Come Together: Ann Arbor Concert Band and the men's choral society Measure for Measure join together for a concert

MUSIC PREVIEW

Ann Arbor Concert Band practicing

When we think of Ann Arbor traditions, the usual suspects pop up: Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor Art Fair, Top of the Park, Hash Bash, U-M football.

Maybe the Ann Arbor Concert Band isn’t as high profile as the institutions listed above, but it has been carving out its own tradition by bringing affordable, high-quality classical music concerts to the community for the past 40 years.

The men’s choral society Measure for Measure has also long established itself, singing together since 1998.

These two musical institutions are coming together March 10 at Hill Auditorium to present a concert dubbed “Festive Winds and Voices.”

Axis of Strategery: "Dispatches From the Dumb Decade" takes on the 2000s with song and humor

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Dispatches From the Dumb Decade

Craig VanKempen plays the Sean Hannity-type talk-shot host George O’Bannon in Neighborhood Theatre Group's original musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade. Photo by Crysta Coburn.

People sometimes struggle with how to refer to the first 10 years of the 21st century. The zeros? The aughts? Ypsilanti playwright A.M. Dean has put forth his own nickname for these transformative years in our nation’s history: The Dumb Decade.

Neighborhood Theatre Group’s original pop/rock musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade follows its characters as they come of age in the age of 9/11, George W., Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Axis of Evil, "strategery," and the birth of fake news. All these things that I had put behind me were brought alive again through music and song. We were so innocent back then. 

Where It Starts: A conversation with Miles Okazaki about Thelonious Monk

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki by John Roberts

Miles Okazaki is among the greatest living improvisers on the guitar. An assistant professor of jazz guitar at the University of Michigan, he has his own deep and well-conceived ideas about rhythm, harmony, and melody. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Okazaki to discuss his latest release, a massive six-volume solo-guitar project entitled Work in which he recorded every song by Thelonious Monk -- 70 in total -- with no effects, overdubs, key or time changes.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Monk in American music. His approach to harmony, melody, and especially rhythm has influenced virtually every musician who has followed him. It was a privilege to be able to get into the weeds with Okazaki on the topic of Monk’s music.

Our conversation is below, with some edits for flow.

The Passenger: Iggy Pop may be done making albums but he's a regular guest star on others' music

MUSIC

Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop's 2016 record, Post Pop Depression, might be the Ann Arbor native's swansong for albums. That's still holding true, but since then Pop's been popping up on other people's recordings. 

In 2017, former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker teamed with Pop for a cover of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand," which is the theme song for Netflix's British crime drama Peaky Blinders. Every season features a new version of the tune, and Cocker and Pop recorded their's for season four.

In 2018, Pop joined fellow Trainspotting soundtrack stars Underworld for the Teatime Dub Encounters EP, which was recorded in a London hotel room. Underworld's Rick Smith met up with pop at The Savoy Hotel to work on music for the T2: Trainspotting soundtrack, but the tracks weren't used. Pop's stream-of-consciousness lyrics are not his finest, but Underworld's thumping techno never disappoints.

Now in 2019, Pop is back with two more guest spots: Pan Amsterdam's new single, "Mobile" and Fémina's "Resist."

Huron High student reflects on what Claudia Rankin's "Citizen: An American Lyric" means to her for Big Read Ann Arbor

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Ciatta Tucker and the Neutral Zone's Big Read

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book ... [and] aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor is sponsoring a series of Big Read events focusing on Claudia Rankin's "Citizen: An American Lyric." Huron High School junior Ciatta Tucker wrote about what the book means to her.

As a child, I loved reading books whether it was chapter books, graphic novels, comics, poetry, etc. I went to the local library so frequently that I became familiar and was on a first-name basis with the staff and other workers there. I was labeled as a gifted reader and at one point checked out more than 20 books at once.

Rhythm and the Blues: Kristianna explores heartbreak stories on "Too Late to Be Sorry"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Kristianna

Kristianna didn't mean to write a concept record about relationships. The Ypsilanti native wrote the five songs on Too Late to Be Sorry over five years "and once I came up with the concept, I placed them carefully in order to tell the story," she said.

The slow-jam R&B tunes are bookended by two voicemails, which tie together the tale.

"The album concept is all about communication, or the lack of, using telecommunication, and is meant to be heard in the track order," said Kristianna. "So the intro is the girl calling this guy letting him know her feelings through these songs, then you hear voicemails throughout the project back and forth from the female and the male perspective. The outro is him calling back after he listened to the mixtape that was made for him, leaving the listener ready for part two."

Vern Smith’s novel "The Green Ghetto" aims to be an urban Western set in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Vern Smith, The Green Ghetto

“Overnight I found my love affair with Detroit slipping away. My worldview changed," said author Vern Smith, speaking of his experience in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Smith said, “Detroit was my second hometown. I started sneaking over the border when I was 11 and found my culture there.  Can’t tell you how many live shows I’ve seen there because it was so easy to access pre-9/11. Then it changed so abruptly and [the two cities] were being kept apart.”

Smith’s novel The Green Ghetto takes place a year after the New York attacks, which was about the same time the former journalist and broadcaster started working on short stories.

Joe Bauer's "Robots vs. Aliens" is a multimedia art project, concept album, and mailed mystery tale

MUSIC VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Robots vs. Aliens

It may sound like a movie title ripe for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 show, but Robots vs. Aliens is the name of a new multimedia art project by Joe Bauer, an Ann Arbor-based musician and co-founder of the North Coast Modular Collective

Produced under Bauer's stage name, Verzerren, Robots vs. Aliens is comprised of a concept album featuring modular synthesizers, illustrations, mailed letters and postcards, and performances at Riverside Arts Center in conjunction with the new exhibition Towards/Past the Future, which explores "technology, society, and identity through the lens of science fiction."

Set 100 years into the future, Robots vs. Aliens tells the story of humans and cyborgs living together, but their equilibrium is disrupted when peaceful dispatches from extraterrestrials are misinterpreted. The robots revolt, aliens invade, at the Earth is devastated. But the remaining humans have a chance at redemption when intercepted messages are sent back in time in hopes that people will read them and make different choices to induce an alternative future. This is where the postcards and letters by Bauer and artist Aaron Graff come into play: participants will receive these documents in the mail over a two-week period with the object of piecing together the story and solving the mystery of how humanity can save itself.

I asked Bauer some questions over email about the inspirations and ideas behind Robots vs. Aliens, which you can also listen to below.

Still Kickin': The MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" turns 50

MUSIC

MC5's Kick Out the Jams

Happy birthday, MF'ers: February 22, 2019, was the 50th anniversary of the MC5's Kick Out the Jams album.

To celebrate, guitarist Wayne Kramer posted a new video for the record's title track featuring Leni Sinclair's original promo footage and Cary Loren's edited footage, shot at three different performances in Michigan: Grande Ballroom in Detroit, The Village Pub in Birmingham, and at the Delta Pop Festival at Delta College in Bay City.

In fact, Kramer's been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MC5 for the past year with a tour, an autobiography, and more videos featuring long-lost or remastered footage of the band, including:

Theatre Nova’s Playwrights Festival lets the audience help writers find their voice 

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michigan Playwrights Festival 2019

Playwrights begin with an idea. They imagine a setting, develop a cast of characters, and write a script. But that’s just the beginning. A director and actors will breathe life into the writer’s words. Only then can a writer get a feel for whether his or her play hits its mark.

That’s where the semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova provides an important service to playwrights and a great opportunity for theatergoers to see an original play in its infancy.

“Playwrights tell us how valuable it is to hear their play read out loud by professional actors in front of an audience,” said Diane Hill, producing artistic director of Theatre Nova, in an email interview. “They can see if what they thought was funny actually receives laughs or if what they thought might be a poignant moment falls flat. They also listen to the audience discussion that follows the reading concerning its positives and negatives which can sometimes lead to script alterations.”

Five new plays by Michigan playwrights will be presented March 6-10 in staged readings at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.