Roger Humphries & RH Factor – 10.6.17 – Sweetwater Center For The Arts

Roger Humphries – drums
Max Leake – piano
Ron Horton – trumpet
Lou Stellute – saxophones
Dwayne Dolphin – bass

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a good friend to join him for beers, burgers and jazz and it was a difficult combination to pass up.  We started things off with a few beers and some really good burgers out in Ambridge at the Bridgetown Taphouse.  The food was good and, having become accustomed to recent East End Pittsburgh pricing, the prices here were right!  The next stop was a short cruise down river to Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley for the jazz part.

For any jazz fan in Pittsburgh, not much else needs to be said about local jazz hero Roger Humphries and his all-star band, RH Factor.  If you are looking for that mid 1960’s / hard-bop / Blue Note / Jazz Messengers type of sound, these are the guys that will deliver every time.  On this particular night, they sounded REALLY good.  Not just their playing, but the actual sound in the room was incredible.  With the exception of a small amp for Dwayne Dolphin‘s electric bass, all of the instruments were acoustic with no amplification. There’s something about the concept of sound coming from just metal and wood that I absolutely love.  Of course I’m simplifying, but it’s rare and it’s amazing.

Through two engaging sets of music, some highlights for me were Lou Stellute‘s use of a soprano sax (which I had never seen him play before), as well as takes on “My Favorite Things”, one of my favorite Herbie Hancock tunes “Tell Me A Bedtime A Story“, and a version of Joe Henderson‘s “Mamacita” shown in the video above.  Also, I cannot forget the enthusiastic introductions by local artist/jazz singer/legend, Betty Douglas.

With all due respect to Sweetwater and the town (borough?) of Sewickley, it almost always seems like the people that come out to events here probably don’t make it out to see much live music.  Again, I mean no disrespect at all and I could be way off base.  The audience just always seems so incredibly appreciative and impressed by the music being presented and the audience on this night was no exception. To me, this certainly enhances the experience and makes for a more memorable night. Thank you to Alex, Shawn, and the Sweetwater staff for inviting me out.  As always, I had a blast and look forward to doing it again!

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Roger Humphries – “A Night At The Hurricane” – 8.25.17

On Friday evening after dinner, I put on a recently purchased copy of Charles Earland‘s Black Talk LP.  I’ve owned this soul-jazz classic for years, but due to finding a cleaner copy, it had reentered rotation at the house.  About halfway through the last song on the LP, “More Today Than Yesterday“, I got a audio text message from a friend who was at James Street. So I muted the Earland record to listen to what Wayne had sent me….an short audio clip he had just recorded of Roger Humphries and friends playing…..wait for it………..”More Today Than Yesterday”.  No joke! I was aware of the show happening at James Street that night and I was sort of planning on going.  But this message was too much of an awesome coincidence for me to NOT attend.

The show was billed as “A Night At The Hurricane”. The Hurricane was a now-legendary jazz club in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 50’s and 60’s. A ton of soul-jazz and hard bop acts played there over the years including Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Jimmy McGriff and many many more.  On Friday, drummer Roger Humphries put together a quartet of Pittsburgh’s finest to pay tribute to the music that was so often heard at the Hurricane, most specifically organ based soul-jazz.

Humphries’ quartet on this particular evening was assembled with soulful funky organ jazz in mind.  Organist Jimmy McGriff once called the Hurricane  “the Apollo Theater” of the jazz organ universe.  Holding down the organ duties on Friday, and very aptly so, was a veteran of the local scene, Keith Stebler.  I love watching and hearing a great organ player do their thing especially in a group with no bass guitar.  Sometimes, in the late 60’s or very early 70’s, groups would add a bass player in an attempt to deepen the groove or to make the sounds feel more contemporary.  But to me the true organ jazz sound is all about bass lines played with the organist’s left hand (and/or feet!) and Stebler can really hold it down!  Guitarist Mark Strickland, whom I somehow had not seen before, with his clean classic guitar lines was also a great choice for this style.  He just had that perfect tone.  Lou Stellute plays with Humphries quite a bit and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in Pittsburgh playing sax on this night.  Stellute plays hard with a raw intensity and enthusiasm that not many other players can achieve, and once again, it was perfect for this style.

During the one set I was able to catch, the quartet ran though a few staples of the era including Gene Ammons‘ “Red Top” and Erroll Garner’s “Misty” (see video above)  made popular by Richard “Groove” Holmes along with some other tunes that I either can’t remember or don’t know by name.  They sounded great but I have to say that I had hoped for more intensity.  It just wasn’t greasy enough for me.  My favorite tracks of the organ jazz era certainly aren’t the lush ballad type tunes.  They are the raucous, funky, deep, gritty grooves that would be difficult to NOT want to dance to. Think Grant Green‘s live albums,  Lou Donaldson‘s late-60’s Blue Note records, or some of Earland’s or Rusty Bryant‘s late 60’s Prestige catalog, etc etc etc.  But, aside from that, this was an great set of tunes from one of my favorite eras of music played by some of the city’s best musicians and a really dug it.   I hope they do it again… and you should too!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Sean Jones – 7.26.14 – Riverview Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Sean Jones – trumpet
Lou Stellute – saxophone
Cliff Barnes – piano
Tony DePaolis – bass
Roger Humphries – drums

Sean Jones was this week’s performer at the “Stars At Riverview” free jazz series held on Saturday nights throughout the summer at Riverview Park. There have been a few acts that I wanted to see and missed earlier this summer, but luckily I was able to make it out last night to see Jones and a cast of Pittsburgh jazz all-stars.

Jones has just released a new record entitled, im.pro.vise: Never Before Seen, with his quartet on Mack Avenue Records.  I’ve heard snippets from a few of the tracks, mostly originals, and I’d like to give it a listen.  I figured that last night’s show could have gone 1 of 2 ways.  Sean was either going to be playing mostly original material from the new album with his quartet or he would be playing a set full of safe standards with local Pittsburgh musicians to cater to the kind of audience that goes to these free summer shows.  Well I was slightly, but only slightly, disappointed to find out that the latter scenario was the case here.

The weather last night was not good, so as I drove through the rain to Observatory Hill  I sort of thought this show would be cancelled.  Fortunately, as my car approached the stage area, I saw the band under a big blue tent in front of a sea of umbrellas and rain jackets.  Apparently, Jones, who has lived, worked, and played in Pittsburgh for the last 10 years, has taken a job at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and is leaving town.  Not only is he leaving town, he is leaving today, the day after this Riverview show.  So, this show was a last hurrah of sorts and the people who came out to see it were not going to be chased away easily. I had arrived late and wasn’t aware of his relocation until he talked about it between songs near the end of the show.  At that point, I had to cut him a little slack for what was seemingly a set full of standards that these guys could play in their sleep. However, since I missed almost all of the first set, I can only assume that this is true.  I also had questioned his decision to take a break half way through his slotted hour and a half performance to sell CD’s and sign autographs while there was a lawn full of people sitting in the rain awaiting the band to return to the stage.  But if I were about to drive 9 or 10 hours to start a new life in a new city, I would probably not be playing a show on the previous night at all!  And who can blame the guy for wanting to sell a few CD’s which, judging by the amount of people lined up to buy a signed copy, he definitely sold a nice stack of them.

So, even though I wanted to hear some stripped down, raw, original jazz, I wasn’t completely disappointed by the 2 and half songs that I saw Jones and his quintet perform.  Roger Humphries is a local jazz legend and one of the best drummers in town.  Lou Stellute crushed like his always does.  And Cliff Barnes and Tony DePaolis are both pretty incredible musicians that I have seen before, but not nearly enough.

The video above was the first song they played after the set break and CD signing, etc.  It’s a take on a song made popular by Duke Ellington and many others, “Caravan”.  The rain actually did stop during this tune and it turned out to be a pretty nice evening.

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

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.

Roger Humphries & RH Factor – 6.29.13 – Riverview Park, Pittsburgh, PA

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Roger Humphries – drums;  Lou Stellute – tenor sax;  Ron Horton – trumpet;  Jeff Lashway – keys;  Dwayne Dolphin – bass

Currently, Roger Humphries is one of the biggest names in the Pittsburgh jazz scene.  He is best known for playing and recording with Horace Silver in the 60’s, including on Silver’s Song For My Father album on Blue Note.  His quintet called RH Factor played a well-attended free show at Riverview Park in Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill section as part of the Citipark’s “Stars at Riverview Jazz Series“.

There were multiple reasons why I wanted to go to this show tonight.  The biggest of which being that I have never seen RH Factor.  I’ve seen Roger Humphries play but it wasn’t with his own quintet.  Another big reason was that I knew that he was not going to play the smooth, R&B infused, fluffy stuff that several other Pittsburgh jazz groups would play at something like this.  With that being said, these guys didn’t really venture too far out of the box either.  It was just some really well executed Blue Note era post-bop style jazz and I really enjoyed it.  One more reason for driving out to Observatory Hill tonight was that I knew Lou Stellute would be playing sax and he always kills.  At most jazz shows, etiquette states that the audience politely claps after each solo out of respect for the musicians.  Stellute is one of those guys that consistently plays solos that you REALLY want to clap for.

Some highlights from the set included Miles Davis’ “So Near So Far” from the Seven Steps To Heaven LP and Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” from his album of the same name.  Here is a video I shot of the last song of the set, Eddie Harris’ “Cold Duck Time“.  It’s hard to see the band because of the distance from the stage but the sound is OK.  Enjoy.