Jazzy Doubleheader (Bellevue & Thoth) – Saturday, 9.9.17

On Saturday night, I got to take in not one, but two GREAT jazz shows.  They were VERY different but both were absolutely top notch.  The first show was the Bellevue Jazz All-Stars, featuring Keith Stebler, Lou Schreiber and Wayne Smith, playing two sets of well-played bluesy soul-jazz standards. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I actually got to be the doorman for the night (free admission & free drinks)!

The second show was Thoth Trio playing at The Space Upstairs to a packed house.  I got the vibe that a bunch of the people were there for the dance/movement aspect that these Second Saturday events feature. I’d like to think that the trio opened up some young impressionable minds to a whole new world of music. Amazingly, the set list consisted of all Thoth originals, a rarity at jazz shows especially in Pittsburgh. Every time I see these guys, I feel like I am witnessing something extremely special.  Check out the video below of Thoth Trio doing what they do (“Myelin” from Thoth Speaks – 2007 OMP Recordings).  Incredible.  Full show at The Space Upstairs’ Facebook here.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

DTC Organ Trio – 12.29.15 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Dan Wilson – guitar
Cliff Barnes – organ/keys
Dave Throckmorton – drums

For me, last night marked a long overdue return to the Space Exchange Series at the Thunderbird.  Somehow, unintentionally,  a few months had passed since I’ve been there and that’s just way too long to miss out on such consistently solid nights of music.

Without getting too deep or philosophical, I’ve been feeling some concern and sadness about the state of the world lately.  Sometimes, maybe selfishly, I just want to surround myself with people like me.  People with the same values, opinions, interests, etc. (Cue the Cheers theme song.)  So, in an effort to accomplish this on some small level, I went out to a venue and an event that always feels like home.

I’ve seen the Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton Trio (AKA The DTC Organ Trio) a few times now and I’ve really enjoyed them every time.  The term “organ trio” generally brings to mind a certain 1960’s bluesy soul-jazz Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff vibe.  But the DTC Trio brings a different feel to the genre.  These guys have a certain playful or experimental quality and you often don’t know what direction they’re heading. This is shown in the video above of a shape-shifting take on Eric Clapton‘s “Change The World” which stretched to at least 15 minutes.  Drummer Dave Throckmorton, always living up to the “Throck Oc” nickname,  hardly ever plays the straight safe beat you’d expect for this kind of music, which keeps the grooves fresh and dynamic.  Wilson and Barnes are also not afraid to switch it up and play things a little differently, sometimes even from one verse to the next.  Some other highlights of the set were versions on Michael Jackson‘s “I Can’t Help It” and Stevie Wonder‘s “Creepin”.

The T-Bird had a great vibe last night.  I’m not sure if it was due to a holiday week or because of the DTC Organ Trio being awesome, but the room was packed and people were diggin’ the band.   It was definitely the sort of positivity I had hoped for.  Looking forward to plenty more Space Exchange’s in 2016.  Cheers!

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…

Record Scores – August ’14

rw_spiritRobert Walter w/ Gary Bartz
Spirit of ’70
Greyboy Records – 1996

bryant_soul-libRusty Bryant
Soul Liberation
Prestige – 1970

head-onBobby Hutcherson
Head On
Blue Note – 1971

blades_notesWil Blades
Field Notes
Royal Potato Family – 2014

woods_musiquePhil Woods
Musique du bois
Muse Records – 1974

automatorAutomator (Dan the Automator)
A Much Better Tomorrow
75 Ark – 2000

this_wd

Walt Dickerson
This Is Walt Dickerson
New Jazz – 1961
(Reissue)

marshallEddie Marshall
Dance of the Sun
Timeless Muse – 1978

study_brown

Brown/Roach Inc.
Study In Brown ’55
Trip Jazz

gg_bornGrant Green
Born To Be Blue
Blue Note – 1985

Idris Muhammad (1939-2014)

IdrisMuhammadJazz drummer Idris Muhammad died on Tuesday.  Muhammad, born Leo Morris, is probably my favorite drummer of all time.  He has played on so many incredible recordings by some of my favorite jazz artists like Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Lonnie Smith, Bob James and many many more.  Whether you’re a fan of jazz, soul, funk, or hip hop, you’ve definitely heard his funky, groove-oriented beats.  The genre he helped create, “Soul Jazz”, in the mid to late 60’s is my absolute favorite little pocket or sub-genre of music by far.

Although I’m reluctant to mention it on a jazz blog, I play drums on occasion in a soul-jazz band here in Pittsburgh, called Cadillac Club (actually named after Lou Donaldson’s live LP, The Scorpion: Live At The Cadillac Club, which features Muhammad on drums).  Words cannot express how deeply I’ve been influenced and entertained by his playing.

Here are just a few of my favorite tracks featuring Muhammad throughout the years.

Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton – 6.3.14 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Dan Wilson – guitar
Cliff Barnes – organ
David Throckmorton – drums

 Maybe it was the beautiful late-Spring weather or maybe the Space Exchange series is simply just getting the attention it deserves, but the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville had a sizable and diverse crowd last night for the Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton Trio.

I haven’t been to a Space Exchange show in a few weeks, but over the last couple of years, the crowds have been hit or miss. But whatever the reason, people definitely came out to see this new-ish local organ trio.  Organ trios traditionally play groove oriented music rooted in blues, soul, and funk…types of music that are generally more accessible to a larger audience than things like free jazz or fusion.  Plus, several funky instrumental organ groups have crossed over into the “jam” scene within the last 15 years or so (i.e. Soulive, Medeski Martin & Wood, The New Mastersounds, Greyboy Allstars, etc.) introducing the genre to a new audience of thirsty ears, so this could have contributed to this show’s turnout as well.

This was my first time seeing this trio.  Going in, I honestly didn’t know exactly what to expect. Being quite familiar with Throck’s style, I didn’t think this would be TOO funky and danceable like early Soulive but I also didn’t expect a total throwback to the past like early Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff or any of that stuff.  From what I heard (the first set), it was somewhere in the middle, like some sort of playful experimental bluesy soul-jazz .  I talked to Throck before the show and he said that this project is still young and they are still working things out to see what happens.  I could tell these guys were having fun and killing at the same time.  I’m eagerly looking forward to their progress as a group and hope to see them often.

This is their take on Michael Jackson‘s “The Way You Make Me Feel”.  Being a life long fan, a band cannot go wrong with any MJ cover in my opinion.  I dug it.  Enjoy!

Record Scores – Nov/Dec 2013

maupin
Bennie Maupin

The Jewel In The Lotus
1974 – ECM

zony

Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash
Cold Spell
1997 – Knitting Factory Works
(CD)

goodness
Houston Person

Goodness!
1969 – Prestige

gg_co

Grant Green
Carryin’ On
1970 – Blue Note

cam_no1
DJ Cam

No. 1
1997 – Shadow Records
2x 10″ Vinyl

buzzard
Lou Donaldson

Fried Buzzard
1967 – Cadet

out

Jean-Marc Padovani Septet
Out – “Tribute To Eric Dolphy”
2003 – Deux Z
(CD)

miles_tunisia
Miles Davis Quartet

“A Night In Tunisia”
1955 – Prestige
7″ Vinyl

henderson_japan
Joe Henderson

In Japan
1973 – Milestone