Saturday Stage Show Highlights

As the second day has come to a close, the final day of the 2012 Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival is upon us. Just as I felt last year, I am sad to see it come to an end, but I have had a blast. Here are some of my highlights from Saturday.

Sean Jones and his quintet lit up Penn Avenue with their show, as they did at last year’s festival. Sean was accompanied by Brian Hogans on alto sax, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Luques Curtis of the Curtis Brothers, and Obed Calvaire on drums. There was a magical moment during the band’s performance of “The Sluice” as Sean’s solo soared into the upper register and seemed to part the clouds, letting the sun shine down on the crowd standing in the rain. The group also performed a composition Sean wrote for the festival as Artist-in-Residence with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. He said that he dedicated it to the city of Pittsburgh, and wanted to write a hard-swinging homage to Pittsburgh jazz legends Art Blakey and Roger Humphries. Sean named the tune “Liberty Avenue Stroll” in honor of one of Pittsburgh’s main thoroughfares. Sean wowed the crowd with an extended unaccompanied solo on a composition written for his nephew entitled “BJ’s Tune”. I for one am eternally grateful that Sean Jones decided to come to Pittsburgh.

The performance of the Robert Glasper Experiment left me struggling for words to describe the experience. From the harmonies of Glasper’s keyboard and the quirky soul of Casey Benjamin’s synthesized vocals, to Earl Travis’ funky bass and the skittering off-kilter rhythms of Mark Collenburg’s drums, their unique blend of jazz, hip hop, R&B, and funk gives them an extremely modern sound that left the audience captivated. Keeping with Glasper’s philosophy of making jazz cool again, the group put a new-age jazz twist on Nirvana’s classic grunge rock anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. At the end of the show, Glasper commented on how it was their first time in Pittsburgh they only got to play for 45 minutes. He said he’d love to come back and play for longer next time, and I think most of Pittsburgh’s jazz lovers would love to see this happen.

Of course, I have to mention the show that capped off the Saturday lineup: The Average White Band. Their funky grooves had many in the crowd on Penn Avenue dancing in the street, but it seemed everyone was at least tapping their feet and nodding their heads to the beat. Although the band might appeal more to the older generations of music lovers, the younger crowd enjoyed them just the same. After their performance the excited cheers and applause from Penn Avenue brought the band back on stage for an encore performance of one of their biggest hits, “Pick Up The Pieces”, which definitely ended Saturday’s stage performances on a high note.

There’s still more stage shows in store today on the last day of the 2012 Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival. I hope to see you down there!

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