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.


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…..





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!

Record Scores – 1.5.14


Eddie Henderson
1976 – Blue Note

This is some great mid-70’s jazz funk in the same vein as Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters or Man Child.  Before finding this, I had only ever heard the track “Kudu” on a Blue Break Beats compilation.  I sometimes shy away from mid to late 70’s records but this one is fantastic.  Here’s the last track on the record entitled “Dark Shadow”.  Enjoy!


RANDOM RECORD OF THE DAY – Miroslav Vitous – “Magical Shepherd” – 1976


Magical Shepherd (1976 Warner Bros.) by bassist Miroslav Vitous randomly made it to my turntable last night.  The entire record features Herbie Hancock on keys giving it a heavy Headhunters,Thrust, Man-Child kind of vibe.  This was part of a small collection I bought in the summer and this is really the first time I’ve been able to turn it up and enjoy it.  This is some serious spaced out, jazzy, disco funk.  I’m not crazy about the vocals that show up on a few of the tracks but they do add an certain element of mystique and psychedelia which really works here.

Here’s a video of the second track on side A entitled “New York City”.  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!

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Gamak – 6.8.13 – Pittsburgh, PA


Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Gamak
Jazz Live International Festival
Pittsburgh, PA

Rudresh Mahanthappa – sax
David Fiuczynski – guitar
Francois Moutin – bass
Dan Weiss – drums

The two sets that I really wanted to see on Saturday at the 3rd Annual Jazz Live International Festival in Pittsburgh were Pat Martino Trio and Rudresh Mahanthappa.  As the day progressed I realized that I would not be able to be there for both and that I had to choose one.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Mahanthappa and that appealed to me, so I chose this set.

I wish I could have gotten a bit closer to the stage., but this year there was a VIP section of seats right in front.  I assume they were selling weekend VIP passes and offering seats for those who paid.  The festival was free to the rest of us, so we had to stand along the sides and in back.  I’m not sure if this was a great idea on the organizers’ part since almost all of the VIP seats were empty.  Rudresh even commented on the all of the empty seats before they started saying something like, “Are you guys not allowed to sit up here?  I have one extra pass that you all can share!”  But, it was a cool set.  It would have been great to have seen Pat Martino, but I think I made the right decision.

Jerry’s Records – 3.17.13


The jazz room at Jerry’s Records, Pittsburgh, PA
(one of my favorite places in the entire city)

I needed a couple of things from Galaxie Electronics today.  Galaxie is next door to, actually inside of Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill.  I didn’t have much time, but I stopped over at Jerry’s first to take a “quick” look.  Well, today was one of those days where I could have spent at least an hour and probably at least 50 bucks.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have an hour and I only had $9.

Coincidentally, Jerry had Miles Davis’ In Concert double LP.  How much?  9 bucks.  So, being a sucker for any Miles Davis record that I don’t already own, I had to buy it.  He also had a nice copy of Big Fun, but I already own and love that one.  I never did make it over to Galaxie for the record sleeves I needed since both stores are cash only.  But, I did walk away with a nice clean Miles LP.