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.

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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!

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio – 9.19.15 – New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

Saturday was one of those days.  A day that somehow turns out even better than expected. I knew that Dr. Lonnie Smith and his trio should be pretty good at the Hazlett, but somehow they managed to far exceed my expectations.  Even more unexpected that day was one particular crate of records at Jerry’s that forced a rare in-store ATM visit.

Organist Lonnie Smith is one of the best and also one of the last guys from the late-60’s/early 70’s funky soul jazz era still around.  After passing on seeing Lou Donaldson a couple of years ago, I was not going to let that happen again on Saturday. Not only is Smith still around, he’s still keeping it real and making some truly great relevant jazz.  For this performance he brought along guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Kendrick Scott, both of whom sounded incredible all night.  I’m somewhat familiar with Lonnie’s work from recent years and I knew that he’s hasn’t been just going through the motions for the sake of getting paid.  This was definitely true on this night.

After a short story from Lonnie about playing with George Benson in Pittsburgh many years ago, the trio started off with a darker spacey intro that lead into a really tight, almost hip-hop sort of groove entitled “Back Track”.  That set the tone for two sets of music that covered quite a few sides of the jazz spectrum, not just soul jazz.  Some highlights for me were the aforementioned opening piece, a ripping “Mellow Mood” which was not so mellow at all, an intense take on “My Favorite Things” (see video above), some amazing blues piece that featured some vocals/singing by Lonnie that was just so deep and delicate, and a moment where Lonnie played his cane like an electric bass!  Yes, a metal walking cane that he secretly plugged into an amplifier during a faux closer of sorts. (This is impossible to explain without it sounding like pure novelty.  I think you really had to be there to appreciate this.)  Mike Shanley wrote a great review of the show that is MUCH better than mine. Check it out on his Shanley On Music blog HERE.

The show was presented by Kente Arts Alliance.  This Pittsburgh-based arts organization has brought many great performers to Pittsburgh over the past few years including Roy Haynes, Roy Ayers, Pharoah Sanders, The Last Poets, and many more.  Upcoming shows include the Billy Harper Sextet on 12/15/15 and Jeff “Tain” Watts on 2/12/16. Be sure to check out Kente’s website and support their shows so that they keep bringing in performers of this caliber.

So, that was how my day ended, but the beginning was not so bad either.  During my weekly/bi-weekly trip to Jerry’s Records, I stumbled upon a crate of records unlike the normal Jerry’s stock. I didn’t ask him about it, but he might have recently bought a collection of hip-hop, funk, soul from a DJ.  These records weren’t super rare or anything, but certainly not something you find at Jerry’s very often, if ever, and they were very clean.  Since I didn’t want to spend $100 on records that day, I had to pass on several things that I REALLY wanted, but I ended up with a few great ones.   I’d love to hear about the records that were pulled out out of that crate before I got to it….or maybe I wouldn’t.  Here are a few of my scores…

DTC Organ Trio – 8.30.15 – Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA

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

This past Sunday was the last in a short run of free jazz concerts that I’ve attended this summer and it was certainly not a bad one to end on.  The DTC Organ Trio (AKA Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton) presented the loyal Reservoir of Jazz series audience with two sets of tasteful and soulful organ jazz.

This was just my second time seeing this group and I enjoyed it just as much this time as the last.  All three musicians are incredible.  Anyone familiar with this site knows that I’m a pretty big Throck fan.  In this trio, I think that he adds a certain raw spontaneity whereas other drummers might have a tendency to go too smooth on this material.  I also dug the arrangements especially a reggae-infused take on “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus, which was actually written by Stevie Wonder as Barnes informed the audience, as well as their version of Duke Ellington‘s “Caravan” as shown in the shown video above.

People really do come out for these shows, as well they should.  I’m not always into the performers at these things, but the last three weeks at Highland Park have been incredible.  The crowd seemed to really enjoy this one, as is visible in the pic of some dancers near the front of the stage.

As the spokesman for the group, Cliff Barnes mentioned that the trio has recently recorded an album that should be released shortly.  So, be sure to support good local music and look for (and buy!) that one.