Overpowered by Funk: Disaster Relief lift you up by gettin' down

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Disaster Relief

Check it out now: Darrin James, Ross Huff, Rob Avsharian, Molly Jones, Brennan Andes, and Tim Haldeman (not pictured) are the funk-soul brothers and sister who provide Disaster Relief.

Since 1967, The Meters have created ultra-greasy syncopated grooves that induce spontaneous boogie. The New Orleans funk legends' catalog is stuffed with influential jams, such as "Cissy Strut" and "Look-Ka Py Py," that are the very definition of rump shakers.

Even if The Meters' name doesn't invoke the immediate recognition of fellow funk pioneer James Brown, the band's influence looms large and has spread from the Crescent City to every booty-shaking band in the world, including Ann Arbor's Disaster Relief.

Led by guitarist-organist Darrin James, Disaster Relief recently released its self-titled debut, which features nine dancefloor fillers. But it's not just New Orleans second-line funk that has seeped into Disaster Relief's sound. The spirit of Afro-beat is present, too ("August Addiction," "Too Soon for June," "March Wind"), as well as Motown and Memphis influences ("October, Who's Sober?"). But tracks such as the opener, "Downtown F#@karound," and "January Junk" bring New Orleans to the heart of Washtenaw County.

Disaster Relief's musicians are also active participants in southeast Michigan's jazz scene, so there's also plenty of improvisation from James, Brennan Andes (bass), Rob Avsharian (drums), Dan Bennett (baritone sax), Molly Jones (tenor sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), and Ross Huff (trumpet).

I chatted with James over email about how this serious singer-songwriter came to lead a party-ready funk band.

Poet Keith Taylor reaches for ecstatic destinations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Keith Taylor

Photo by John Smolens.

In his poems, Keith Taylor draws attention to what you might not notice and highlights its character and depth. In doing so, he does what identifying things by name achieves for him: helps us see and know living things, moments, scenes.

When he was working on a collection of poems, Marginalia for a Natural History, in his own form of eight nine-syllable lines, he serendipitously encountered a damselfly with a nine-syllable name. It was not just any insect but the ebony jewel-winged damselfly. 

His personal discovery was in line with his view of writing poetry as a demand of gods in whom he doesn’t really believe. “Those gods again. They’re out there. They give you these things,” he said at the “Exit Interview with Keith Taylor and Cody Walker” event at Literati Bookstore on Friday, April 20. The event celebrated Taylor’s retirement from the University of Michigan this spring. 

Film Studies: A preview of this year's Cinetopia movies in A2

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Cinetopia logo

Cinetopia's website states that its film festival, which features acclaimed movies from Sundance, Cannes, and more, was "created for the people of southeastern Michigan." 

That's cool, but for our Pulp preview, we're keeping it strictly provincial and have highlighted films playing in Ann Arbor at the Michigan and State theaters. (Click here for the full Cinetopia schedule.)

We've also embedded the fifth episode of the Michigan Theater and AADL podcast Behind the Marquee, which features hosts Nick, Caitlin, and Brian talking about all things Cinetopia, including some of their favorite films arriving this year.

Get out your calendars and plan your May 31 to June 10 cinematic experiences.

Patterns in the Process: “Sara Adlerstein: Ecologies, my true colors” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds.

Vivid, biomorphic expressions take imaginative turns in Sara Adlerstein’s Ecologies, my true colors at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery.

Adlerstein’s mixed-media Ecologies exhibit features biologically themed art crafted largely in dramatic three by four feet proportions. Her all-heart artworks are abstractions based on realism featuring nuanced, organic leitmotifs.

An applied aquatic ecologist and current faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Adlerstein hasn’t pursued formal training in the arts. Rather, she says she’s has been painting for as long as she’s been a scientist. “Art and science belong together as naturally as air and water,” Adlerstein wrote in her artist's statement

At the Crossroads: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet bridges the East and West on its debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

Around the Worlds Quartet: Mike List, Igor Houwat, Dr. Henrik Karapetyan, and Dave Sharp.

The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet is like Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge: a sturdy gateway between the East and West.

The group -- Sharp (bass), Dr. Henrik Karapetyan (violin), Igor Houwat (oud), and Mike List (percussion) -- transports listeners through Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Indian, and American music with reliable strength on its new album, Delta.

Sharp is a busy bandleader who heads up Klezmephonic (klezmer), RAKA (African fusion), and various sizes of world music and jazz groups, from duos to the Secret 7. The Worlds Quartet came together through a chance meeting when Sharp sat in with Wisaal, a Mediterranean fusion group out of Lansing. 

“I subbed on bass with Wisaal for a small number of gigs, where I met Mike List and Igor Houwat and really connected with their Arabic fusion sound,” Sharp said. “Igor also played a few shows with Dave Sharp’s Secret 7 and recorded oud tracks for the second DSS7 release, Worlds. Igor, Mike, and I played a few dates as a trio, and one night we invited [Klezmephonic co-leader] Henrik to sit in with us. Once that happened, we all had a “Wow!” moment and decided to assemble as a quartet.”

Michigan favorites Steppin’ In It celebrate 20 years at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steppin' In It

Photo by JDC Photography.

Years ago in Lansing, a group of guys got together and formed a roots-music band that combined vintage sounds and modern sensibilities. Called Steppin’ In It, the band built up a devoted audience and critical respect in Michigan and beyond as its sound and its songs deepened and matured.

Now, the band itself has become somewhat vintage: Steppin’ In It is marking its 20th anniversary and doing a short concert tour to celebrate, including a May 20 date at The Ark. 

In recent years, the band’s core members have established very successful individual careers. In particular, lead singer/guitarist Joshua Davis has become well known as a solo act, notably placing third in NBC’s singing competition The Voice and becoming the first contestant to sing an original composition on the show. Bassist Dominic John Davis, meanwhile, has worked extensively with rocker Jack White, among others. In fact, the members have become so busy individually that they no longer perform together as Steppin’ In It very often, so the current tour is highly anticipated by their still-loyal fan base.

Joshua Davis and Dominic John Davis recently answered a few questions from Pulp via email.

Liner Notes: Track by track through Ann Arbor Guitar Trio's debut album, "Tides"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

Three's company: Evan Veasey, Adam Kahana, and Alex Anest are the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio. Photo by Pink Moon Photography.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio (A2G3), enjoys the puzzle of arranging for three axes. No rhythmic accompaniment. No additional instruments. Just 18 amplified strings.

"There are so many tunes that I want to arrange for this group," he said. "I could quit everything and just arrange for guitar trios and probably be a pretty happy person doing it." 

The challenges, he said, are "figuring out how to blend and also how to get voices to stand out. I realize that those are opposite challenges but they both come up."

Adam Kahana and Evan Veasey are Anest's partners in Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, whose debut album, Tides, is out May 17, which is also the day the group plays Kerrytown Concert House.

Minimalesque: “Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” at Kerrytown Concert House

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Deborah Campell's Divergent and Topography; Lois Kane's Sathonii

Left and upper right: Deborah Campell's Divergent (fiber) and Topography (1) (fiber, crochet). Lower right: Lois Kane's Sathonii (ink drawing).

There’s minimalist art and there’s art on the edge of being minimal. This distinction may seem paradoxical, but it is one way of describing the Burgeoning exhibit at Kerrytown Concert House by local artists Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane.

Deborah Campbell's art is minimal -- and it's bountiful for it. Where a less talented artist might overpower her work with excess, Campbell strategically stitches her fiber art with just enough effort to convey her articulation. Every stitch counts.

Lois Kane's draftsmanship functions in a similar fashion as Campbell's stitching. Where Campbell’s touch is serene, Kane’s line is vigorous, or memorably spare, and is always on point. 

PTD presents a timely staging of "The Crucible"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

PTD Productions' cast of The Crucible

Photo courtesy PTD Productions.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible began with a class in America history when Miller was a student at the University of Michigan. The class included a segment on the Salem witch trials and Miller saw rich material for a drama that combined political, religious, and deeply personal conflicts.

He returned to the subject in the early 1950s, using the witch trials as a way to comment on the anti-Communist hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. It was also an opportunity to show his rage at his friend and director Elia Kazan, who volunteered to name names of those who had any association with the Communist Party.

It’s a complex play dealing with a particular place and time while also exploring the broader view that we are not so far removed from the fanatics of Salem. Every few years offers up new examples of intolerance and repression, and an opportunity for theater groups to bring back Miller’s eloquent warning.

Get Away With She: Nellie McKay wants to escape from it all

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nellie McKay

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Nellie McKay often seems like she’s at a loss for words.

During our phone conversation to promote the pianist-singer-songwriter’s show at The Ark on May 13, her answers were often preceded by a swarm of ums, uhs, I means, and various other utterances. And when McKay did get to the answers, it wasn’t necessarily in response to my questions, instead offering long vignettes about politics and the stark realities of being a full-time musician. 

On stage, McKay has a similarly discursive way of speaking, mixing funny anecdotes, political pleas, and stammering self-effacement.

But once McKay strikes a piano key, everything flows. Words stream from her gorgeous voice with confidence and warmth. The quirkiness that defines her conversations gives way to sass and power, and listeners get invited into her world -- which is not of this era.