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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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.”

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.