RIP Dr. Bruce Marion (DrFBM)

Pittsburgh has lost one of its most loyal supporters of our local jazz scene, Dr. Francis Bruce Marion.  Although I have never actually met or had spoken with him, I’ve seen him around town at many many shows over the last twelve years or so.  Equipped with his video camera on a tripod, he was normally off to the side or discretely tucked in a corner of the room capturing so many of Pittsburgh’s local talented musicians.  He’s posted hundreds of videos on YouTube under the name DrFBM.

Dr. Bruce and I ending up attending and filming several of the same shows over the past few years, but mine were never as nice or as complete as his were.  It’s obvious that he loved this music and wanted to share it with the world.  This is something I certainly relate to and congratulate him for and it’s something I’ll continue to do as long as I’m able.   Due to the sudden and unexpected nature of his passing, his family is currently raising money to cover his funeral costs online.  You can donate HERE.

Here are just a few of the many performances that the world is fortunate enough to view because of him.  Thank you, Dr. Bruce!  May you rest in peace.

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Pittonkatonk / Record Fest – 5.7.16

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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.

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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’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

OPEK – 1.4.14 – James Street Gastropub, Pittsburgh, PA

James Street Gastropub on Pittsburgh’s North Side held a “Charles Mingus Festival” that started Friday night and wraps up tonight.  I would think that any local jazz fanatic would have spent quite a bit of time down there this weekend, being as though things like this don’t happen here very often.  Between having a young child and also having family in town this weekend, I was only able to make it down for one performance on one night.  Needless to say, if you’re even slightly familiar with this blog, you know that it was the OPEK set on Saturday night.

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OPEK is Ben Opie‘s “small big-band” that is known for playing pieces by Sun Ra and Miles Davis among others and, in this case, bassist/composer/bandleader Charles Mingus (1922-1979).  Admittingly, I am not completely familiar with Mingus’ entire catalog of works.  However, I do know at least a couple of his records quite well including Mingus Ah Um & Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus and OPEK chose to play at least a few tunes from those.

My overall observation of this OPEK show was that it seemed a bit mellow.  This was a different room for them.  If fact, Ben Opie said it was his first time playing James Street, in this case the upstairs ballroom.  Which, to me, is actually quite interesting since, in my opinion, Opie is currently playing the truest, most fresh, creative, and progressive jazz that Pittsburgh has to offer.  Through his various projects, including OPEK, Thoth Trio, Flexure, and others, Opie focuses on the PRESENT, if not the future of jazz.  Too many others in Pittsburgh tend to rehash the past and strictly celebrate the music from 50 years ago, and this includes some truly incredible musicians.

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With that being said, this was a different venue and a different, smaller, lineup of musicians than I am used to seeing with OPEK.  Last night’s lineup included no dedicated baritone sax player and therefore was covered, quite impressively I might add, by Opie.  Also missing was second guitarist John Purse, usual trumpeter Ian Gordon, and Ben’s variety of electronics.  This resulted in a smaller, more “mellow” sound.  From the very start, the horns lacked that sort of punch that OPEK is known to offer.  Also, the song selection, being made up primarily of Mingus tunes was probably a bit more traditional and at times “prettier” than most OPEK sets.  While talking to one of the musicians at the set break, I found out that the band’s ability to hear each other could have also been an issue during louder, more aggressive pieces.

But, overall, this sort of “mini-OPEK” still managed to deliver what was probably one of the best shows that this room has seen in a while.  The playing was exceptional all around.  New editions, trombonist Jeff Bush and Roger Dannenberg on trumpet, were real pros and definitely showed up to play.  They certainly did not disappoint.  Rhythm section, Throckmorton and Thompson did what they do time and time again.  And Lou Stellute was pretty much killing it the entire time on tenor, which is pretty par-for-the-course with him.  I look forward to seeing Ben Opie’s various projects showing up more at James Street in the future.  I’m not sure if that will become a reality or not, but if so, I hope that it can open the door for more shows by younger and/or more experimental musicians looking to push “jazz” forward or at least acknowledge the present.

Closing out the festival tonight will be the Mingus Festival Sextet featuring Sean Jones in the downstairs Speakeasy at 7:00.

Mingus Festival Weekend – James Street Gastropub – Jan 3-5, 2014, Pittsburgh

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Apparently, this is happening this weekend at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy in the North Side.  I guess I’ve been out of the loop because this completely came out of nowhere.  Thanks to Ben Opie and his email updates, I now know about this and really hope to make it down for at least 1 night, specifically Saturday.

I saw OPEK a few years ago at Club Cafe when they did a split show of works by Miles and Mingus.  Needless to say, it was incredible and I really look forward to seeing some of that Mingus material revisited on Saturday. This is HIGHLY recommended.

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

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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

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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