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.




Cliff Barnes Trio – 8.27.17 – Highland Park Reservoir, Pittsburgh, PA

Cliff Barnes – organ
James Johnson III – drums
Brett Williams – keys

Every year throughout the month of August, the City of Pittsburgh’s Parks Department holds it’s Reservoir of Jazz series in Highland Park.  These are really nice community events and a great way to spend a Sunday evening in the summertime regardless of who is playing.  A couple of weeks ago, a few friends of mine decided to round up the kids and some lawn chairs and make our way over to see the Cliff Barnes Trio.

Out of all of the music scheduled this year, Cliff Barnes was truthfully the only artist I was really hoping to be able to see.  I’ve seen him play a few times in an organ trio with Dan Wilson and Dave Throckmorton and I really like his soulful approach.  I wasn’t sure who Cliff would bring to round out his trio but I knew the show would be good.  What was totally unexpected (and TOTALLY welcomed!!!) was a trio consisting of two keyboardists, one of which was Brett Williams!

This non-traditional lineup was not afraid to push boundaries and take things a bit out of the box, something that doesn’t always happen at these.  As I walked to the stage area from car, they played a different sort of take on Duke Ellington’s jazz staple “Caravan”.  Right then, I knew this wasn’t going to be a night of cookie cutter arrangements.  The musical highlight of the evening came for me shortly after with a Brett William‘s led version of Herbie Hancock‘s “Butterfly” from his 1974 record Thrust.  Brett is based in NYC now and is doing all kinds of things like playing with Louis Cato, sitting in with Stephen Colbert’s house band, touring the world with bassist Marcus Miller.  He plays with alot of confidence and he sounds great.  Another highlight was a ten minute version of D’Angelo’sSpanish Joint“.  These guys were obviously having a great time playing this material together and the vibe was certainly shared by the appreciative audience.

The 2017 Reservoir of Jazz series has now come and gone.  These events are really valuable and we’re lucky to have them.   I’m just hoping to have a few more groups like this one on next year’s schedule. And, honestly, I really want to win one of the 50/50’s next year as well!!!  Fingers crossed.

UPDATE (9.20.17):  James Johnson III posted a video of the whole first set HERE. Dig.


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

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.

UPDATE (7.27.17):  Check out the complete audio from the show…..





The Necks – 3.3.17 – First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, PA


Mystery, intrigue, the unknown, and discovery are all elements that are highly sought after when it comes to my musical tastes. This is especially true in a live setting. Some of my all-time favorite musical experiences have been ones in which I really didn’t know exactly what to expect from a performer. I was extremely fortunate to have one of these “all-time” type experiences this past Friday in a church basement in Shadyside.

The Necks are an Australian trio whose music can be described as improvised minimalist free ambient jazz. Even though they’ve been around for 30 years, I had never heard of them until I was handed a flyer by the show’s promoter after the Mostly Other People Do The Killing show at Alphabet City last month. After checking out their newest release, Unfold, I knew I couldn’t miss this show.

The two set performance brought upon so many thoughts and emotions that there’s no way that I could clearly or concisely put them into words in any sort of eloquent way whatsoever. The first 30-ish minute set started in a way that, to me, seemed like an intro or prelude. After a few minutes of anticipating a beat to drop or a melody to begin, I realized that that wasn’t at all what was happening here… and it was a beautiful and blissful “ahhhh” type of moment like “Ok. I get it.” The trio (piano, upright bass, and drums) just continued to slowly develop and deepen a groove, which was mostly implied but undeniably deep, like a groove within a groove, all without any sort of traditional drum beat. I found myself closing my eyes quite a bit, even though the room itself (with its industrial duct work and electrical lines contrasted with colorful hanging quilts and a stained glass window of fish), was almost as interesting as the music being created.

The Necks somehow are able to subtly tap into the frequencies and rhythms of the universe. The music is very primal, circular, hypnotic, spiritual and meditative. Within the hour (or so) long performance, they were able to cover a broad spectrum of human emotions from blissful joy and beauty to some pretty dark territory. When played together, their acoustic instruments often had a way of sounding electric. So much so, that I noticed a few people craning their necks or even standing up to decipher what was creating the sounds they were hearing.

The video below is a shot of the aforementioned duct work on the ceiling during the last couple of minutes of the second set. I normally would LOVE to share video footage of a show like this, but video and photography would not have been a good idea at this show. I felt it would have been highly irreverent and disrespectful and would have killed the intimate once-in-a-lifetime kind of vibe. So, I figured that it wouldn’t be too offensive to anyone if I simply recorded some audio while filming the ceiling above me. While this audio clip doesn’t do this show any justice whatsoever, it does give me something to look back on as a reminder of the incredible night. Enjoy.


Thoth Trio – 12.10.16 – The Space Upstairs, Pittsburgh, PA

Thoth Trio

Ben Opie – saxophone
Paul Thompson – bass
Dave Throckmorton – drums

My reality over the past month or so has been, and continues to be, completely and utterly turned upside down.  I feel like a hole has been torn in my basic understanding of everything.   Never in my 37 years on this planet have I felt so fearful, uncertain, angry, and disgusted.  This blog was never intended to discuss anything political whatsoever but it now completely permeates our reality whether we want it to or not.  I’m currently split between taking the all-in activist route and the total opposite, which would be turn it off and to completely escape and mentally remove myself from this current mess as much as possible.  FUCK.

With that being said, it is now more comforting than ever to be in a place and around people who see the world in a similar way or at least in a way that involves some sort of sanity or integrity.  And what is even better than that is to be in a place with these kind of people experiencing something absolutely beautiful, imaginative, and unique. Saturday night was one of these precious moments.

Thoth Trio, a band covered pretty heavily on this blog, was the musical guest for this month’s edition of Second Saturdays, which is a monthly event hosted by Pittsburgh’s The Pillow Project.  The Pillow Project describes themselves as being all about creating and investigating new ideas in a post-jazz improvisation and challenging how dance and performance is experienced“.  These “happenings” are held in a great loft space called The Space Upstairs above Construction Junction in Point Breeze.  I’d been to one of these a couple of years ago, so I had an idea of what it was all about.  The space and the event have a sort of 1960’s, artsy, counterculture, beatnik, hidden/secret/forbidden kind of vibe with people hanging out on couches, bar stools, on the floor, wherever. Basically, as the music starts, or sometimes even half way into a piece, dancers will appear in the center of the large room seemingly from nowhere to interact spontaneously with the music and with each other creating a truly unique experience.  Personally, being as though Thoth is my favorite band in town, I was there for the music.  But the dancers, undeniably, add a certain whimsy to the whole thing, especially when dancing in front a huge projection of falling snow.


Thoth Trio w/ The Pillow Project – 12.10.16 – The Space Upstairs

Thoth Trio has the ability to go from a ferociously blazing sax solo to almost complete silence to a deep drum and bass groove (and anywhere in between and back again!) extremely effortlessly, so their music fit into the vibe of this event really really well. The video above is a clip from Thoth’s own “Carbon 60” from their second set, which was a request by guitarist Josh Wulff.  Wulff is part of a another project entitled Sound/Unsound Trio with Ben Opie and Throck. Ben had mentioned that they have a release on the way.  We here at Jazz Orbits will be eagerly awaiting that one.

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.

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…

DTC Organ Trio – 8.30.15 – Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA

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

This past Sunday was the last in a short run of free jazz concerts that I’ve attended this summer and it was certainly not a bad one to end on.  The DTC Organ Trio (AKA Wilson/Barnes/Throckmorton) presented the loyal Reservoir of Jazz series audience with two sets of tasteful and soulful organ jazz.

This was just my second time seeing this group and I enjoyed it just as much this time as the last.  All three musicians are incredible.  Anyone familiar with this site knows that I’m a pretty big Throck fan.  In this trio, I think that he adds a certain raw spontaneity whereas other drummers might have a tendency to go too smooth on this material.  I also dug the arrangements especially a reggae-infused take on “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus, which was actually written by Stevie Wonder as Barnes informed the audience, as well as their version of Duke Ellington‘s “Caravan” as shown in the shown video above.

People really do come out for these shows, as well they should.  I’m not always into the performers at these things, but the last three weeks at Highland Park have been incredible.  The crowd seemed to really enjoy this one, as is visible in the pic of some dancers near the front of the stage.

As the spokesman for the group, Cliff Barnes mentioned that the trio has recently recorded an album that should be released shortly.  So, be sure to support good local music and look for (and buy!) that one.