Lullabies & "Lullaboy": Broadway star Jessica Grové sings to benefit Encore Theater


Come to the cabaret, old chums, to hear Jessica Grové belt out some tunes. Photo by Justin Patterson.

At this point in her career, actress/singer Jessica Grové -- whose Broadway credits include A Little Night Music (with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch), Sunday in the Park with George, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Les Miserables -- is ready to venture into new, more personal territory: a cabaret show titled I Have Found: A Journey Through Song with Jessica Grove, which she’ll premiere this weekend at Dexter’s Encore Theater. (Friday’s performance is concert-only, while Saturday’s is Encore’s gala fundraiser.)

“I’ve done concerts before -- like, an hour-long concert of songs -- but cabaret is a whole different art form,” said Grové. “You have to tie them together in a meaningful way, and have a climax, and have a realization and a summation. Those are writer things, and I’ve never considered myself a writer, but I’ve really enjoyed the process.”


Personal Jams: Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers celebrate new LP at The Blind Pig

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers visit Pluto on their new album.

Most jam bands flaunting funky guitar riffs and soulful saxophone solos don’t feature lyrics featuring inward exploration and Joseph Campbell references. But Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers fill this hole in your musical palate you didn’t even know you had.

Producer and bassist Kevin Pritchard heard Hertler through Bigger Brush Media’s Quilted Attic session series in Lansing, where the singer lives. From there, the project took off. Their first album, 2011's On Being, features plenty of banjo and fingerpicking, resembling Hertler’s early solo EPs. It’s obvious the group was just getting its sea legs in terms of crafting the funk-pop sound they finally settled on.

On 2014’s Terra Incognita, the outfit solidified its acoustic-rooted, electric-accented, boogie-jam focus. Standout tracks like “The Garden” and “Future Talk” talk about the necessity of living in the moment and being devoted to those you care about. For the brand new Pluto, electronica has crept into the Rainbow Seekers' sound, but Hertler’s lyricism is still evident on the singles “Lonely” and “Crimson Line."

Hertler’s lyrics come across like Henry David Thoreau meets Passion Pit with their fusing of natural influences and pop rhythm and meter. “Crimson Line” from Pluto is a masterful display of Hertler’s profound connection to the Earth and doesn’t seem like it belongs in a synth-based track. The opening lines, “As staccato mountains rise to meet their morning form / Their peaks ignited while the sun reaches on overboard,” conveyed through Hertler’s soft but funky falsetto, could make a suburbanite worship the natural Earth.

Every Rainbow Seekers show is full of flowery sets, some form of outlandish costume -- multi-colored feather capes and grandpa sweaters -- and good vibes all around. The Rainbow Seekers also like to dip into energy-filled covers, with the Ghostbusters theme sneaking its way into a setlist every now and then.

The Rainbow Seekers will play back-to-back gigs at The Blind Pig Thursday, March 30 and Friday, March 31 to celebrate the release of Pluto.

In an email interview with Pulp, Hertler spoke about his songwriting process, Pluto, and who he would like to grab lunch with.


A Mess of Best: Stef Chura at The B-Side

Stef Chura

Pity in pink: Stef Chura's Messes LP is an emotional roller-coaster. Photo by Arvida Bystro.

Stef Chura's debut studio album, Messes, is a guided trip through her metamorphosis as an artist, from bedroom folkie to budding indie-rock star. Some tracks reflect the image of Chura recording her earlier lo-fi cassettes, while others cast you into a dimly-lit house show in Ypsi. But “Slow Motion” and “Faded Heart” are tighter and more powerful than her earlier works and have the potential to shoot Chura into bigger venues, such as her recently announced spot on Detroit’s Mo Pop Music Festival lineup at the end of July.

Messes, which came out January 27 on Urinal Cake Records, is a culmination of Chura’s best songs over many years of performing and writing, which is why it sounds so diverse. The LP’s album art -- a collage of liquid makeup, sprinkles, spiderwebs, and a waffle -- is testimony to the album’s capacity to switch from “fingerpicky” (an adjective Chura chose to tag her album on her Bandcamp page, such as the Joni Mitchell-goes-electric "Human Being," to uptempo alternative jams, such as "Spotted Gold."

Her emotive, slurring vocals and introspective lyrics reflect classic poetic influences infused with '90s punk movements such as Riot Grrl. Lines like “You'll be looking at a depression in the sand / At the silhouette of an unfolded hand” from “Slow Motion” sound as if they came from the pen of Walt Whitman, while “Spotted Gold” has a lyric -- “You've been reckless for so long / You've been reckless on a marathon / But if you wanted to walk away / You can do that” -- that evokes Bikini Kill.

Chura will be performing with her drummer at The B-Side in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 1 and will be joined by Ypsilanti’s Wraith and The Present Company.

We talked to Chura about her LP, the influence of the Ann Arbor-Ypsi music scene on the now Detroit-based artist, getting kicked out of boarding school, and more. You can also stream Messes in its entirety.


Taking Comfort in Beethoven: The Takács Quartet at Rackham

The Takács Quartet

The Takács Quartet. Photo credit by Keith Saunders.

“The times are a little tricky right now,” said Geraldine Walther, violist for The Takács Quartet. “In Beethoven’s day, as Napoleon’s army marched through Vienna, times were a little tricky, too. People are thirsty for something to hang on to.”

And that means there’s a real need for Beethoven’s string quartets.

“It’s very troubled music and very tragic, and somehow Beethoven makes a transformation and comes out of the darkness into the light, and we all go there with him and come out again,” said Walther.

“I feel we can center ourselves in art, and especially in this very profound music of another world,” she added. “There’s something about Beethoven. He’s able to convey what it means to be a human being in an all-embracing way everyone can identify with. And we as performers get to experience that first-hand with the audiences. It’s really been a great experience to play the quartets, and to play them now. Everywhere we’ve gone -- London or Berkley, Princeton or Ann Arbor, everyone is thirsty for this.”


No Fixed Narratives: Bassist James Ilgenfritz at Kerrytown Concert House


Michigan native and U-M grad James Ilgenfritz brings his bass back to home for a Kerrytown Concert House solo gig.

Whether he's reframing William S. Burroughs' cut-up prose as opera with his long-running Anagram Ensemble, fusing progressive rock riffing with avant-jazz in electric trio Hypercolor, or bowing his strings with multiple bows and springs on his own, bassist James Ilgenfritz is regularly questioning perceptions and pushing back against sound barriers.

"Music is a fundamentally abstract art form, as it does not have the type of figurative quality words or images can communicate," Ilgenfritz wrote in an email, describing what inspired him to transcribe the work of composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton for his 2011 debut solo album, Compositions (Braxton). "But we often give in to the temptation to shoehorn music into fixed narratives and the illusion that meaning can be an absolute."

The Brooklyn, New York-based musician grew up in Monroe and studied music at the University of Michigan. He played with several Ann Arbor and Detroit-based groups, including Bill Brovold's experimental rock troupe Larval, before moving out of state to further his musical path.

In January, Ilgenfritz led a string section playing arrangements he'd written for composer and performer M. Lamar's Funeral Doom Spiritual in Brooklyn. The new monodrama written by Lamar with musician Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (of "transcendental" metal band Liturgy) takes place in the future and "explores radical historical expressions and futuristic longings for destruction of the white supremacist world order."

This month, Ilgenfritz is releasing his second solo album, Origami Cosmos (Infrequent Seams), featuring four new solo works for bass written for him by four different New York composers.

On Wednesday, March 15, Ilgenfritz will give a solo contrabass performance at Kerrytown Concert House featuring music from his new album, his Braxton transcriptions, and an old favorite from his Ann Arbor days by a U-M professor.


Tools Crew Live: Bill Van Loo

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Bill Van Loo is a polymath.

“The description I use to describe to people what I do is I’m a maker, teacher, musician, and photographer,” he said, “and at any given point in my life, one or more of those areas is going to be more prevalent or in the forefront than others.”

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Van Loo was part of the Detroit techno scene, including performing on the Underground Stage in 2000 at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the now-legendary electronic-music event now known as Movement. He released most of his music on his own chromedecay label, and was part of a collective called Thinkbox, which created audio-visual multimedia performances and performed at the Movement Festival in 2003 and Montreal’s huge Mutek fest in 2004.

But for much of the past decade-plus, Van Loo has focused on his teaching career. He’s currently the technology, engineering, and design educator at A2 STEAM, the three-year-old K-8 school that has a heavy focus on project-based learning and tech. At the end of 2016, Van Loo finished his master’s degree in educational media and technology from Eastern Michigan University -- and suddenly found himself with enough free time to bring music to the forefront once again.

Van Loo’s currently working on new material in his home studio and hopes to release an EP or mini-LP on Bandcamp in the spring. We took advantage of Van Loo's sudden return to music by having him be the featured artist in our second Tools Crew Live video series where we have musicians use gear from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection to create jams. (Fred Thomas was our first artist, which you can view here.)

Van Loo recorded the videos on January 3 and on February 16 we talked about the songs he performed -- one techno banger, one ambient guitar bliss-out -- and the gear he chose.


Sisters and Saxophones: Tristan Cappel's debut, "Deadbird," was a lifetime in the making

Tristan Cappel

Alto saxophonist Tristan Cappel will celebrate the release of his debut album, Deadbird, at Canterbury House on March 11.

Tristan Cappel may have never picked up the alto saxophone were it not for his sister.

“My sister is four years older and I always looked up to her growing up, following in her footsteps in any way I could,” said the 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan. “In 5th grade, band class was an option at my elementary school and my sister, who also played clarinet in the band, urged me to join and play saxophone. Wanting to be like her, I did.”

If you consider the long tail of her influence, his sister's encouragement all those years ago is ultimately what lead to Cappel making his debut album, Deadbird. The LP features eight original jazz compositions by the native of Sterling Heights, Michigan, all composed between ages 17 to 20. He recorded the album at U-M's Duderstadt Center studio and mixed the album himself.

Cappel’s alto sax sound is dry and lean, filled with rhythmic attacks as much as harmonic exploration. His bandmates do a great job of dipping into the avant-garde without falling into wholesale honking, in large part because they don’t need to play extreme for Cappel’s catchy songs to sound edgy as well. His compositions allow plenty of space for rhythmic interplay and chromaticism while maintaining a solid base of hooks and beats that quickly rope listeners into his sound world.

Cappel celebrates the release of Deadbird with a show at Canterbury House on Saturday, March 11. We emailed with the multitalented altoist, who gave long, thoughtful answers to our questions. At the end of the interview, you can stream Deadbird and read Cappel's track-by-track tour of the album.


Wild Swan Theater's family concert truly is "An Afternoon of Ann Arbor’s Best" -- and its plays are pretty fun, too

Wild Swan Theater's Sandy Ryder

Wild Swan Theater's Hilary Cohen and Sandy Ryder are all propped up.

Sandy Ryder represents some of the best things about Ann Arbor. She's someone who came to town for school, never left, and then went on to create businesses and good works that she has generously shared with the community for decades.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in theater, Ryder taught, worked as a clown and a mime, and did improv with a children’s theater group. In 1979, she started Say Cheese Cheesecakes bakery (which closed in 2006 under different owners). Then in 1980, she cofounded Wild Swan Theater with Hilary Cohen.

Over the past 27 years, Wild Swan has distinguished itself as a place for all people, especially children with disabilities.

“My favorite thing is to have everything accessible -- workshops, traveling shows, everything," Ryder said. "We have ASL shadowed into the show, kids with visual impairments can come to a touch tour on stage. Everyone can share the experience together, everyone can enjoy the play.”


Multiple Personality Music: Lake Street Dive at the Michigan Theater

Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive mashes up soul, rock, jazz, and pop into an intoxicating brew.

“We’ve been in Ann Arbor before!” announced Rachael Price, lead singer of Lake Street Dive, at the band’s performance Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater. “We played The Ark way back when -- was anyone here at that show?” One or two members of the crowd hooted. “That seems about right,” said Price with a laugh. “Because that’s about the number of people who were at that show.”

Since then, Lake Street Dive’s star has risen rapidly. The four-member band filled the Michigan Theater, and Lake Street Dive has been touring almost constantly for the past year and a half, simultaneously promoting its acclaimed 2016 album, Side Pony, and bringing some of their overlooked older work back to the stage.


Comprovisation: Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge Live at The Ark

Guitar maestros Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge gave Ark-goers a show to remember on February 27, deftly weaving a rangy array of influences into a coherent and lively musical conversation.

Equally at ease in the company of jazz greats (Gary Burton, Fred Hersch) and bluegrass luminaries (Béla Fleck, David Grisman), Julian Lage continues to cover new ground while honoring the traditions that have informed his evolution as a musician. Chris “Critter” Eldridge is no slouch either, having cut his teeth on the national stage with The Seldom Scene and the Infamous Stringdusters before bringing his nimble and artful guitar work to the inventive, genre-bending Punch Brothers.

While much of the duo’s 2015 effort, Avalon, featured Eldridge’s vocals, their latest, Mount Royal (released last week) carves out more space for the interplay between the voices of their vintage Martin guitars. This heightened focus on instrumental improvisation, evident in concert, was a key driving force behind the songwriting process for the new album, which Lage and Eldridge discussed in greater detail with Pulp last week.