Momments #13: School Us with Sax

Photo by Joey Kennedy

Photo by Joey Kennedy

Last Thursday I was struck with this beautifully composed picture of John Petrucelli and my initial thought what a gorgeous photo! My second was: I have to go check out his band plus his new double disk CD, The Way.  All original compositions plus three jazz standards? Yes sir! We all know how much Jules and I LOVE jazz in any form, anywhere but especially in our back yard!!

So we arrived at the Savoy to a packed downstairs, Curtis Lewis Jr leading the R+B charge with the house band, Boom. How cool is it that the Savoy has its own house band that plays each and every Thursday?? I can’t seem to get enough of this place and what they are doing for the nightlife downtown. I met with the Savoy manager, Gary White and he took me up to their 2nd floor lounge where John Petrucelli was doing his sound check with drummer James Johnson lll, and keyboardist  Brett Williams– both Pittsburgh natives. Along with bassist William Mazirowski and John from the Big Apple world, what a perfectly matched quintet!

John spent a few minutes with me before playing for two sets of 45 minutes with this stellar group of cool cats. Petrucelli is a graduate of University of Virginia, Rutgers (two masters) and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation at University of Pittsburgh in jazz studies with an emphasis on Wayne Shorter (of Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Weather Report fame). Shorter is the Yoda of the jazz saxophonist world and just last month was awarded the  Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his “prolific contributions to our culture and history”. Clearly this young 26 year old is no slacker academically. Needless to say, his music did not disappoint the intimate audience of thirty.

John started the evening on his tenor saxophone with “Arrows of Longing,” a ten minute original and then merged into “For Dawn,” an eight minute piece of anticipation, which was keyboard dominated but who cares when you have such fine musicians chiming in with the drums, bass and a bit of sax, yessirrenie, really good stuff. The final song before taking a water break was “Boots,” another Petrucelli original that was nine minutes in duration and had a soft, elegant tiptoeing through notes with a subtle undertone of building magic before a final sax overture, fantastic!

In a scene where the jazz is so smooth, the assembled talent rises to every occasion for this smart composer. And who knew he was also a pretty good Brazilian jujitsu athlete too… okay is there anything this guy can’t do??

The love and attention to detail at Savoy is winning all sorts of positive reviews, even the taste of fried zucchini with a dash of marinara sauce was better than I expected. Good news, the teaser CD release for John Petrucelli’s The Way was a grand success before the official release on February 2 and in wide distribution on the 3rd. In case you were wondering why a two disc CD?? Well like everything else John Petrucelli does “it was just too much for one CD.”

No over thinking it or as Wayne Shorter says, it’s “just a desire to share” and I for one am delighted he did.

Momments #12: Bits of Buddy Holly

I never knew about Sofar Sounds until I was researching Nevada Color and saw one of their videos. What a great idea, live music in a different spot announced via email the day of, with three performances in ninety minutes.

Typically the evening is hosted by a volunteer at their apt/house/loft in their living room with floor seating, only limited libations. Three artists/bands play three or four songs, basically an EP for the evening plus merchandise for sale.

Great idea, right? Well Sunday night we tripped down to Butler Street in Lawrenceville to the apartment of Shawn McGregor, ‘the dope-est dude in Pittsburgh’ to hear three acts play: The Nox Boys, Wreck Loose and Kevin Garrett.

The Nox Boys are a band of three young boys Zach Stadtlander, Zack Keim, Sam Berman and an uncle, Bob Powers from Blawnox. All look about 19 ¾  except for Bob (pedal steel guitarist) who is just a tad older than these youngsters. What this group gave to the audience was a bit of ska with a smattering of Buddy Holly. Zach Keim is the lead with his clever showmanship of these different elements and rock a billy sound from fifty odd years ago that they managed to pull it off brilliantly.

I felt through during their songs that they could just break out and really jam but they kept it close this particular Sunday evening and gave Sofar attendees a well-tuned snapshot/rendition of simpler times.

A very good song was ‘Lost Your Head’ by ‘Zach, the bassist’. The Nox Boys have been playing together for two years and do some DIY shows in Bloomfield at The Shop.

Next up was Wreck Loose, a group of four guys from Aliquippa, York and NY, I think. This band is so musically gifted as a group and the personalities to mix perfect sounds any day of the week.

Their 2nd song was especially good called ‘Country House’ with a bridge of ‘who doesn’t want the finer things’ and why not!! Finally they closed with ‘Feed Me,’ which is on their 45 vinyl (b side ‘Only You’). And I would love to know what it cost them to produce especially when the ONLY area of growth in the delivery of musical content is LP records. Check out them on their winning entry to NPR’s Tiny Desk on New Years Day, really fun.

Finally Kevin Garrett was the last to perform as a singer songwriter on the keyboard. He is just crazy talented with his piano ability, songwriting and falsetto voice. A perfect recipe for a young man to be successful and then you add the songs: ‘Coloring,’ ‘Cavalier,’ ‘Stronghold’ and ‘Never Knock.’ You have a fully baked birthday cake!

Which was funny because we did sing happy birthday to a 30 year old during band change overs.

In any case, Kevin’s biggest issue may be that he thinks too much about this stuff. Or it’s just a coming of age because he brings such passion to each and every song that you want to give him a hug and says it’s all timing man, don’t worry. In addition to his solo stuff, he also does some projects under Noble Hunter and is being a confirmed nomad till April as he travels across the country on his way to SXSW in March.

Back to Being Yourself (And Doing What You Love)

Dad made some comment under his breath and I smacked his hand before he could change the station. It was the winter of 2010, and “Empire” was spinning on WYEP. Friends at Hillsdale heard it plucked on my violin between rehearsals.

Safe Travels took me through my first summer as a Park Ranger in South Carolina. “Everybody Knows” blasted out of my Subaru speakers, keeping me (and a strawberry eclair popsicle) company after a day full of hostile neo-confederates.

I grew up with this band, but not in the way that your Dad plays you the Beatles or Bruce Springsteen. Jukebox helped me move through the emotional punches-in-the-face everyone has in their early twenties. So it’s only fitting that my gigs with Do206Seattle Weekly, and JENESIS came from some pretty obsessive coverage of their current tour. Once again, their music reminded me who I am, and what I’m supposed to be doing.

Consider this a thank you note from a professional fangirl.

Momments #11: Strip Fest a Surprise Success

No question that Josh Bakaitus of Drusky Entertainment has been hard at work this year, and the Strip District Music Fest is his latest contribution to Pittsburgh’s blossoming music scene. According to him most bands don’t tour in January so why not ask them to come together for a bash in their home town.

Well it was a perfect day to escape from the cabin, comforter and lack of sports aka FOOTBALL to see seven acts picked by the heiress to my fortune. Full disclosure, I only saw five.

My early evening began at Wigle Whiskey on 24th and Smallman, with of course, a whiskey buck (anything with ginger beer is worth a try).

This Pittsburgh distillery has been family owned and operated by the Meyers clan for the last two years. According to Jill Steiner, their events and public relations manager, this is their first foray into the music festival world. I am Sea Creature started playing their 1st song of electronic drum solo silliness with ‘technical difficulties’. Now Julia and her father will say I’m a novice when it comes to music but really who announces after their 1st song that this is going to be their last performance! The only other time this has happened to me was with Nik and the Central Plains, after they performed and in private. As an aside, I had to offer Nik and his group shots of whiskey to say ok, people move on, grow up, get real jobs have to make a life after 29/30 years of age. And not to digress any further or to diminish their announcement or decision but it was awkward, for the audience and very sad for the Sea Creatures because after that they lacked any passion for the final songs. Very poorly thought out on so many levels.

The big winner here was Wigle Whiskey and their product. Steiner recommended a tasting tour ($20) and mentioned their North side space might be another venue for musical events down the road.

Courtesy of Wigle Whiskey's Instagram

Courtesy of Wigle Whiskey’s Instagram

 

As in any festival 1st, 2nd or 3rd time around, the atmosphere is so much a part of the general success. Whether it is the folks enjoying a libation, traveling from one site to another or just the camaraderie (queries from strangers, directions, showtimes, etc) it becomes a living/breathing, look for the next experience, that will make the evening, month or year. The Strip District Music Fest was no different. I met a variety of folks during the evening that made every place take on its own element of discovery. The first was an adorable couple from Chicago at Wigle Whiskey who relocated to the Burgh for work. They live downtown and were thrilled with the changes that are happening in town since they arrived plus excited to see so many people out at night in January (initial numbers mentioned were 9000 folks attending) So that was the take away, be open to everything and everybody,  as I continued on my evening walk north to The Pittsburgh Winery.

 

On my trek past new businesses on Smallman, I ran into another couple who joined me and we reminisced about the ‘old days’ of music in Pittsburgh with Graffiti, Rosebud, Club Laga, et al,  reliving the good to great concerts and finding commonality with a recent singer songwriter,  Sean Rowe, at the Club Café. All of us agreed he is amazing and so prolific plus he does a ton of house concerts nationwide, always a good thing. As expected, the conversation moved back to the evening and ‘who are you going to see next’ but not before they mentioned two other artists they loved these days. Namely Arlo Aldo and Nick Barilla (like the pasta). I hadn’t heard of either but plan to do the YouTube discovery tomorrow.

 

We all arrived at the Pittsburgh Winery to a line down the block, three fire trucks, paramedics  and Tim Gaber, owner of The Pittsburgh Winery in the thick of the crowd /craziness of a missing guitar, someone getting hit by a car and a mess to unravel for first responders. Note to organizers for next year, close down Penn Ave between 21st and 28thstreet cause it’s not worth what ensues when liquor, music and crowds of people all collide in a small defined area. Too much risk management and so easy to resolve for six hours of merriment.

 

In any case, we all stood in line for 15-20 minutes getting to know each other, figuring out our timetables, etc before we got into The Pittsburgh Winery to see singer/songwriters, Guy Russo at 8 and Kevin Garrett at 8:45. Each artist managed their set with such grace and professionalism that it gave me new found respect for their individual talent and commitment to their sound despite the distractions. Very impressive especially for Russo who had the larger crowd of chatty kathys surrounding him.

 

Guy Russo is a piano technician by day and a beautiful songwriter/acoustical guitarist by night. He built his set with each song, beginning with ‘Must Be I Have Lost My Mind.’ A crescendo performance of ‘Part of it All’ was just spectacular! Russo was appreciative and effectively managed his night job as only a few seasoned artists can do these days without someone like me getting up on stage and saying ‘HEY, there is someone playing here, pipe down’. So well done Guy!

 

Kevin Garrett on the other hand was totally different and in a great way. He dashed into the Winery from Point Breeze/NYC/Brooklyn and set up his keyboard and took over the tone of the room with his impressive piano technique and musical introduction before he broke into song with his unique falsetto voice. He was thoughtful with his repertoire and at times finished so quietly that you didn’t know if you should applaud or just wait for the next bar to begin again. Garrett was riveting and so humble about his talent that I wanted to give him a hug and say, ‘way to go, you’re on your way, it’s just fine tuning now’.

He was so thoughtful on his song choices that he really reminded me of a Michael Feinstein, Elvis Costello match up of the piano crooner magic in NY in the 1980’s. And then it hit me, Sam Smith duet, wow that would be amazing! And with all of this he managed to quiet the crowd storm, white noise and calm them down.

 

Afterwards I walked up stairs looked at Tim Gaber and Syma, thanked them for the evening. But not before stopping into Savoy for a welcome respite of civilization and common courtesy. ‘Cause with the commitment to any music festival comes the uncompromising hunger, exhaustion, sensory overload and needed bathroom breaks. Certainly what I have discovered is that when you cross paths with a hopping, happening place like Savoy you go in and make yourself comfortable.

 

Although not an official venue for the Pittsburgh Music Fest, Savoy is a musical center each and every week with Jazz on Mondays and Blues on Thursdays. On Saturday evening the four year old establishment was in fine form with a filled dining room and just enough space for me at the bar. I was impressed by the ambiance plus a VIP lounge for the heavy hitters who aren’t in Las Vegas and wanna have a ‘chill’ evening. So despite the easy time there I headed back downtown to BeerHive for yup, drum roll please…

 

Nevada Color live!! Julia has been raving about this band for months, with comparisons to Squeeze and Young the Giant, two favorites, but it took her leaving town to finally get me to a show. Now I had never been to BeerHive but clearly this establishment was not ready for the Strip District Fest, for god’s sake clear out the crowds after two sets so the establishments can clear and contain the trash. Beerhive was way too crowded and I never want to know whether the 2nd floor was up to fire code…’cause it was hot and packed! My final rant for the day.

 

In any event, I ran back into the adorable Chicago couple (everything happens for a reason) and we discussed the last few hours plus Nevada Color. I bought a six pack for the band and made my way to the 2nd floor to meet and greet these very talented young men from Point Park University and surrounding suburbs. Nevada Color has a new album out, new manager, imminent record deal and a full plate for 2015. The lead singer Quinn is a barrel of energy that is infectious and entertaining. After sound check which sounded perfect, they played two new songs, ‘Stay Away’ and ‘We Belong’, plus their current hit ‘New Mexico.’ Next came ‘Heart of Gold,’ ‘Coming of Age,’ and ‘Young People’ before calling it an evening. I think the rest of the band just follows Quinn’s lead and antics whether it’s on voice, dancing or demeanor. It all works beautifully. Clearly Nevada Color is in the process of well oiling their entertainment machine for the road and year ahead. All I can say is it was the highlight of the evening and did not disappoint me or the crowd of 100. I’m just sad that it took me so long to see them live, whereas Jules has seen them 5 (!!) times. Also news flash, Nevada Color will open for Cold War Kids at A+E on St Patty’s Day in March.

 

Finally at 11:45 I realized I was losing time, endurance (I’m almost 58) and one final act (so many things come to mind), so I scrambled to Framezilla to see The Red Western in its final minutes. The group started late so I was in luck or just lucky to hear the final three songs before they closed the frame shop down. Two standing O’s or dancing O’s later, this rockin four piece band led by vocalist Lauren DeLorenze, accomplished what no other artist could do–get everyone dancing. Their next show is 2/8 at The New Bohemian.

It was sheer delight to see the wave and music transform the Strip into a living, vibrating pulse, and to see local artists test their home town skills and succeed. Kudos to Josh Bakaitus for having the faith to bring all these folks together, the venues for throwing the party and the Strip for the vision that is transforming the small town we call home.

5 Music Enthusiasts on Their Favorite Shows of 2014

Everyone loves a good top-ten list, but we think you’ve heard enough of our opinions for one year. We called in a few favors for this list of bands you should kick yourself for missing. Enjoy, and happy new year!

Aaron Vazquez, photo/video at BKLYN1834 (Brooklyn)

Little Simz, 229 West 43rd

Little Simz is a UK based rapper and singer. I first saw her during our BLKYN1834 SXSW showcase, it was early on in the day, which is a tough slot. But she impressed us so much, that when we had a residency on the top floor of 229W43, we flew her in for our last night there and had her perform her own show. The space was very raw. It was literally 10,000sq ft of open space, three working outlets, and 5 kids who wanted to put on a show. That was literally all Simz needed. Having just released her first EP E.D.G.E., she was making big impressions– and landed on the front page of soundcloud. We had label execs, big NY artists, young kids, magazine writers, all show up to this empty space. That night we all saw how she was on another level as an artist. She has a passion, presence, and intensity that I have rarely ever experienced. We later made a short film about that night.

Kevin Shaw, student of the law and the grunge (Pittsburgh)

Operators, opening for Future Islands at Mr. Small’s.

Three androgynous figures emerge from the foggy darkness and lasers start flashing and then I hear synth and a driving beat like something straight from Paul van Dyk’s album Reflections and I smile and think: Holy shit these guys are good.

The smooth, but distant and otherworldly vocals, barely audible because I’m so far from the stage, let me focus on the interplay between the dark synth and the instrumentation. The applause seems to last forever—almost a part of the song itself, and segues seamlessly into the next eerie, hypnotic track; the perfection of the second track is even icier than the first but feels somehow hot and spine-tingling. The total sound, made up of deceptively few components, manages to feel at once deep and layered without sounding too studied or conscious. Four tracks in, I’m thinking that I need to buy the album (can’t remember the last time I said that), only to find out that it’s not out. And far more than the brooding, downtempo, Massive Attack-esque song filling the hall, it is this fact that depresses me.

Future Islands comes on. But even when they play a phenomenal rendition of “Tin Man” and my personal favorite, “Seasons,” they can’t overwhelm the sound of Operators still playing in my ears.

Matthew B. Thompson, KEXP photographer (Seattle)

Motopony, Neumos

On September 19th, 2014 at Neumos in Seattle, local band Motopony played to a nearly sold out crowd and asserted who they are and what they represent. On the cusp of a new album and in preparation for a tour in India, lead singer Daniel Blue and Co. performed raucously and intimately to the energetic crowd. With piercing vocals, an inescapable sound that combines synthesizers and beautiful melody work from guitarists Nate Daley and Mike Notter. Seeing a group like this perform is nothing short of special. There are great things ahead for Motopony and to bear witness in a venue like Neumos showcases the heart of Seattle. They’ll put out another album in 2015, and the band returns to the same venue on February 20th. I imagine the eagerness of the fans–including myself–will only continue to build as that date approaches.

Photo by Matt Thompson

Photo by Matt Thompson

Adam Valen, guitarist, Nevada Color (Pittsburgh)

OkGo, Mr.Small’s.

If there was one thing to take away from the show, it’s this: “Everyone loves confetti”. From the start, when the band was hidden behind curtains, to be revealed with their images projected on a screen on-stage, they exploded into “Upside Down, Inside Out” and “The Writing’s On the Wall.” Song after song, the band would eclipse into a frenzy of screams and confetti, like nothing I’d ever seen. But they reason to celebrate, as it was the eve of the release of their fourth album Hungry Ghosts. OkGo kept it high-energy the entire night, even during singer Damien Kulash’s intimate performance of “Last Leaf.” The band even did something I’ve never seen before and conducted the audience, recording clapping, singing, etc. into samples that were used as a drum track in their song “There’s a Fire.”

©2014 Jack Fordyce and Pittsburgh Music Magazine

©2014 Jack Fordyce and Pittsburgh Music Magazine

While their highly elaborated choreographed music videos helped put them on the map, their live music and production gave it justice. They projected GoPro images throughout the night onto a screen that emulated a weird 60’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band trippy feeling. The latter end of their performance included hits from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky like “Needing Getting” and “This Too Shall Pass”, which left everyone feeling like they should be in the marching band. They finally ended off the night with “Here it Goes Again.” A really great note to end on, and truly a high energy performance. I never spent a second looking down and around, their presence and charisma had me glued from the start.


Abigail Cook, the voice behind “Momments” (Pittsburgh)

Aloe Blacc, The Morphie Hangar at SXSW.

Could be a toss up between Aloe Blacc at SXSW and Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews) in Pittsburgh. Both did what few artists do in this day and age, commit fully to their music and promise to give performances that will keep their fans coming back. I felt at each of these concerts that dancing was a prerequisite. A Sammy Davis Jr. spirit was at work plus a big band conductor from swing era, Alton Glenn Miller fueling the tunes of these two extraordinary young talents. In today’s age of fly-by-night, one hit wonders, it is a pleasure and honor to see musicians who take their professional growth seriously and at the same time respect the audience.

If I had to pick one of these two young men it would be Aloe Blacc, who captured my heart with a Don Cornelius Soul Train dance off at the end of his final set. Oh my, what a perfect Austin scene at 1:30am!

Momments #10: Big and Brassy

I love the musical scene in Pittsburgh on these brisk November days. So much going on. Every band traipsing through town on their way to NYC, Chicago, Philly, Toronto and or combination of all before the holidays. Typically they roll into town and the first thing they say is ‘it’s too cold here’ but invariably they are welcomed by a very respectful musical fan base who just want to relish their aura for a few hours and warm up.

Photo Courtesy of WFVU

Photo Courtesy of WFVU

 

Certainly that happened last week on a few occasions. On Wednesday we had a second visit by St. Paul and the Broken Bones to da Burgh. I have to admit I may be their biggest fan since seeing them at SXSW in March this year. Their ability and talent just keeps on getting better, plus Paul Janeway is perhaps an Otis Redding soul whisperer. Whether it’s with his signature tunes like ‘Call Me’ or just the theatrics on a Beatles cover,  it is a pleasure to experience the transformation from Austin/Alabama to the big time. This summer the band played to a sold out audience at Club Café and one patron said to me, this is the last time you will see these guys at this size venue. It was way too small for both the sound and the seven pieces (especially with the brass section), so I was delighted when I heard they were coming to Mr. Small’s ‘church of sound’!! The band filled the 400 plus venue with a totally satisfying rendition of their newest album, Half the City. In addition, they covered Sam Cook with ‘Amen’ and a Beatles cover,  ‘Don’t Let Me Down.’ All were on point in arrangement and performed as only Janeway can do it–with a bit of twist and shout!

Photo Courtesy of WME Mgmt

Photo Courtesy of WME Mgmt

On Thursday, an equally grey day of rain and nasty weather,  I ventured out to the WYEP 40th birthday bash at the Renaissance Hotel with Trombone Shorty. Well I have to say, this kid (I can say that ‘cause they are all kids if they’re Julia’s age) was awesome!! And if you know me well enough you also know I hate that word, overused and played like the Old 97’s tune…

 

But this young man, Troy Andrews, was amazing from the minute he came out with his trumpet and trombone dressed in skinny jeans, white v neck tee shirt plus leather jacket to start with ‘Buck Jump.’ Sheesh!! This New Orleans native was up north and in town!! For the next hour (and three standing-O tunes), Trombone Shorty performed nonstop with his orchestra and made me think back to Aloe Blacc’s performance in Austin this spring. Both bring years of musical experience to the audience, but also commit to making the evening a true once in a lifetime spectacle.  Whether it was with fire and brimstone or just a trumpet/bass partnering, this young man has it down pat. The other thing he knows is that if he is happy playing his music it’s gonna be contagious and the audience will want to get up and dance. Needless to say the Benedum Theater was rocking to the warmth of Troy Andrews and his spectacular band, Orleans Avenue. It was especially gratifying to see two sax players on the 200 birthday of the inventor, Adolphe Saxophone strut their stuff with Trombone Shorty conducting.

Needless to say it’s a great time for bluesy pop, so question is, where’s our Steel City brass band?

Past Perspective: Joe Stevens

Whether it’s roots music or personal history, Joe Stevens embraces his heritage. While other members of the trans community throw off their former identities, Stevens embraces his, aware that his perspective would be entirely different had he not been born a shy, awkward girl.

“There was a whole body of music I’d created under this old name, and I wanted to kind of bring that back, pay homage to it. On the cd cover, I credited Caitlin Stevens. I wanted to pay respect where respect is due.”

Listen to Stevens’ new LP, Last Man Standing, and you’ll hear Caitlin on “Can’t See the Train.” Like an Appalachian predecessor, Stevens busts out an old instrument to connect two people with different lives and different experiences.

Caitlin, he explains, “played and wrote music as if [her] mental health depended on it. Because it did. That person suffered a fair amount. I see my music much more as a craft, it’s not just a coping mechanism anymore. I’m more aware of my processes.”

He may headline the Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s night at Cattivo tomorrow, but being a transgender male is not his calling card. Just so there’s no confusion, he’ll still come out during a set. But more and more Stevens is recognized for his lilting melodies and creative lyrics. “Most of the problem is when people have not met someone of the minority status.” The whole point of coming out, Stevens explains, is to bridge the gap between his fans.

Supporting Stevens is brasstastic Brooklyn band Great Caesar and the light, drawling electronics of Night Lights. Both offer newly-released EPs, the former delving into power pop with two fresh songs. And, at a pre-sale price of $10, these tickets leave enough for thirsty Thursday.