Dholing Out the Jams: Red Baraat at Ann Arbor Summer Festival


Red Baraat

Red Baraat had Ann Arbor dancing (and applauding its soundchecks). Photo by Sairah Husain.

Red Baraat set Rackham outdoor stage ablaze on Saturday night. The eight-piece, Brooklyn-based band's melodious mix of Bhangra dhol beats and big-band brass had the approximately 300-person crowd at Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park throwing their hands up and shrugging their shoulders in high-energy Bhangra form.

For those unfamiliar with Bhangra, the dance moves are commonly described as being like a "light bulb twist." Though I cringe a bit at that cliche, Red Baraat leader Sunny Jain used this very description to encourage audience members to dance to his electrifying dhol drumming.

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High Octane: Summer Metal Fest 2017


Summer Metal Fest 2017

All good music begins in the garage. Music festivals, too.

“I did a show in my dad's garage last summer and started talking with one of the bands that played and started October Punk Fest last year,” said Ypsilanti-raised Ryan Wilcox, 37.

Wilcox has upped the mosh and morphed October Punk Fest into the Summer Metal Fest, which happens July 8 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds.

“This year the Farm Council Grounds was booked in October so we moved the date to July and changed the name,” Wilcox said. “I'm still deciding if I want to do both shows next year; I know for sure I will be doing Summer Metal Fest again.

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Quick Wit and High Kicks: Theo Katzman at Sonic Lunch


“I can do my comedy thing up here, and I’m not afraid to do it,” joked guitarist, singer-songwriter, and Vulfpeck drummer Theo Katzman to a packed Sonic Lunch crowd on Thursday, June 29, at Liberty Plaza. “I have a safety net of 300 people to catch me if I fall”

Katzman’s songs are filled with this kind of honesty and humorous self-reflection, which is what makes them instantly relatable. His poetic and catchy sound blends elements of classic rock, soft rock, pop, and R&B, and his lyrics often revolve around the difficult and rewarding aspects of romantic love.

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Of Jokes and False Starts: The Church's merry psychedelia rocked The Ark


The Church

The Church spent a few days in Ann Arbor soaking up the vibes before its show at The Ark.

Before the first encore of The Church’s set at The Ark on Wednesday, June 28, guitarist Peter Koppes joked, “We can use the encore to rehearse for tomorrow's festival.”

Every good jape contains a kernel of truth, and Koppes’ honesty hit the mark. Singer-bassist Steve Kilbey said this was the band’s first show in a year, and The Church spent a lot of the show working out the kinks: adjusting their sound mid-song, dealing with equipment malfunctions, and relearning songs new and old.

Even after hitting stages around the world for 37 years, it's nice to know that the band best known for the 1988 hit "Under the Milky Way" can sometimes still feel like absolute beginners again -- and do so with giant smiles on the muscians' faces.

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Instinct to Play: Thollem McDonas at Kerrytown Concert House


Thollem McDonas might be a compulsive collaborator. The American pianist, composer, keyboardist, songwriter, activist, teacher, and author's many projects have included several renowned, and lesser known, players over the years, and he doesn't seem to be slowing.

From improvisations with perennial experimental music headliners -- guitarist Nels Cline; double bassist William Parker; the late composer, accordionist, and electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros -- to his Italian agit-punk unit Tsigoti and the art-damaged spiel of the Hand to Man Band (also featuring American punk icon Mike Watt on bass and Deerhoof's John Dietrich on guitar), there's little ground McDonas hasn't covered or isn't covering. He might just be the ideal "six-degrees-of" candidate for people into that particular Venn diagram of weird improv, challenging chamber music, and thinking-people's punk rock.

McDonas plays Kerrytown Concert House on Friday, June 30, with a trio completed by two accomplished locals: reedman Piotr Michalowski and cellist Abby Alwin. We talked with the restless, and very thoughtful, pianist by email about his many collaborations, balancing political action with music, and sitting down at Claude Debussy's piano.

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Diving Into the Devine: The Church at The Ark


When The Church announced its summer 2017 North American tour, I was surprised the band was booked at The Ark. When I saw the group play in 2015, the long-running Australian rockers filled the large Fillmore venue in Silver Spring, Md., with loud, room-rumbling psychedelia. The intimate Ark and its acoustic-friendly acoustics might have to call in the remodelers after The Church is done blowing the roof off the place on Wednesday, June 28.

Led by prolific singer-bassist Steve Kilbey, The Church formed in Sydney, Australia, in 1980. While the group will forever be best known for its 1988 hit "Under the Milky Way," the band has survived lineup changes, record label problems, and a changing marketplace to continue producing smart, sonically compelling songs that reward close listening. (Kilby's numerous solo albums and collaborations fit that description, too.)

The Ark show kicks off The Church's North American tour, and my colleague Amanda Szot -- AADL's graphic designer -- bought a ticket as soon as they went on sale. We've talked about The Church many times, so we decided to create a Spotify playlist of our favorite songs -- including the lovely new single "New Century" -- and have a GChat about the band.

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Virtuoso Vibes: Gwilym Simcock at Kerrytown Concert House


Ever since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in 1700, virtuosos have found ways to leave distinctive marks on the instrument's 88 keys. Over the past 15 years, Gwilym Simcock has earned the virtuoso description through a series of recordings, concerts, and compositions that explore the full harmonic and percussive spectrum of the piano.

Simcock blends classical elements that can be traced to the instrument's inception alongside modern improvisational acumen that recalls the harmonically dense but intensely lyrical jazz of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. It's an intensely personal but inviting sound: Even as your brain does flips trying to figure out what Simcock's playing as his hands blaze over the keys, your toes still tap in time to his undeniable grooves.

The pianist is an important part of working bands led by guitarists Pat Metheny and Wolfgang Muthspiel, but it's Simcock's solo performances that have brought him the greatest acclaim, including being nominated for the UK's most prestigious music award, the Mercury Prize, in 2011 for the Good Days at Schloss Elmau album.

Simcock will play solo at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, June 24, and we talked to the British pianist about his work with major guitarists, the way he connects to audiences, how he discovered jazz, and what he teaches classical pianist students about improvisation.

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When Hitsville Hit Zimbabwe: Music scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda


Joyce Jenje Makwenda

Music scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda is studying Motown's influence on Zimbabwean music.

It’s approximately 8,000 miles from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Detroit, Michigan. But music and culture scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda feels like Motown’s daughter.

“Motown raised me,” she said. “I’m a child of Motown music.”

Makwenda owns one of Zimbabwe's largest archives of music-related documents, from newspapers and photos to vinyl records and instruments. The Joyce Jenje Makwenda Collection Archives allows scholars to research the rich history of Zimbabwean music, from folk music played on the mbira (thumb piano) and the township jazz that dominated much of the mid-20th century, to the modern protest sounds of Thomas Mapfumo’s chimurenga music.

She's also the 2017 Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit research resident -- in partnership with U-M's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series and Harare's Njelele Art Station -- which is why she's in Michigan this summer investigating the influence of Motown music on her home country.

Makwenda will discuss her research with EMU’s Dr. Melvin Peters on Thursday, June 22, at 6 pm at Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, 307 N. River St., Ypsilanti.

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Rhiannon Giddens brought tough truths and stunning songs to the Power Center


Artists have a long history of transforming pain (communal or personal) into something beautiful -- and right now, no one does that better than celebrated roots musician Rhiannon Giddens, who played an Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage show at the Power Center on Wednesday night.

Giddens, who first drew mainstream attention as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now appears on the TV drama Nashville, opened Wednesday’s two-hour set with her haunting take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Mary,” during which Giddens’ gorgeous vocal storytelling countered the song’s heavy, thumping drumbeat; and “The Love We Almost Had,” a jaunty chronicle of longing and regret that Giddens concluded with some grade-A scatting.

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Pink Martini brought fearless musical exploration to the Power Center


If you’re at a concert, and during the course of the evening, one of the performers says, “That last song was in Turkish, and this next song is in Armenian,” it’s a pretty sure bet you’re seeing world music super-group Pink Martini. (Lucky you!)

A sold-out crowd packed the Power Center on Tuesday night to see the 11-member, Oregon-based band, which filled the second slot in this year’s Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage season after Diana Krall kicked things off last week.

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