Sun Ra Arkestra – 9.18.16 – New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

Last weekend, Kente Arts Alliance brought yet another legendary jazz act to the city of Pittsburgh.  This time around it was the Sun Ra Arkestra lead by saxophonist Marshall Allen. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this show 😦  But luckily, Jazz Orbits‘ good friend and contributor, Alex Bard, was there to capture a few minutes of their set as well as a few photos from soundcheck. I’ve read a few thoughts on the show from attendees and some terms that were used to describe the Arkestra on this particular night were  “loose”, “raucous” and “having an outer space quality”.

I was certainly bummed out to have missed this show.  At age 92, it’s unlikely that Marshall Allen and the Arkestra will be around for much longer. But, thankfully, I feel like I can rely on the good people at Kente Arts Alliance to keep the amazing streak of legends alive.

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Ben Opie’s “Concerto For Orkestra” @ The New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

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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.

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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