drummer Roger Humphries put together a quartet of Pittsburgh’s finest to pay tribute to the music that was so often heard at the Hurricane, most specifically organ based soul-jazz.

Humphries’ quartet on this particular evening was assembled with soulful funky organ jazz in mind.  Organist Jimmy McGriff once called the Hurricane  “the Apollo Theater” of the jazz organ universe.  Holding down the organ duties on Friday, and very aptly so, was a veteran of the local scene, Keith Stebler.  I love watching and hearing a great organ player do their thing especially in a group with no bass guitar.  Sometimes, in the late 60’s or very early 70’s, groups would add a bass player in an attempt to deepen the groove or to make the sounds feel more contemporary.  But to me the true organ jazz sound is all about bass lines played with the organist’s left hand (and/or feet!) and Stebler can really hold it down!  Guitarist Mark Strickland, whom I somehow had not seen before, with his clean classic guitar lines was also a great choice for this style.  He just had that perfect tone.  Lou Stellute plays with Humphries quite a bit and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in Pittsburgh playing sax on this night.  Stellute plays hard with a raw intensity and enthusiasm that not many other players can achieve, and once again, it was perfect for this style.

During the one set I was able to catch, the quartet ran though a few staples of the era including Gene Ammons‘ “Red Top” and Erroll Garner’s “Misty” (see video above)  made popular by Richard “Groove” Holmes along with some other tunes that I either can’t remember or don’t know by name.  They sounded great but I have to say that I had hoped for more intensity.  It just wasn’t greasy enough for me.  My favorite tracks of the organ jazz era certainly aren’t the lush ballad type tunes.  They are the raucous, funky, deep, gritty grooves that would be difficult to NOT want to dance to. Think Grant Green‘s live albums,  Lou Donaldson‘s late-60’s Blue Note records, or some of Earland’s or Rusty Bryant‘s late 60’s Prestige catalog, etc etc etc.  But, aside from that, this was an great set of tunes from one of my favorite eras of music played by some of the city’s best musicians and a really dug it.   I hope they do it again… and you should too!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Employees of Funk – 5.13.17 – East End Brewing, Pittsburgh, PA

On Saturday, Pittsburgh’s East End Brewing held held a cool “Crafts & Drafts” event that served as a release party for the new Illustration Ale at their brew pub in Larimer.  Six local artists/illustrators (including one of my all time favorites, Mike Budai) designed the art for the bottles for the limited edition brew.

In edition to craft vendors and food trucks, live music was provided by Pittsburgh’s Employees of Funk. This was my first time seeing or even hearing of these guys and I was pleasantly surprised.  I really dug their style which had more of a raw groove than most brass bands I’ve seen.  I also really liked the song selection which consisted of songs by The Meters, Michael Jackson, and Herbie Hancock in addition to some originals. I’ll be looking forward to seeing these guys again sometime soon.

Booker T. Jones – 8.14.16 – Hartwood Acres

A couple of Sundays ago, the forecast called for rain most of the day.  That forecast was pretty much correct except for when it stopped raining around 6:00 pm.  Luckily for me, and for the rest of Pittsburgh, that was just enough time for the skies to dry up, for the sun to peak through, and for organist Booker T. Jones to take the stage at Hartwood Acres for his Stax Soul Revue.  I had just about ruled it out but when the rain stopped I knew I had to drive out there.  It’s Booker freakin’ T!

When my daughter and I pulled into to large grassy parking area, I thought for a minute that the show had been cancelled.  There were WAY less cars than I am used to seeing at free summer shows at Hartwood.  I assumed this was due to the weather.  But no complaints here.  Even though the start time was pushed back a half an hour or so, a trio came out in front of a relatively small crowd and went right into the intro groove of Booker T’s 1968 hit (w/ the MG’s) “Hang ‘Em High“, before introducing him out to the stage to enthusiastic applause.  Throughout the hit-filled set that included several MG’s tunes, Otis Redding songs and many more, this group was joined by horns and vocalists at various points.  Eventually Booker T even walked out from behind his organ to pick up a guitar for songs like The Beatles‘ “Don’t Let Me Down” and a take on Prince‘s “Purple Rain”.

As is the norm for a free show at Hartwood Acres, we had a great time.  The small crowd allowed for plenty of space for kid stuff like kicking a beach ball, dancing, and just being silly and having fun.  The band sounded great banging out one hit after another and with someone who is Booker T’s age, you never know when they are going to hang it up for good.  This was my second time seeing him perform and it would be really nice if it wasn’t the last.

 

 

Feastival – 8.6.16 – McKees Rocks, PA

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A couple of weeks ago I had some rare free time on a Saturday night. So I decided to take a trip to a neighborhood that I rarely visit just west of Pittsburgh, McKees Rocks.  Feastival is a free event, now in it’s fourth year, that exists mostly to do just this very thing….bring people to McKees Rocks who don’t normally go there. Mission accomplished.  The event is all day festival that features food trucks, merch vendors, beer, and live music. This year, the live music consisted of three nationally touring bands that all play their own brand of funk.  To me, in a region that has it’s fair share of rock ‘n’ roll fans and easily could have gone with all classic rock bands, this was a wonderful choice.

Out of the three bands, none of which I’ve ever seen, the one that was most appealing going in was not the band that I enjoyed the most. I really wanted to finally see Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.  They were about halfway through their set when I got there, but I feel like I got to hear enough of them to know what they were all about.  They have a bit more of a rock vibe than I normally look for in a funk band (they even played a Zeppelin tune).  But something I really dug about their set was the addition of the Steeltown Horns, which is a horn section made up of Pittsburghers Reggie Watkins on trombone, Rick Matt or sax, and J.D. Chaisson on trumpet.

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Brooklyn-based funk band Turkuaz was headlining.  Even though I’ve seen their name many times over the years, I had never made an effort to check them out.  I had actually never even heard any of their music at all. Not one song.  I actually kind of thought they were an Afrobeat band or something.  To my surprise, they were a funky, high-energy party band that really had their shit together.  This may not be the type of music I’d put on at home or in the car very often, but it’s great live.

Overall, this was a cool event.  There was a really nice variety of food vendors and the beer selection was pretty good.  Parking was easy and free.  I ran into some friends that I haven’t seen in a while.  And the music was perfect for a free summer time festival on a warm sunny evening.  Here are a couple of pics of Turkuaz and one of a super cool cupcake camper!

Foundation of Funk – 5.19.16 – Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

For me, last week was filled with anticipation for the Foundation of Funk show on Thursday at the Rex. Neal Evans and Eric Krasno teamed up with original Meters members, Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr. for a five-city mini-tour. Surprisingly (and fortunately) one of the stops was right here in Pittsburgh, PA. Foundation of Funk is a Meters-themed project all the way. And even though I really dig The Meters and their brand of swampy New Orleans funk, the appeal of this show for me rested much more heavily on the Soulive side of the group, i.e. Neal Evans and Kraz.

It’s been a few years since I’ve last seen Soulive perform. I think the last time was probably at the Rex a few years ago with DJ Logic opening. It was around the time that they released their Beatles cover album, Rubber Soulive (2010). So the FoF show got me feeling nostalgic for the time that I was first introduced to the young trio (Neal Evans, Eric Krasno, and drummer Alan Evans) and those few years when they were my favorite band on the planet.

The first time I saw Soulive perform live was sometime in 2000. I’m pretty sure it was the first annual Jammy Awards at Irving Plaza in New York.  After one performance, I was hooked.  Their first release on Velour Records entitled Turn It Out, which remains in my top ten of all time list,  entered into steady rotation, I saw the group play as many times as I could, and I acquired as many live shows on CD-R as I could get my hands on.  Something about these guys and their music just clicked with me immediately.  It was the perfect mix of high-energy funk, soul, groove, jazz, and even a touch of hip-hop.  I had grown disenchanted with most of the jamband scene that had sucked me in a few years prior and I had started to revisit some of the hip-hop I had loved in my youth (i.e. groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Snoop Dogg, etc).  It was also around this time that I had begun to dip my feet into the world of jazz and Soulive turned me on to all kinds of things like Grant Green, Herbie Hancock, Lou Donaldson, etc, etc, etc. which led to the endless rabbit hole that I’m still falling into to this day.

Over the years, Soulive experimented with their sound by adding an array of horns and vocalists to varying degrees of success.  In my opinion, they got slightly off track a bit possibly in an attempt for more mainstream appeal.  Whether this was their choice or their record label’s, I certainly can’t blame them for trying to make some money and/or to keep things fresh from their perspective.  But for me, it was all about the trio.  Some memorable performances, among many, for me from the early period were shows at South Burlington, VT’s Higher Ground, which was one of the first full length shows of theirs I attended, a trio set at the All Good Festival in 2004, and an unforgettable experience at The Tralf in Buffalo, NY in 2002.  It was at this show that I had the opportunity to meet the band as well as Neal and Alan’s mother (and sister?), who were all extremely kind and enthusiastic.  I was a HUGE fan at the time, so this was a big moment for me.  Here’s a pic of one of Alan’s broken snare drum heads that I asked the band to sign.

drumhead

Now, getting back to the Foundation of Funk show, I have to say that despite having a great time, I was slightly let down to hear not one Soulive tune.  Going into this, I knew that this was going to be two original members of The Meters playing Meters’ songs with two of the standout younger funk players on the current scene.  Having said that, I still held out hope that by this third night of the tour, they’d start to come together to perform as more of a group of equals and that this would open up a wider variety of song choices.  I knew this would not sound like Soulive or Lettuce (the two bands Krasno and Evans are a part of), but I think subconsciously, I was itching for some of that vibe.

But, I certainly did have a blast and these guys all sounded incredible.  I was really glad they made Pittsburgh one of the five stops on this short tour.  It’s nice to get a chance to see the legends do their thing because they won’t be around forever.  I shot a short video of The Meters’ most famous tune “Cissy Strut” as shown above.  My storage was full, hence cutting off Kraz’s guitar solo.  But fortunately, someone in the back of the room managed to film and post the entire show which you can check out here.  Enjoy!

The Big Dirty -Short Documentary (2015)

The Big Dirty is a psychedelic funk/jam band from eastern Pennsylvania, more specifically from my hometown of Shamokin, PA.   I’ve known a couple of these guys since we were teenagers. This quartet has been going strong over the last ten years or so within the jamband/festival scene creating an eclectic mix of sound they refer to as their “filthy funky groove”.

The video above is a nicely edited short video featuring the band in both live and rehearsal settings.  I stumbled upon it on a slow day at work and thought that some more people should see it.  I was fortunate enough to be asked to do some design work for the band including the album art for their first record entitled Move! (2008) and was able to see a few of their shows around that time.  Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of these guys on stage or otherwise.  But, it’s very cool to see that they’re still doing their thing.  Be sure to check them out.

Cadillac Club – 2.5.16 – Sweetwater Center For The Arts, Sewickley, PA

Steve Kraus – saxophone
Wayne Smith – guitar
Joel Pace – organ
Jim Powell – drums

Cadillac Club is a Pittsburgh-based quintet (sometimes quartet) that plays funky 60’s-era jazz, soul, boogaloo, etc.  I’m very familiar with them because, well……..this is my band.  I’m the guy behind the drums.  I don’t consider myself a jazz musician, as stated in the ABOUT page on this site, because that would be an insult to so many of the true musicians, jazz or otherwise, that I respect and admire.  But I love music, I own a drum kit, and it’s a total blast to try to play the stuff that I like.

The video above is a tune written by Joe Zawinul made popular by Cannonball Adderley among others, “Mercy Mercy Mercy”.  This was the second set opener in front of a packed house at Sweetwater Center For The Arts in Sewickley, PA on Friday as part of their Sweet Jazz series.  Enjoy!

DTC Organ Trio – 12.29.15 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Dan Wilson – guitar
Cliff Barnes – organ/keys
Dave Throckmorton – drums

For me, last night marked a long overdue return to the Space Exchange Series at the Thunderbird.  Somehow, unintentionally,  a few months had passed since I’ve been there and that’s just way too long to miss out on such consistently solid nights of music.

Without getting too deep or philosophical, I’ve been feeling some concern and sadness about the state of the world lately.  Sometimes, maybe selfishly, I just want to surround myself with people like me.  People with the same values, opinions, interests, etc. (Cue the Cheers theme song.)  So, in an effort to accomplish this on some small level, I went out to a venue and an event that always feels like home.

I’ve seen the Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton Trio (AKA The DTC Organ Trio) a few times now and I’ve really enjoyed them every time.  The term “organ trio” generally brings to mind a certain 1960’s bluesy soul-jazz Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff vibe.  But the DTC Trio brings a different feel to the genre.  These guys have a certain playful or experimental quality and you often don’t know what direction they’re heading. This is shown in the video above of a shape-shifting take on Eric Clapton‘s “Change The World” which stretched to at least 15 minutes.  Drummer Dave Throckmorton, always living up to the “Throck Oc” nickname,  hardly ever plays the straight safe beat you’d expect for this kind of music, which keeps the grooves fresh and dynamic.  Wilson and Barnes are also not afraid to switch it up and play things a little differently, sometimes even from one verse to the next.  Some other highlights of the set were versions on Michael Jackson‘s “I Can’t Help It” and Stevie Wonder‘s “Creepin”.

The T-Bird had a great vibe last night.  I’m not sure if it was due to a holiday week or because of the DTC Organ Trio being awesome, but the room was packed and people were diggin’ the band.   It was definitely the sort of positivity I had hoped for.  Looking forward to plenty more Space Exchange’s in 2016.  Cheers!