Cut Out for It: The Matisse Jazz Project explores the art of improvisation


The Matisse Jazz Project, Christopher Bakriges, Gwen Laster

Christopher Bakriges and Gwen Laster return to their native Michigan for three concerts by their Matisse Jazz Project.

In 2009, pianist Christopher Bakriges, a former student of Oscar Peterson, had the idea to compose music that corresponded to individual pieces in Henri Matisse’s Jazz series, which was published in 1947 and consists of 20 striking paper collages inspired by improvisation. It was 2012 when Bakriges finished all 20 compositions, and The Matisse Jazz Project was born soon after.

Prior to 2017, Bakriges had performed his Matisse-inspired compositions with violinist Stanley Chepaitis, but now the project features Gwen Laster on violin. The duo will play three shows in Michigan this weekend, including two concerts in Ann Arbor and one at the Detroit Institute of Art.

“It’s expansive. It stimulates the senses differently," Laster said about the Project. “Each piece has a distinct personality and flavor in your mind."

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New leader in place, UMS raises the baton for a new season


Ragmala Dance Company, Matthew VanBesien

Ragmala Dance Company's Written in Water sways into town Oct. 20. But new UMS president Matthew VanBesien is already in A2.

When the curtain rises on the new University Musical Society (UMS) season next month, for the first time in 30 years the venerable performing-arts presenting organization will do so with a new president. Matthew VanBesien comes to Ann Arbor from the presidency of the New York Philharmonic, but that’s not as big a leap as it might appear.

“I was born in the Midwest,” he explains during a recent interview. “I was definitely a product of good midwestern public school music education. I went to school at (Indiana University) for music. ... The times that I’ve been back in this part of the country, it always feels like home.

“Ann Arbor, of course, is a very special place. It’s hard to think of very many small cities in America that have the complete package the way this place does,” he adds. “I really value what’s here -- the environment, the spirit, the intellectual curiosity -- it’s terrific.”

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Livin' Large: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at The Michigan Theater


Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at The Michigan Theater

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band filled up The Michigan Theater -- both on stage and with a sold-out house.

Fans of Lyle Lovett know a solo concert by the great Texas troubadour will be a reliably good time. But a show by Lovett with his Large Band, a 12-member ensemble of brilliant musicians -- well, that’s a real occasion, an event not to be missed.

The reasons for that were on full display Friday night at the Michigan Theater, as Lovett and his Large Band entertained a sold-out house for two and a half hours, exploring any number of different musical styles and evoking a full range of emotions.

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The Record Company lifted Sonic Lunch "Off the Ground"


The Record Company at Sonic Lunch

The Record Company doesn't need a guitar to rock Sonic Lunch. Photograph by Christopher Porter.

“We’re The Record Company, and we play rock-n-roll,” frontman Chris Vos said in opening and closing Thursday’s Sonic Lunch concert. He didn’t really need to say it, since any doubts about that would have been wiped out by the raucous and energetic hour of music in between.

Thursday’s show marked the public return of Martin Bandyke, popular local DJ for WQKL (107.1-FM) and longtime Sonic Lunch MC, who is recovering from recent heart surgery. Vos dedicated the show to him before the trio launched full force into the blues rocker “On the Move” -- one of the highlights of last year’s acclaimed and Grammy-nominated debut album, Give It Back to You -- with Vos punctuating his intense vocals with some equally intense harmonica lines. That led into their latest single, “Baby I’m Broken,” which if anything ramped up the energy level even further.

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U-M SMTD's tidy exhibition of Beatles material celebrates the 50th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper's"


The University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, and Dance's “Summit of Creativity: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ of 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band'" drew experts from across the country in June to examine and analyze this timeless music with an academic panache typically reserved for the likes of Shakespeare, Gilgamesh, and radioisotopes.

By contrast, U-M musicologist Walter Everett’s 46-item exhibit 50th Anniversary of the Release of 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' is tidy in comparison to the sprawling analysis bestowed on The Beatles and this record in particular. Both the band and Sgt. Pepper's are now part of the firmament in our shared cultural and intellectual history, and they are now well worthy of deep study and scrutiny. But The Beatles certainly didn’t conceive the album with all that in mind.

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Michigan Chamber Folk: Chris DuPont is “Live in A2" (and Ypsilanti)


Chris Dupont

Chris Dupont's new CD is a love letter to his loyal fans.

While building a reputation as a talented performer and songwriter, Ypsilanti’s Chris DuPont has kept up a schedule of releasing an album every couple of years. After three well-received studio outings, this year’s release is called Live in A2 -- and it developed as something of an accident.

“I honestly don’t really like live albums very much,” DuPont says with a smile. “There are a couple I love, but it’s not something I really imagined doing.”

But a soundboard recording was made of his show last year at The Ark. Listening to the results, he was struck by how good it sounded. So he decided to do a low-key release, with the first half of the album drawn from The Ark show and the second half featuring some concert favorites recorded “live in studio” at Ann Arbor’s Solid Sound Recording Co.

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Partners in Rhyme: Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark


Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark

Katie Geddes and David Vaughn's musical partnership extends from the Green Wood Coffee House to The Ark.

Katie Geddes' warm voice and inviting onstage personality make you feel like you are getting a virtual hug at her concerts. And maybe that feeling will make you want to hug someone, too.

Her voice is a cross between Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, and her music selections hark back to gospel and country stars of old, but there is a contemporary edge to her presence and vocal stylings. The result is a sound that makes her sound simultaneously modern and timeless.

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American Music: Brazilian pianist André Mehmari dazzles in Kerrytown


André Mehmari

André Mehmari.

As he introduced each piece during his July 16 performance at Kerrytown Concert House, André Mehmari tended to position himself between the small audience and the jet black bulk of the concert piano behind him on stage. Standing in a manner that was at once relaxed and poised, the 40-year-old Brazilian pianist and composer would sometimes lightly rest a hand on the edge of the instrument’s body as he spoke, engaging with his audience in a manner befitting the intimate space of the venue.

“I think that it’s very important to play this music, to tell the story of Brazilian music,” he explained. Mehmari -- who appeared at Kerrytown Concert House nearly a year prior -- brought with him an exciting collection of repertoire, music infused with influences of jazz, ragtime, classical, and all manner of Brazilian and Latin American music.

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Tools Crew Live: Approachable Minorities


Downloads:
MP3 for "Bodies” + “Bet"
720p video, 480p video or 240p video

Tools Crew Live is an ongoing video series where we invite artists to perform with gear borrowed from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection: aadl.org/musictools.

* This video contains explicit content. *

As evidenced by their name, Approachable Minorities make strong social statements couched in playfully pointed language. The Ypsilanti hip-hop trio -- MCs Drew Denton and TJ Greggs with DJ Marcus McKinney -- released its debut album, Afro-American, in April 2016, and Denton’s solo LP, The Ascension Theory, arrived in December.

Approachable Minorities have worked hard to promote their music through a series of concerts under the name Northern Threat Entertainment, but the group is largely still a Washtenaw County phenomenon. But any label or manager looking to sign a talented and motivated group of artists who are ready to put in the work to promote their art would do well to turn 2017 into Approachable Minorities’ breakout year.

Impressed by the ensemble’s creativity and energy, we invited Approachable Minorities and their friend Cole Greve to check out a bunch Music Tools from the Ann Arbor District Library, learn how to use the gear, and come cut a Tools Crew Live video. The group re-created two cuts from Afro-American -- “Bodies” and “Bet” -- on the library’s gear and performed the songs at AADL’s downtown branch on June 9, 2017.

We spoke with Denton about the group’s history, the stories behind the songs, and the challenges and rewards of learning new music gear from scratch.

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Piano Panorama: André Mehmari returns to Kerrytown


André Mehmari

André Mehmari piano playing blurs genres and styles. Photo by Flávio Charchar.

André Mehmari plays piano like it's an extension of his body. It's easy to imagine his fingers taking the place of the piano's hammers and directly pounding the strings that stretch from inside the keyboard and connect directly to his brain. His hands move like dancers, gliding over the keys with such grace and flow that it's hard not to stare at them as he fills the room with gorgeous melodies and blissful harmonic combinations.

Born in 1977 in Niterói, Brazil, a town across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, Mehmari began studying piano with his mom at age 5, learned how to improvise soon after, and by 10 had written his first compositions. His wide-ranging, highly personal playing incorporates jazz, classical, and all forms of Brazilian music, and those styles spill out on the piano with stunning fluidity.

Mehmari returns to Ann Arbor to play Kerrytown Concert House on Sunday, July 16, two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of his last concert there. He’s also playing the Toledo Museum of Art on Saturday, July 15, where he will get to perform in the Glass Pavilion on a super-cool Wendell Castle-designed Steinway piano as well as playing a percussive improvisation on original glass art that was crafted for the museum’s Hot Shop.

We talked to Mehmari about his technique, sui genris Beatles covers, and glass marimbas

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