Swing Easy: Tenor Saxophonist Harry Allen at Kerrytown Concert House


Harry Allen

For Harry Allen, it don't mean a thing if you can't look out a window and dream about swing.

When Harry Allen was a sideman for drummer Oliver Jackson on long European tours, Jackson introduced the up-and-coming tenor saxophonist to the local promoter in every city they played. “He would say, ‘Remember this name, you’re going to want him,’” Allen recalls. Thirty years later, some of the same people book Allen regularly.

Now an internationally acclaimed jazz artist, Harry Allen swings into town with his quartet to play the Kerrytown Concert House on Wednesday, March 1. They will perform audience favorites from the Great American Songbook as well as a few new songs Allen recently wrote. Joining him on this date are Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown and Ann Arbor veterans Paul Keller, bass, and Pete Siers, drums.

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Get H.I.P. with Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble at Kerrytown Concert House


Kahil

Kahil El'Zabar pounds out consciousness-raising rhythms.

After graduating college and spending a year abroad in Ghana, Kahil El'Zabar came home to Chicago excited to tell his dad what he wanted to do with his life.

"I’m gonna play in a badass band," El'Zabar recalled telling him. "No bass, no piano, no guitar, no chromatic chordal instrument to set the tonic sensibility of the music."

His new vision called for a tonal center set by the "various rhythmic impulses" and "harmonic syntax of the music," African influences, and "urban contemporary expression" from his own experience.

"And he says, 'Man, it sounds hip, boy. But you’ll never make a living.'"

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Strings Theory: Chris Eldridge and Julian Lage at The Ark


Guitarists Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge have formidable track records in jazz and bluegrass, respectively. Lage has worked with Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline and more. Eldridge is widely known as a member of the innovative Punch Brothers.

So when Lage and Eldridge play as a duo -- on their new album Mount Royal, their 2015 gem Avalon and their 2013 five-track EP Close to Picture -- there’s a whole universe of music open to them, a wide range of shared tastes and enthusiasms.

Playing rare Martin acoustic guitars from 1937 (Eldridge) and 1939 (Lage), they survey the varied lineage of acoustic music and Americana while pursuing their own contemporary aesthetic. The music is improvisational, lyrical, whimsical, textural, and highly virtuosic. While Eldridge sang on much of Avalon, Mount Royal is mainly instrumental, though there are two vocal covers of bluegrass classics and even a reading of one of Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs. We caught up with them shortly before their February 27 gig at The Ark.

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The "Plague" Year: Hate Unbound celebrates album debut at Ypsi's Maidstone Theatre


Hate Unbound

Hate Unbound offers a boundless hatred of boundraries.

There’s a whole mess of influences on Hate Unbound’s debut album, Plague, which came out on the Finnish label Inverse Records. Reviewers have mentioned brutal bands (Lamb of God, Gojira, Hatebreed) along with thrashier groups (Exodus) and death metal pioneers (Death) -- but not enough have acknowledged Hate Unbound’s occasional laser-sharp deployment of twin-lead guitars, evoking classic Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.

“I actually wanted to be KK Downing when I grew up,” said guitarist Daryl Mitchell, naming the ax partner of Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest. (Hate Unbound's other guitarist, William Cundiff, is Mitchell's Tipton.)

But don’t mistake Hate Unbound’s love of twin leads fool you: This southeastern Michigan group, which includes bassist Sean Demura and drummer Franklin "Foot" Hannah, is primarily about pummeling you with riffs, not tickling you with harmonized solos.

You'll be able to have your chest caved in by said riffs when Hate Unbound celebrates the release of Plague at the Maidstone Theatre in Ypsilanti on Saturday, February 18. We talked to Mitchell and vocalist Art Giammara about the Plague year, song meanings, and whether too many influences is too many.

While reading our chat, stream all of Plague at Zero Tolerance Magazine.

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No One Thing Without the Other: Dave Douglas Quintet at Kerrytown Concert House


Dave Douglas

Hymns from him: Dave Douglas.

Trumpeter Dave Douglas prepared to play his mom’s funeral by arranging the hand-picked hymns and Bible verses she wrote down on a scrap of paper and gave to him.

“I didn’t do too much to them,” Douglas said, whose jazz can edge toward the avant-garde at times. “I thought these are pretty straight-ahead renditions of these hymns.”

Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy band -- with the New Orleans-type front line of trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, plus drums -- was the group he picked to play his mother’s chosen hymns at the funeral, with the sung verses handled by the church’s congregation.

“We got to the service and we go through the first chorus,” Douglas said, “and I turned around to hand it to the congregation and they’re all just looking at me like, ‘Whaaat?’ It was way over their heads. We had to totally adapt and have the [church’s] organ player come help out.”

He laughs about the event now, but that was a tumultuous period for Douglas.

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Shock Values: Duane gets political, goes electric as Jet Black Eel


Duane

Duane is an all-American provocateur. Photo by Megan LaCroix.

If there's any doubt what Detroit musician and performance artist Duane Gholston is up to with his new look and sound, the snippet from a Don King speech that opens his recent single, "When the Eel Accepts Your Invitation" is a pretty solid clue.

"You got to try to imitate and emulate the white man, and then you can be successful," the notorious boxing promoter -- and Donald Trump supporter -- is heard saying, before a classic honky-tonk shuffle and meandering lap-steel lick ushers in Duane the Jet Black Eel, the 24-year-old's latest persona and "first truly conceptual project."

"It's a young queer person of color taking on the classic vision of America (when it was 'great,' according to some red hats, LOL)," Duane wrote in an email to Pulp. "A bunch of rock 'n' roll songs taking on both conservative and neoliberal politics, homophobia in the black community, and systematic racism in America."

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Shine On: Timothy Monger's new album, "Amber Lantern," is full of illuminating moods


Timothy

Timothy Monger's Lantern is a light that never goes out. / Photo by Doug Coombe.

Singer/songwriter Timothy Monger's career peaked in middle school.

Despite three albums during a decade-plus run with the acclaimed folk-rock band Great Lakes Myth Society and a solo career that has also produced three records, including the new Amber Lantern, Monger said the loudest cheers he's ever received was when his middle school band, All the Young Dudes, rocked his former elementary.

Perhaps Monger's fans will take that as a challenge and make some noise when he celebrates the release of Amber Lantern at The Ark on Wednesday, February 8 at 8 pm. (Caleb Dillon of Starling Electric will open.) The album is slightly more rock-oriented than his past works, but Monger also made a conscious decision to set aside his guitar at times and experiment with instruments outside his wheelhouse, such as an organ, a hurdy-gurdy, and a Pocket Piano synth, which he checked out from this library's Music Tools collection.

Monger, who grew up in Brighton and lives in Saline, recently answered questions about his new songs, crowdfunding rewards, never finishing Moby Dick, and the world's greatest elementary school rock concert.

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Forgive & Reclaim: Tanner Porter's raw art-pop songs reach deep into the soul


Kelly Jean Caldwell

The art and artistry of Tanner Porter defies boundaries. Self-portrait by the artist.

As a member of the Celtic/Quebecois/American folk-meets-classical quartet Ensoleil, cellist Tanner Porter takes old songs and makes them contemporary through creative arrangements.

But as a solo artist, Porter plays her own compositions, which are thoroughly contemporary because of the creative arrangments.

The U-M grad composes the songs and arrangements with notation software, so even though her classically steeped art-pop sounds loose and jammed with details, it doesn't happen through randomness. The woozy blend of strings, piano, wind chimes, marimba, vibraphone, harp, woodwinds, and more are carefully plotted out with specific players in mind.

Porter's first album, 2012's The Child Wrote a Poem, is written like a 15-chapter book set to music. Her latest, 2016's The Summer Sinks, is a song cycle about hurt and redemption, and the music is even more fragmented and quirky than the sounds on her debut. But Porter's flexible voice, which can sound as delicate as a bird outside your window or as ferocious as a crow cawing on your shoulder, shapes the songs through elastic Joni Mitchell-like melodies and her smart, raw lyrics keep your ears attuned to the tune.

With a bachelor in music composition and a minor in creative writing, Porter combines the two disciplines with excellent results. But she's also a visual artist, hand drawing her brand new video, "II," the second promo clip in support of The Summer Sinks.

Now splitting time between her native California and Ann Arbor, Porter talked to us about her solo work, compositional process, the "II" video, and what's on tap for Ensoleil.

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Old Folk: The Ark's Ann Arbor Folk Festival turns 40


Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Leo Kottke's forehead graced the poster for the 18th edition of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

History is a mystery, even when you have direct access to media coverage of an event.

The first Ann Arbor Folk Festival was held June 13, 1976, headlined by John Prine and Leon Redbone. The show was hosted by the Power Center and, as always, it was to benefit The Ark, which was just 11 years old at that point and still in its original location, a house at 1421 Hill St.

Doug Fulton’s June 14, 1976, Ann Arbor News review of that first fest really only covers the early part of the evening -- newspaper print deadlines, you know -- and Prine and Redbone are mentioned with no commentary.

But Fulton did write a sentence that would reappear -- in slightly altered forms -- through much of The Ark’s existence: “The occasion was a benefit for the Ark, one of the few remaining 'coffee-houses' in the country still specializing in folk music of all kinds, and lately in financial trouble.”

In fact, The Ark could have just changed its name to Financial Trouble since the venue was constantly in jeopardy through the mid-'80s until this 1986 article declared otherwise: "The Ark No Longer Needs The Festival To Stay Afloat".

Since that first festival, and two moves later, The Ark is one of the most respected and well-oiled folk- and roots-music concert venues in the country, though the nonprofit still counts on the Ann Arbor Folk Festival for part of its operating revenue. This year’s edition, held January 27 and 28 at Hill Auditorium, has one of the festival’s biggest lineups yet, featuring headliners Kacey Musgraves and Jenny Lewis on Friday and the Indigo Girls, Margo Price, and Kiefer Sutherland (yes, him) on Saturday. (If you're somehow still undecided about going, The Ark has also compiled playlists for night one and night two of the fest.

But if the festival started in 1976, why is this weekend’s celebration its 40th, instead of the 42nd?

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Tools Crew Live: Fred Thomas


Downloads:
MP3 for "Echolocation"
720p video, 480p video or 240p video

Fred Thomas is like a library. The Ann Arbor-raised musician has lent his talents to approximately one billion recordings, from his own to his friends' and the many bands who have hired him to produce their records.

When the Montreal-based artist lived in Tree Town, the Ann Arbor District Library frequently lent Thomas assets from its Music Tools collection when he recorded his numerous solo records or those of his various bands, including Saturday Looks Good to Me and Hydropark.

So, when Pulp and the Music Tools crew decided to record musicians performing with instruments from the collection, Thomas was the perfect person to launch the video series: Tools Crew Live.

Thomas was back in Ann Arbor over the winter break, and on December 15, 2016, he came to the library’s Secret Lab makerspace and recorded “Echolocation” (from his new record, Changer) and “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II" (from 2015’s All Are Saved), using six instruments from the collection, including synths, effects pedals, and a guitar.

We also interviewed Thomas about his instrument choices and his amazing new album. Changer combines all the elements of Thomas' past work -- raw emotional insights, indie-rock stompers, and electronic evocations -- and manages to be the most personal and cohesive record of his long and creative career.

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