By Mike Shanley
Pittsburgh Current Music Writer
LovePghMusic month might be over, but the flow of new local music shows no signs of slowing down in August. This weekend, the Thunderbird Café and Music Hall hosts two vastly different local groups with new material.
A wealth of ideas are packed into Mirror Butterfly: The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite, the debut album from the Afro Yaqui Music Collective. Described as a jazz opera, it begins with a free jazz blast from a saxophone quartet before moving through dramatic spoken word interludes, funk beats and classical arias as well as musical influences from around the world. As the work unfolds, the Collective, who describe themselves as a “25-piece postcolonial big band,” straddles all these styles with grace and vitality, retelling a story based on a Mayan folktale that has strong parallels with the plight of people in 2019.
Afro Yaqui Music Collective CD Release: Friday August 2. 8 p.m. With All Praise Duo.
Chad Sipes Stereo EP Release: Saturday, August 3. 8 p.m. $10. With Chet Vincent & the Big Bend, Dan Getkin & Twelve Six. Both shows at the Thunderbird Café & Music Hall, 4053 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-682-0177
Based on “The Story of the Sword,” Mirror Butterfly tells the story of a culture in danger of genocide, through a parable about a sword that cuts down a tree. With lyrics coming from actual testimonies from activists in Tanzania, Syrian Kurdistan and the Yaqui nation of Mexico, the work chronicles the struggle of indigenous people and the eventual renewal of life, through the four-mirrored butterfly that destroys the sword and helps the tree regenerate.
The Afro Yaqui Music Collective was formed in 2016 by baritone saxophonist Ben Barson and vocalist Gizelxanath Rodriguez. Barson studied his instrument with the late composer-saxophonist Fred Ho and won ASCAP’s top award for jazz composers under 30. He composed the music for Mirror Butterfly and poet/playwright Ruth Margraff wrote the libretto. Rodriguez draws on her experience growing up in American and Mexican cultures, as well as her Indigenous Yaqui lineage. Before the release of the album, the Collective performed Mirror Butterfly at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Chad Sipes Stereo’s music is far removed from the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, but the opening track on the former’s Dig EP, “Extinct” shares a similar concern about the environment. Over a chunky power riff, bassist/singer Chad Sipes sangs, “We all want more space/ so we dig up this place.” The implication is that it’s not the best approach either.
It’s been eight years since Sipes released a recording. He’s hardly been silent during that time, however, working as a supporting member of the Ramble Band, the rotating crew of musicians that play with WDVE-FM deejay Randy Baumann. The four-piece Sipes Stereo group wastes no time getting back into the swing of things with the five tracks on Dig. Their sound has a guitar-centric sound which they refine with subtle variations. “Technology” has a minor feeling that recalls moody ’90s rock, but here as with “Extinct,” Sipes comes across like a storyteller, doing more than simply setting a mood. His high voice provides a good contrast to the wall of guitars. The approach might be classic, but the group has their own identity, which hasn’t mellowed since their last album. Dig will be a digital-only release.