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For Opus, making music is anything but work

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That’s Latin for work, as in Magnum Opus.

But playing music has been anything but work for this Milwaukee-based jazz band.

The core group that is Opus got its start at UWM in the mid 70s when bassist Larry Tresp and Curt Hanrahan, woodwinds, started in earnest.

Hanrahan had Berklee College of Music in Boston in his pedigree.

“We cut our teeth copying riffs from Charlie (Bird) Parker,” guitarist Steve Lewandowski said in a recent interview.

Lewandowski has been with the group since 1979.

James Sodke on keys and Brian Ford on the skins round out the quintet.

“We really dug groups like Weather Report and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.”

It was at that time that the “fusion” craze was in full swing.

Groups like The Crusaders, Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra, Sweetbottom (also from MKE) and others were all over the charts.

Opus was able to capitalize on that short-lived musical comet and landed a regular gig at Sardino’s Bull Ring on the east side.

“We didn’t necessarily play what you’d call fusion,” Lewandowski said.

“We were more straight-ahead jazz. Our roots were in bebop.”

Then, came the 80s and along with them careers, families and other responsibilities.

Opus was no more.

But the band members kept in touch with each other and with their favorite music, continuing to write songs.

The fellas talked about sticking with it and trying for that ever-elusive trait of all bands – longevity.

The group has never had a ‘Yoko Ono moment,’ they have always gotten along onstage and off.

Fast forward to 2013 and the release of Opus’ latest opus, appropriately named: Timeless.

This drop is aptly named since it harkens back to a different era.

The listener is immediately transported across time and space to the smoke-filled jazz clubs in New York City circa the late 1950s.

The two covers on the six-song effort -- McCoy Tyner’s Senor Carlos and Eric Alexander’s Burner’s Waltz -- seem right at home with the new tunes.

And that is no accident.

Lewandowski’s Blue Twos is more up tempo and simply oozes that cool jazz feel.

Santa Fe, penned by co-founder Hanrahan, is breezy and reminiscent of the desert winds.

Lewandowski comes right at you with Trinity for devotees of that classic, straight-ahead style.

The longest cut, Palmetto Dunes by Sodke, is the cherry on this jazz sundae that can be enjoyed whenever you’re in the mood.

For information on all things Opus, including their schedule, the CD, merch and the like go to

These musicians play out in various different configurations, but when they come together, it’s magic.

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