Pittonkatonk / Record Fest – 5.7.16


Saturday was good.  I got to spend time with family, drink a few (well maybe more than a few) beers, see one of my favorite bands (who happened to play a couple of songs by a favorite musician of all time), sell a few records, buy a couple of records, and bullshit with a great local MC.  Yeah, it was all happening and it was pretty great.

The third annual Pittonkatonk Fest was taking place in Schenley Park here in Pittsburgh.  I had a blast at last year’s edition and I was really looking forward to this one.  The forecast was calling for early-evening storms, so I was super glad to find out that Opek was going on fairly early at 3:30.  There’s not much more that I need to say about Ben Opie and his various projects that I haven’t said on the blog already other than that Opek doesn’t play nearly enough these days and that it was really nice to see this stripped down guitar-less version.  The jazz/funk/big band vibe was much different than most of the other bands playing that day.  But, it was refreshing and the crowd really dug it.  Of the 6 or 7 (?) songs in their set, two were Miles Davis pieces and favorites of mine, “It’s About That Time” and “Jean-Pierre”.  Here’s a short video of their funky take on “Jean-Pierre”.  I would have recorded the whole song if I didn’t get the infamous “storage full” warning on my phone. Apologies to George Jones for cutting off his conga solo!

The next stop for me was home to grab a few crates of records to sell at Spirit in Lawrenceville.  The Pittsburgh Record Fest has been happening biannually for years now, and this was probably the 6th or 7th that I’ve sold at.  As usual, the room was filled with a bunch of great records and I had to use great restraint to avoid spending most or all of the money I made.  But for the money, I did come away with two good ones that I’ve never seen before.  I also got to chat with local rapper/producer Moemaw Naedon who happened to be my neighbor for the night.  If if don’t know about him, you need to check him out ASAP.  I’m a fan of his work and it was nice talking with him about music, digging, concerts, stolen shoes, whatever.


After the sale, I made my way downstairs to finally try the pizza from Slice Island and meet up with some more friends.  DJ Tom Cox, who I know from the period of time that 720 Records was located inside of Jerry’s, was in the booth rocking a 720 t-shirt printed by yours truly.  Overall, this was a really fun and diverse Saturday well spent with family and friends new and old. Now that summer is approaching, I’m looking forward to many more like it.



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!

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

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.

Opek – 5.31.13 – The New Hazlett Theater – Pittsburgh, PA


Opek is a project of Pittsburgh saxophonist/composer/innovator, Ben Opie.  I’ve been going to Opek shows since around 2003, so they’ve been around at least 10 years or so.  As mentioned in my previous post, Opek was originally sort of a Sun Ra cover band.  Their first few shows show consisted mostly of Sun Ra compositions.  After those shows, they broadened their sets to include many of Ben’s own compositions as well as pieces by Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton and even James Brown.

On Friday at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, the program was entitled “Mostly Sun Ra” which as the name suggests, featured almost all Sun Ra compositions with at least one of Opie’s (“Little Wrenches”) thrown in.  They touched upon a wide range of styles from swing to funk.  They even included a couple of Opie’s arrangements of Sun Ra compositions that were never recorded.

This set was truly phenomenal.  I cover these guys (Opek, Thoth Trio, Flexure, etc.) quite a bit on the blog, mostly as part of the Space Exchange Series at the Thunderbird Cafe.  But, I’m hard pressed to find anyone else in town that is pushing the concept of jazz forward while making it so enjoyable.

Here are a couple of videos I shot from the show.  Enjoy!

OPEK – “Mostly Sun Ra” – The New Hazlett Theater – 5.31.13


A few years ago, Pittsburgh jazz ensemble, OPEK, played a set of Miles Davis’ tunes at the Brew House in Pittsburgh’s South Side.  They did it again last spring at The New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.  This Friday, 5/31, OPEK will be taking it back to their origins by playing an entire show of Sun Ra compositions.  Show starts at 8:00.  $12 advance/$16 door.

Here’s a tentative lineup of musicians.

Ben Opie
Lou Stellute
Erik Lawrence
Ian Gordon
Ralph Guzzi
Kevin McManus
George Jones
John Purse
Daryl Fleming
Paul Thompson
David Throckmorton