Roundup: Ann Arbor Blues Society, Poet Keith Taylor & Washtenaw Reads

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SINGING THE BLUES AGAIN: "Ann Arbor has an incredibly rich history and tradition when it comes to the blues," James Partridge told MLive -- and he's right, from the Blind Pig's regular booking of big names in its early years to the establishment of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. Partridge's new nonprofit, the Ann Arbor Blues Society, is trying to continue A2's blues tradition by bringing the music to senior centers, schools, and local venues, but its long-term goal is downright grand: to revive the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which was last held in 2006. (➤ MLive)

FOR THE BIRDS: U-M adjunct Keith Taylor and Ann Arbor artist Tom Pohrt have teamed up for a new book of poems and illustrations that meditate on nature. The 49 poems that comprise The Bird-while, which is part of Wayne State University's Made in Michigan Writers Series, is Taylor's 16th collection of verse, though not his first to explore the natural world. Nature has always been an important part of Taylor's work; check out "The Day After an Ice Storm." Literati will host the book launch for The Bird-while on Friday, January 27 at 7 p.m. (➤ Wayne State University Press)

200 CENTS OF SENSE: This year’s Washtenaw Reads book selection is $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. The authors are coming to Rackham Auditorium on Tuesday, February 7, and the Ann Arbor District Library is hosting several events related to the book. Get the full scoop here: (➤ AADL)


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.

Roundup: Nomo, Washi Con, A2 Monster Record Show

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YES, ’MO: It’s been 7 years since the Ann Arbor-formed band Nomo released its last album, Invisible Cities (Ubiquity Records), but a few photos posted to the avant-Afro-gamelan-funk band’s Facebook page in August indicate a new record’s been made. We reached out to the band for info on when it might be released and haven’t heard back, but perhaps all secrets will be revealed when Nomo plays the Blind Pig on Saturday, January 21. And even though Nomo has been quiet for a long while, the band's core nine musicians have kept busy. Most prominently, saxophonist-leader Elliot Bergman moved to Chicago and released two pop-dub albums as Wild Belle (which includes his sister, Natalie) and formed the experimental Metal Tongues, whose sound is built on his hand-made kalimbas with synths and drums. Meanwhile, trumpeter Justin Walter has released a number of recordings under his own name, including the great 2013 LP Lullabies & Nightmares (Kranky), and saxophonist Dan Bennett leads his own jazz groups. (➤ Blind Pig event) (➤ Nomo)

It's Showtime: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater from the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art

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Kabuki

Detail from Toyohara Kunichika's Rough Wooden Statue of Minister Kiyomasa: Nakamura Shikan IV as Warrior Satō Kiyomasa, Meiji era (1868-1912), 1873, color woodblock print on paper.

There are only a handful of art exhibits of such sophisticated complexity that they can absorb the viewer’s attention for an indefinite amount of time. Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater from the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art is one of those treasures.

This display, mounted in the UMMA’s spacious second-story A. Alfred Taubman Gallery, represents a level of sophistication that could only truly be appreciated by two audiences: Those for whom these colorful prints were originally intended and subsequent experts who can identify the identity of the portraiture as well as the work’s iconography. The rest of us will have to take what we can get.

It doesn’t mean that one has to be an expert in Japanese theater or have an advanced degree in the history of that country’s culture to appreciate Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater -- although it sure doesn't hurt. Rather, appreciating this imaginative display requires a unique kind of patience that will allow the show to open up to the viewer at its own pace and in its own way. But that seems to be the intent of kabuki all along.

Weird & Intoxicating: The Sixth Annual Ragtime Extravaganza

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Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls

Into the valley of Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls.

If the American ideal is defined by the coming together of various cultures to create a unique whole, then ragtime is the country's first musical example of that worldly synthesis.

Developed in African-American communities in the 1890s, the music combines African rhythms and syncopations, European harmonies, marches, and a Latin tinge to create a sonic brew that the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin, described as "weird and intoxicating."

Detroit loved that weird intoxication and was a hub for ragtime during the music's peak period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries before it gave way to jazz. In fact, the Remick Music Shell on Belle Isle is named for Jerome Remick, one of the biggest publishers of ragtime music. (Read a history of Detroit ragtime here.)

Now, a hundred years after ragtime's apex, and 47 miles east of the Remick Music Shell, the sixth the annual Ragtime Extravaganza aims to recreate the look, feel, and sound of the music's classic era at the Michigan Theater on January 21.

Extravaganza organizer William Pemberton has always loved ragtime music and founded the River Raisin Ragtime Revue in 2002. He’s served as its president -- and tuba player -- ever since.

The Revue has grown to be one of southeast Michigan’s most respected performance groups, featuring musicians from across the state, including professors from Central Michigan and the University of Michigan’s music departments. And the Ragtime Extravaganza is the Revue’s biggest event each year -- and by far "the most fun," Pemberton said.

“I love that it takes place in a 1920s vaudeville house," he said, "and the whole idea of it is to re-create a feeling of the golden age of American entertainment: the ragtime, the vaudeville, and the burlesque eras. And it’s just perfect and you can just feel the energy in the house.”

Roundup: Matthew Dear, All Hands Active & Tanner Porter

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NEW KICKS: When a musician gets asked to compile a mix for the DJ-Kicks series, it’s like a baseball player making the All-Star Game. Since 1993, the German !K7 label has had some of the world’s biggest electronic music artists, including Carl Craig, Hot Chip, Actress, and 54 others create DJ-set albums -- ones that still sell really well even though virtually every music website offers approximately 273,000 mixes to download for free.

Now it’s Matthew Dear’s turn to boot-up a mix, and the Ann Arbor artist and co-founder of Ghostly International is celebrating his DJ-Kicks album with a party at the Blind Pig on Friday, January 20. (UPDATE: Fellow Ghostly star Shigeto has been added to the gig.)

Dear will be DJing and dropping cuts from the 57th DJ-Kicks comp, which includes his new song, “Wrong With Us,” plus 24 more jams from the likes of Simian Mobile Disco, Pearson Sound, and Audion (aka Dear’s more dance-oriented alter ego).

Not familiar with Ghostly International or its sister label, Spectral Sound? If you’re an Ann Arbor District Library card holder, you can download almost everything the labels have released, free of charge, including many Dear and Audion classics. (➤ !K7) (➤ Blind Pig) (➤ AADL’s Ghostly/Spectral collection)

Good Vibrations: Civic Theatre's "In the Next Room" promises more stimulation than shock

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In the Next Room

That look when the play's characters see the electrical device in the next room giving out good vibes.

On Monday, the cast and crew of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of In the Next Room were busy with final preparations at the Arthur Miller Theatre, where the play opens Thursday.

The cast was doing a run through while director Melissa Freilich was busily taking notes and getting the perspective from every angle around the Miller’s thrust stage. The crew was making last minute adjustments to an unusual set and working with the sophisticated Miller Theatre lighting -- house lights, spotlights, lights on stage, mood lights.

On, off, on, off. Thank you, Mr. Edison.

Electricity is an important element in modern theater productions. It also plays a major role is Sarah Ruhl’s popular play. The full title is a bit “shocking” and a bit playful: In the Next Room, or, the Vibrator Play. The play is set in the 1880s, a time when the advent of widespread electrical power and modern ideas in medicine were coming together in interesting ways.

“Sarah Ruhl is one of my favorite playwrights,” said Freilich. “I think she writes some beautiful and really emotionally connected works. ... It asks us to imagine ourselves in this different situation in the 1880s when women were being treated for hysteria and yet the characters are so relatable. The situation seems so absurd to a modern audience. But I love a work that hooks us emotionally and then gets us to think.”

Sing for the Moment: Meredith Monk's "On Behalf of Nature"

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Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk leans in On Behalf of Nature. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Experimental vocalist and composer Meredith Monk did not make a hip-hop record. But a prime inspiration for her 2016 album, On Behalf of Nature (ECM) is repurposing, the same creative construct that informed early hip-hop artists, who created beats and melodies from fragments of sampled sounds.

But Monk's decision to use repurposed things -- musical ideas and material objects -- was also a metaphorical extension of On Behalf of Nature’s main theme. As Monk wrote in the album’s liner notes about her compositional process:

"As I began working on the music for On Behalf of Nature, I asked myself the question: 'How would one make an ecological art work, one that didn’t make more waste in the world?' What came to mind was the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and his notion of bricolage: the process of assembling or making something from what is already at hand. In pre-industrial societies, one object could function in many different ways by an act of imagination."

Taking incomplete phrases and themes from her notebook, Monk assembled these fragments into what became On Behalf of Nature, a wordless meditation on our fragile ecosystem. In the age of climate change -- and climate deniers -- the piece shines a solar-powered spotlight on the issue without resorting to didacticism.

On Behalf of Nature isn’t just a recording, though; it’s also a full theatrical performance that the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble, which also includes instrumental musicians, has performed around the world since 2013. But to make sure the live performance doesn't pull focus from the music, the choreography includes simple gestural movements, plain recycled outfits -- “We did not buy anything for the costumes. Everything was [old clothes] used again and re-created into a new form,” Monk told Pulp -- and a minimalist stage show to accompany a musical landscape that’s more expansive than what’s heard on the CD.

A professional singer since 1965, Monk’s avant-garde influence is felt in modern artists as diverse as Joanna Newsom, Maja Ratkje, and Björk, who told Monk she heard Dolmen Music (1981) when she was about 16.

Now 74, Monk’s extended technique vocals, which include all sorts of whoops, clicks, trills, and primordial utterances, are still stunning.

We talked to Monk before her Ann Arbor residency, which begins with a Penny Stamps Lecture Series talk on January 17 at the Michigan Theater and culminates in a performance of On Behalf of Nature on January 20 at the Power Center, sponsored by University Musical Society.

No More Cakes in the Rain: Colson Whitehead at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre

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Colson Whitehead

"[T]ake any Stephen King title and put ‘the black’ in front of it, that’s what I wanted to do." --Colson Whitehead

Bestselling author Colson Whitehead spoke in Ann Arbor on January 12 as part of U-M’s bicentennial celebration theme semester, but it wasn’t his first visit to Treetown. Apparently, in 2001, Whitehead gave a reading at Borders to “about five people,” on a night when the Red Wings were playing for the Stanley Cup.

“It seemed like a good excuse,” said Whitehead with a shrug –- this time, to a near-capacity crowd packed into Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Whitehead now has many more published books and years of experience under his belt, of course. But his mainstream profile spiked most dramatically in the last few months, when the publication date of his newest novel, The Underground Railroad, got bumped up a month (from September to August) due to it being named an Oprah’s Book Club selection -- and nothing makes an author’s career explode quite like receiving Oprah’s imprimatur.

That’s far from Railroad’s only distinction, though. The novel also won the National Book Award for fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Newsday, and more.

Roundup: Collage Concert, Emergent Effect, and Mozart Mania

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ALL MIXED UP: The annual Collage Concert is the starting line for U-M’s bicentennial year celebrations. The wide range of School of Music, Theater, and Dance (SMTD) ensembles coming together on January 14 at 8 p.m. in Hill Auditorium will provide a continuous sonic collage of styles to represent the many diverse elements that have combined to shape U-M for the past 200 years. (➤ SMTD)

RESIDENTIAL EFFECT: Ypsi Alloy Studios is teaming up with the Ann Arbor Art Center for an exhibit they’re calling Emergent Effect. Sixteen resident Ypsi Alloy artists are represented, with the exhibit focusing on their “intersecting work and common voice,” according to curators Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson, and Jessica Tenbusch. The opening reception is free and goes down January 13 from 6-9 p.m., and Emergent Effect runs through January 28. (➤ Ann Arbor Art Center)

MOZART MONTH: There are more Mozart-related concerts in January every year for one reason: The powdered-wig wonder was born on this month’s 27th day in 1756. One such event in Ann Arbor is the A2SO’s 21st annual birthday bash (which we profiled here) on Saturday, January 14. But if you can’t make it to that performance, drop by the library on Sunday, January 15 at 2 p.m. for a screening of an all-Mozart concert performed in New York City's Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in May 2013. The music includes Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502; Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K. 407; and Viola Quintet in C major. (➤ AADL)


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.


Ageless Melodies: A2SO’s 21st Annual Mozart Birthday Bash

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If the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s annual Mozart Birthday Bash concert was a person, he could legally, for the first time, buy an alcoholic beverage this year to celebrate.

So let’s collectively raise a toast this local cultural tradition, born shortly before conductor Arie Lipsky first took over A2SO’s podium in 2000.

“It seems like Mozart is almost everybody’s favorite composer," Lipsky said, "so we just decided to celebrate him every year."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756 -- that's 261 years ago, but who’s counting? -- and because he wrote more than 600 works in his too-short life (he died in 1791 at age 35), A2SO’s annual showcase never has to worry about repeating itself.

In fact, this year, the first work in this year’s program is Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4, “Mozartiana,” wherein Tchaikovsky built original orchestrations around four piano pieces by Mozart.