Sound/Unsound – 6.10.17 – The Space Upstairs (VIDEO/PICS)

Sound/Unsound:
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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Brett Williams’ Recording Project Indiegogo

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Keyboardist, and ex-Pittsburgher, Brett Williams is currently trying to raise some money to produce a new record.  I’ve been a big fan for a few years now and I’m really interested in seeing where his music is heading.  You can help him out by donating at his Indiegogo page.  He still has a long way to go to make it to his goal of 10K, but I’m really hoping he can pull it off.

Here’s a short video of a recent performance by Brett and his quartet at the Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival.

Pittsburgh Jazz Live Int’l Festival 2016

As luck would have it, I found myself with plenty of free time this past weekend.  I don’t have many days when I’m able to have very little-to-no responsibilities.  And if I do, there’s almost never a jazz festival going on ten minutes from home!  I don’t know if the lineup was better this year or if I’ve just adjusted my expectations, but I felt like there were a definitely a few acts I wanted to see.  I’ve been critical of the lineups over the past few years of the Jazz Live International Festival, it’s still far from amazing, but I can certainly say that this year felt like it was possibly better than the last couple.

The people/bands that interested me most were Nu Grid, Jeff “Tain”Watts, Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith, and Pittsburgh’s own Brett Williams. Somehow, I was able to catch all of these acts over the course of two days.  The only thing I wanted to see but missed was another local guy, bassist Tony DePaoulis’ Contemporary Dynamic, who was just finishing up when I got downtown on Saturday.

The whole festival seemed very well documented (cameras, video, press, other well known and more eloquent jazz bloggers), so I don’t feel that it’s necessary for me to elaborate too greatly.  So, aside from the usual photos and videos, I’m going to try something different and list some random thoughts/observations…

  • The weather was awesome.  A bit on the hot side, but sunny and no rain.
  • Nu Grid was cool.  Vernon Reid on guitar.  DJ Logic on turntables.  All improvised.  Guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly said something that stuck with me.  Something like, “Remember…improvised music is an expression of MODERNITY, not nostalgia.  Modernity!”  I don’t think this is a word-for-word quote.  But, that statement directly spoke to something that is missing from all too many jazz shows.  Great vibe.  Cool set.  I dug it.
  • Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith (piano & trumpet w/ minimal electronics/looping) sounded really really good.  This is the kind of delicate music that requires your full attention. I wish the social element hadn’t taken over and that I could have listened much more intently.
  • The beer in the beer garden was pretty pricey at $8 a piece.  Plus you had to keep drinks within the fenced-in area. So I only had one in there.
  • I didn’t want to stop at the pop-up vinyl tent where several vendors were selling used records.  I REALLY didn’t want to spend any money but I had to buy a couple of things I’ve never seen before (including a Curtis Fuller LP on Mainstream) and, ultimately, I’m glad I did.
  • I was surprised that so many people left the Tain Watts set to go camp out in front of the stage where Chick Corea was about to play, missing much of Tain’s set.  The audience ended up being so large and dense for Chick Corea’s set that I could hardly hear the trio (featuring Christian McBride and Brian Blade) from where I was standing in back.  This made me wonder where the hell all of these “jazz fans” are/were at other jazz shows throughout the year (i.e. Space Exchange, City of Asylum shows, Manny Theiner’s avant/free jazz shows, etc).  The large crowd also resulted in me leaving about two songs into Corea’s set.
  • Brett Williams‘ homecoming set on Sunday was great.  He had recently left Pittsburgh to move to New York.  Seems like he and his group are experimenting with things a little (bass keys, electronic drums pads, etc).  He said he’s raising money for a new record.  I’m excited to see where his career is heading.

Here are a few short videos from the weekend.  Enjoy!

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.

Thumbscrew – “Sampsonian Rhythms” from Convallaria LP

 

Back in July of last year, thanks to City of Asylum, Thumbscrew spent some time in Pittsburgh to write, record, and perform new music.  The result of that residency is an upcoming LP entitled Convallaria which is due out next month on Cuneiform Records.

Cuneiform posted this track a few days ago which is named after Pittsburgh’s Sampsonia Way on the North Side, which is where the band stayed when they were here.  The track sounds great and I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of this record.

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.”

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.

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…