Sun Ra Arkestra – 9.18.16 – New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

Last weekend, Kente Arts Alliance brought yet another legendary jazz act to the city of Pittsburgh.  This time around it was the Sun Ra Arkestra lead by saxophonist Marshall Allen. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this show 😦  But luckily, Jazz Orbits‘ good friend and contributor, Alex Bard, was there to capture a few minutes of their set as well as a few photos from soundcheck. I’ve read a few thoughts on the show from attendees and some terms that were used to describe the Arkestra on this particular night were  “loose”, “raucous” and “having an outer space quality”.

I was certainly bummed out to have missed this show.  At age 92, it’s unlikely that Marshall Allen and the Arkestra will be around for much longer. But, thankfully, I feel like I can rely on the good people at Kente Arts Alliance to keep the amazing streak of legends alive.



Record Scores – Jan-March

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while but I have picked up quite a few records in the last 3 months.  Some of which were true “scores” that involved crawling around in a dark dusty attic (Sun Ra).  Some were things that I’ve wanted for quite a while but are normally too rare and/or too expensive (Soulive 2LP).  And a couple (John Lurie & Clifford Jordan) were new releases or reissues that are just too good to exclude from this post.

Some highlights relevant to this blog in no particular order…..


Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra
Sun Ra
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1
1965 – ESP-Disc

Iron Man
Eric Dolphy
Iron Man
1969 – Douglas

2003 – Blue Note

John Lurie National Orchestra
John Lurie National Orchestra
The Invention of Animals
2013 – Amulet Records

Charles Earland
Live At The Lighthouse
1972 – Prestige

Dance of Magic
Norman Connors
Dance of Magic
1972 – Cobblestone

Soul Fountain
Clifford Jordan
Soul Fountain
1970 – Vortex

Barefoot Sunday Blues
Ramsey Lewis Trio
Barefoot Sunday Blues
1963 – Cadet

Skyy Line

Skyy Line
1981 – Salsoul

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.


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.


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.

Record Scores – Sept/Oct Edition


Since I really haven’t picked up an abundance of new things lately I haven’t been posting about them.  But I did get some cool things including some new (or newer) releases.

Here is a random selection of a few of them including the much anticipated debut LP from Pittsburgh jazz ensemble, Flexure, called Insert Title Here, which features a custom collage artwork by band leader Ben Opie.  This was recorded during a week long residency in January at The New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh that culminated in a performance open to the public which I was fortunate enough to attend.  This release is HIGHLY recommended.  BUY IT HERE!

I also bought New Myth/Old Science by Living By Lanterns.  I won’t go into great detail on this, so just follow the link.  It’s a project led by Chicago based musicians Mike Reed and Jason Adasiewicz, where the goal was to create music based on a few fragments from some unreleased Sun Ra rehearsal tape.  The results are pretty amazing.  I highly recommend checking it out (as well as any other project featuring Reed or Adasiewicz for that matter).




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


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


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