Preview: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Black Cat Cabaret"


Black Cat Cabaret

Music, theater and Halloween cross paths in NTG's Black Cat Cabaret.

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year.

This week I can choose from a wide variety of local events to get in the Halloween mood, including concerts, costume contests, hayrides and more. I may even enter a pumpkin carving contest.

Neighborhood Theatre Group, Ypsilanti’s new theater company, has a brand new Halloween offering – a delightfully entertaining mix of Halloween music and theater. Featuring a full bar, costume contest, and the NTG “Haunted” House Band, Black Cat Cabaret is directed by Kristin Anne Danko and features local performers Colleen Cartwright, Alice Duhon, Eric Hohnke, Greg Pizzino, Angela VanKempen, and Craig VanKempen.

Neighborhood Theatre Group is dedicated to cultivating a welcoming and collaborative environment for local theatre artists while providing audiences with a very unique and intimate theatre experience. Featuring original works, sketch shows, cabarets, and self-produced videos – NTG believes in theatre’s ability to bring individuals together. They guarantee that this “spooktacular evening” of music and theatre will get you in the Halloween spirit.

Black Cat Cabaret runs Friday and Saturday, October 28 & 29 at Bona Sera Underground in downtown Ypsilanti. Performances are at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 General Admission, $5 Students (with a Valid ID) and can be pre-purchased at

Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.

Black Cat Cabaret runs Friday and Saturday, October 28 & 29 at Bona Sera Underground in downtown Ypsilanti. Performances are at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 General Admission, $5 Students (with a Valid ID) and can be pre-purchased at .

Review: Bestselling author Margaret Atwood at Rackham Auditorium


Margaret Atwood

The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed / Margaret Atwood.

The full-capacity crowd at Rackham Auditorium on Friday night not only got to hear witty insights from one of our era’s greatest, most accomplished writers, Margaret Atwood (decked out in black and orange for Halloween); they also got to hear the septuagenarian Canadian novelist/poet rap.

Why? Because her newest novel, Hag-Seed, features prisoners putting on their own version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and one excerpt Atwood read included an inmate’s extended riff that ends with “Oh no! Oh no more Prospero,/Too bad, how sad, that’s what they said:/He must be dead./So now I’m the man, the man, the big man,/I’m the duke, I’m the duke, I’m the duke of Milan.”

Hag-Seed is one of a group of books that have been published as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, wherein Shakespeare plays are retold by acclaimed contemporary novelists. Literati Bookstore sponsored Atwood’s Ann Arbor appearance.

Atwood - seated alone on Rackham’s stage, beside a round, low table with a floral arrangement - earned several laughs from the crowd as she read portions of her new novel, holding the book with hands sheathed in glow-in-the-dark skeleton gloves. (She said she was wearing them in honor of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.)

When she finished, she said, “Now, if you have questions, I will answer them. If I don’t like your question, I will reformulate it. We do learn things from watching TV, don’t we?”

Many of the crowd’s questions concerned one of Atwood’s most enduring, classroom-friendly novels, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) – a dystopian novel that imagines that, following a terrorist attack that leaves our democracy in ruins, a revolution with a theocratic bent suspends the U.S. Constitution, and as a complete societal re-organization happens, women are stripped of all rights.

Atwood said that when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, she’d been reading about America’s 17th century Puritan theocracy, as well as mid-century dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“I’d always wanted to write one, but most of them are written from a male point of view, and I thought it would be interesting to turn that around and take a female point of view for the narrator,” said Atwood. “ … I made it a rule in writing the book that I would not make anything up. I would use only things that had really actually happened somewhere at some time, or for which we had the technology.”

Atwood noted that a TV series inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale is now filming in Toronto, and she made a cameo appearance in it.

Regarding writing genre fiction, Atwood said, “I don’t divide books up that way at all. I divide them into books I like and books I don’t like. Because it doesn’t matter what genre is on the shelf in the book store. … It’s like a filing convenience. … So I do those things because it never occurred to me not to do them.”

One audience member raised the question of why Atwood set her take on The Tempest inside a prison, when the environment plays such a key role in the play. “The last three words of the play are, ‘Set me free,’” Atwood said. “ … You don’t say ‘set me free’ unless you’re not free. … Once you’re into themes of revenge, you’re always into stories about liberation from something.”

Atwood read and spoke for a little over an hour, and one of the last questions came from two high school teachers who asked what she’d tell young people about why reading is important. “Language is the oldest fully human thing that we have, and stories are pre-built-in,” said Atwood. “ … It had to have been a survival trait over long numbers of years. So stories are how we understand our world. We understand them partly through graphs and charts, but only if somebody tells us the story behind the graphs and charts. … What does this mean that the blue line is going up, and the red line is going down?”

Before wrapping up the question-and-answer portion of the evening (and beginning the book signing part), Atwood made a joke regarding the upcoming U.S. Presidential election: “In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada’s the place she escaped to, so you’re all welcome.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Preview: Celebrating 20 Years of Edgefest in One Year


Edgefest celebrates 20 years at the Edge

Edgefest celebrates 20 years at the Edge.

To do anything for twenty consecutive years is an accomplishment to be lauded with high praise. When it involves the cutting edge of creative improvised jazz, it’s an even larger feather in one’s cap.

Twenty years of presentations at Edgefest will be summarized in this year’s event. Bringing back longstanding favorite ensembles, emphasizing our local contingent of progressive-thinking musicians, and adding new twists and turns other events might not dare attempt bodes well for future generations of patrons and performers to continue looking up while getting down.

Over the decades, Edgefest has received national and international acclaim for their risk-taking bookings. Substantial grants have financially buoyed their ambitious line-ups, astute listeners have reveled in the innovative music heard here and nowhere else in one setting, while many musicians look forward to their return to Ann Arbor. Even throughout the year with the regular Music At The Edge series, Michigan audiences always have the opportunity to hear this music during any given season.

What is creative improvised jazz? It takes on many forms, from pure spontaneity to open ended composed work that goes beyond notes on a page. It can be serene or jarring, pastoral or jagged, even incorporating true new music based on folk forms from other countries melded with the swing, blues, and improvisation of finely tuned American-based jazz. For sure every flavor is different, yet each somehow holds a universal appeal that even the uninitiated can appreciate if they take the time--and the equally bold step--not to pre-judge but instead to just listen deeply.

Pre-Edgefest events have already taken place. Saxophonist Dave Rempis and Gunwale played Encore Records October 14. A week later the substantive duo of drummer Gerry Hemingway and trombonist Samuel Blaser performed at Encore October 7. That afternoon the University of Michigan hosted a piano duet between Kris Davis and Craig Taborn and included a sampling of her new CD Duopoly featuring the two pianists and others with Davis in strictly composed or improvised duets.

Trumpeter Mark Kirschenmann and keyboardist Stephen Rush’s electric Miles Davis tribute band Big Fun played the University of Michigan Museum of Art October 2. Both Kirschenmann and Rush are part of Edgefest’s proper line-up.

Pianist Kris Davis

Kris Davis is at the top of the lineup. / Photo by Peter Gannushin.

What sets Edgefest apart is the inclusion and emphasis of our local area performers, including recent Ann Arbor transplants such as percussionist Matthew Daher and bassist Will McEvoy; saxophonists Marcus Elliot and Tim Haldeman; the fascinating Balkan fusion group Ornamatik; U-M professors Kirschenmann, Rush, and Ellen Rowe; U-M graduate (and student of Geri Allen) Michael Malis, who was at the A2 Jazz Fest with Andrew Bishop and has been touring and appearing in New York City in support of his recent debut CD Lifted from the No of All Nothing; Tad Weed’s Freedom Ensemble, celebrating the music of pianist Herbie Nichols; tabla drum master John Churchville; Michigan’s famed Northwoods Improvisers; multi-instrumentalist Ken Kozora; multi-woodwind player Piotr Michalowski with the potent MoTreetown Collective and their three horn front line reminiscent of the Griot Galaxy; keyboardist Kenn Thomas; and U-M students performing large ensemble works written by John Hollenbeck.

The festival has gone though its share of trials and tribulations. At times crossing international borders has been tricky for musicians. Late arrivals or last minute cancellations always present timing problems, especially during the tragic and memorable Hurricane Sandy. And the festival has lost a few mighty performers who have passed away, including European multi-instrumentalist favorite Lars Hollmer, Chicago tuba player Aaron Dodd, trumpeter Paul Smoker, bassist Dominic Duval, and Dutch master Willem Breuker.

A special set during this year’s fest will come from the group TranceFormation in tribute to pianist Connie Crothers, who recently passed on. A disciple of Lennie Tristano, Crothers was initially in Ann Arbor nearly ten years ago when the International Society for Improvised Music hosted their annual conference here, and then played at KCH. A tribute to Crothers will be staged, featuring vocalist Andrea Wolper, bassist Ken Filiano, and saxophonist Vinny Golia, celebrating his 70th birthday.

Pianist Kris Davis will be the clear star of Edgefest for this year, as part of a tour supporting her 2014 trio CD Waiting For You To Grow on the Clean Feed label with drummer Tom Rainey and bassist John Hebert.

Then again, there are favored and featured artists returning, most notably Golia and Filiano in other bands; the legendary Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille; acclaimed trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and bassist John Lindberg; John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet; bassist William Parker; saxophonist Tim Berne with the wild electric guitarist David Torn; violinist Jason Kao Hwang; koto expert Miya Masaoka; the top notch co-op collective Conference Call; and, especially, the participation of Edgefest co-founder David Lynch, who is consultant for 2016.

KCH’s Deanna Relyea has seen all the changes, borne the brunt of audience shifts and trends in modern music, yet continues to be motivated to set up venues, book musicians, and support the event. Like her Nash Bash, which celebrated its tenth year in 2016, these ideas endure because audiences want to hear the music.

Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith.

The inaugural edition in 1997 featured Tim Berne, Rova, Charlie Kohlhase, and Dave Douglas in a one-day event. Things have expanded beyond everyone’s expectations, even the originators Lynch, Relyea, Jules Ryan, and Damon Stanek.

In an interview with creative singer, founder, and artistic director Relyea, she talked about the Edgefest audience, and KCH’s objectives. “I think the Concert House is here to bring music ahead, whether it be classical music, jazz, or contemporary music in general. So it’s our mission to do new music. I don’t think there would be such an audience for this music if not for us, and people would not be as aware of it. I most certainly have grown into it. I feel like I’ve had my graduate education.” In recent years for instance, Relyea has become a part of Jason Kao Hwang’s vocal project on the Innova label Voice.

Audience development is key to the broadening of all horizons. “This is not a festival drawing thousands of people,” she added. “Even people in New York City don’t have this audience, but in Ann Arbor we started with a one day festival with Dave Douglas.” Now it’s nearly thirty bands in at least six different locales, not including schools.

Another aspect of Edgefest is that it brings back former area players like bassist John Lindberg, and especially ex-Ann Arborites like the renowned and brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, who will accompany two different groups and play a stand-alone solo piano set. “We are all proud of that. It’s really great to have them. Also our Saturday afternoon slot specifically emphasizes our area musicians, in this case the MoTreetown Collective and Northwoods Improvisers."

Then there’s at least one European, Canadian, or foreign group, in this case Sylvaine Helary’s Spring Roll, direct from Paris, France, and on tour in the U.S., who have a double CD out on Ayler Records Printemps/Spring Roll. Helary wields four different flutes and sings in a manner that has been described as a cross between Nina Hagen and Iva Bittova--sassy and minimalist-- while the band has been depicted as a hybrid between theatre, music, sound, poetry, and political manifesto. “I really look forward to that,“ Relyea said. “People love her, and in my conversations with her she seems charming.”

There will be commissioned works written by violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang and his Burning Bridge Ensemble written and premiered specifically for this 20th Edgefest, featuring strings, brass, the Chinese erhu, and pipa. Another highlight should be the debut of trumpeter Mark Kirschenmann’s All Sanctuary trio featuring the trumpeter Jennifer Ellis on harp, and Churchville’s tabla, while Stephen Rush’s original Piano Concerto will be played prior to a scheduled Big M Records recorded document.

If jazz is indeed the music of surprise, there will be a thousand such moments in store at the upcoming Edgefest celebration.

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

Edgefest takes place October 26-29 at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave. for main performances, along with other locales. Workshops will be at the Community High School, Scarlett & Clague Middle Schools, and the University of Michigan School of Music.

Review: Free Wet Hugz | 94th Annual All Media Exhibition



Free Wet Hugz the 94th annual all media exhibition is up at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery through Saturday, November 12, 2016.

There's a lot to love and hate in an all media art exhibit.

On the plus side there's plenty to look at and much of it is wonderful. An all media show can provide visitors with a tantalizing array of original ideas and novel approaches to making art. It can be energizing and thought-provoking. On the other hand, it can seem like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and feelings after a visit can feel like aesthetic indigestion from an overdose of visual sensation.

Paul Kotula, this year's juror for Free Wet Hugz, the 94th annual all media show at Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery, has spared us an art bellyache with his judicious editing and careful arrangement of the works on display. This exhibit features about a third fewer entries than last year's, with the result that the art that's included has room to breathe.

Kotula has chosen to put his emphasis on abstract painting, and this is some of the strongest work in that medium I've seen locally in quite some time.

I have always liked John McLaughlin's small drawings, but had reservations about his larger paintings, which seemed busy and disorganized to me. With Drawing a Blank, McLaughlin seems to have resolved the question of how much visual incident to include in this larger format. His abstract but referential fragments feel comfortable on the picture plane and just right.

Drawing a Blank by John McLaughlin (top left), Night Demonstration by Rocco DePietro (top right),<br />
Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2 by Yuling Chuang (bottom left), Embrace by Haena Kang (bottom right).

Drawing a Blank by John McLaughlin (top left), Night Demonstration by Rocco DePietro (top right), Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2 by Yuling Chuang (bottom left), Embrace by Haena Kang (bottom right).

Rocco DePietro's Night Demonstration, with its horses, helmeted men and gas masked central figure puts me in mind of German expressionism of the early 20th century, and it’s his best painting to date.

And there is also plenty of wonderful work by artists who are new to me. A dreamy painting by Yuling Chuang entitled Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2, is composed along the lines of a traditional Chinese map. Diminutive line drawings of toy-like cities share the landscape with tiny white ghost figures.

Also impressive are two paintings by Haena Kang. In Boundless and Embrace she employs pattern painting to create the impression of undulating seascapes, or perhaps kelp beds.

Let's Dance by Chia-Yi Huang, Scenario by Jack St. John, and the ambitiously scaled Abstraction #14 (Meltdown) by Dennis Jones are terrific examples of abstract painterly painting. In a more figurative vein, Chaos in Captivity by Jean-Paul Aboudib and No Fear by Nathan Margoni are powerful and disturbing.

There were fewer works of photography and sculpture than in years past, but they, too show the result of careful curation. Most of the sculpture consists of simple assemblage like Folded Drawing 5 and Folded Drawing 8 by Ruth Koelewyn, edging over into installation with In Memorium by Gloria Pritschett and Loraine Lynn’s glass, wood and brick construction, 85 Hours. Bruce Giffin, a gifted photographer who is well-known for his pictures of Detroit and its residents presents us with Bill and His Chihuahuas. A small, remarkable photo, Conduct Becoming: Surveys #3 and #4, by CJ Breil, tells the entire life story of an elder couple in a single image.

On the basis of the paintings alone, Free Wet Hugz deserves a visit and when you add in the small but choice selection from other media, it's a no-brainer.

K.A. Letts is an artist and art blogger. She has shown her work regionally and nationally and in 2015 won the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award while participating in the TAAE95 Exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. You can find more of her work at
Free Wet Hugz: 94th Annual All Media Exhibition is on display through Saturday, November 12, 2016 at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI. 48104.. More information about the exhibit can be found at the Art Center's website.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #617


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #617

Mischling * * * by Affinity Konar is at once horrific and brimming with life and hope, even with humor in the most unexpected of places.

Brown-eyed and fair-haired, 12 year-old twins Pearl and Stasha Zagorski were often mistaken for "mischling" (mixed-blood, persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry) according to the Nuremberg Laws.

Arriving at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather in the fall of 1944, they were immediately plucked for the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo. While Stasha was bold, impulsive, and given to storytelling; Pearl was more restrained and observant. Narrating in alternative chapters, the twins realized early on to survive, they would have to "divide the responsibilities of living between (them) - Stasha would take the funny, the future, the bad, (Pearl) would take the sad, the past, the good". Little did they know how that would become their destiny.

When Pearl disappeared during a winter concert orchestrated by Mengele, Stasha grieved for her twin, but remained hopeful that Pearl lived. As the camp was liberated by the Red Army, Stasha escaped the death march with Feliks, a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin. Together, they endured starvation and unspeakable war devastation, encountered hostile villagers, Jewish and resistance fighters, sustained only by the hope that Mengele might be captured and brought to justice.

Readalikes: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Review: UMS presents 'Dorrance Dance' at the Power Center



Flying feet and complicated rhythms.

If you’re going to see Dorrance Dance, and you should (there’s one more show, tonight at the Power Center), go with your eyes peeled, your ears pricked, and your antennae waving. Sit up, pay attention -- you’re going to space out. With the first piece on the program, excerpts from SOUNDspace, you will have to take in the fact that all the music -- all the different tones and volumes and counterpoint rhythms -- you hear is generated by dancers’ feet. Don’t stop watching, though, because the scene before you will shift pretty swiftly.

Michelle Dorrance, the MacArthur Genius (2015) choreographer who masterminds the show, gives you a quick primer, an introduction to her multi-sensory world. Early on, you see four dancers lit from the waist down, compelling your focus to the lower body. Those legs and feet enunciate slowly at first -- see how a different touch by a different part of the foot results in a different sound, and see how those sounds combine. Oh, and don’t fail to notice the catchy angular patterns that the eight legs make, rotating in and out to create a kaleidoscope of bending knees and flexing ankles. Got it? Great, because Dorrance is moving on, expanding the vocabulary. She and Elizabeth Burke, with upper bodies still in semi-darkness, are trading steps, and although the angles are still there, more complicated rhythms are flying. This is a good time to mention that every single dancer you see is a hotshot; Dorrance repeatedly pulls off a move that I can’t even compute -- what the hell are her feet doing?

And that’s it; your education in this medium is over and all you can do is go along for the ride. All the lights are up, and Dorrance does a solo that both slides and taps. Dancers come and go in pairs and quartets, eventually circling around Warren Craft. As he tips, twists, and topples, the others accompany him with a snuffly, sandy sound, perforated by silence and snaps. By now you are fluent, comfortable in this world. Good, because it’s about to change: four dancers appear on wood platforms that have a furrow-patterned metal panel along one side, like a washboard. The possibilities for feet-generated sound have just multiplied, and it’s fun to watch and listen to the dancers play this new surface with their heels. Enjoy the super-satisfying simplicity of each dancer -- quickly, one after another -- dragging a foot along the washboard and as the foot releases, spinning: kkkshrwih spin, kkkshrwih spin, down the line.


One of the platforms by Nicholas Van Young.

Here you might become aware that you are watching only an excerpt of the full-length SOUNDspace. Just as the dancers begin, STOMP-like, to play with the potential that different objects have for making sound -- still on the washboard platforms, they suddenly have metal chains that, when lowered or dropped, add a distinct sound to the percussive mix -- the dance is over.

It’s okay. Stretch your legs and reset your head, because as lush and variegated as the sensory world of SOUNDspace was, it seems practically flat in comparison to the explosion that is Act II, ETM: Double Down (again, excerpted here from a longer work). Whereas in SOUNDspace you have only (“only”!) the music generated by feet talking to the floor, in ETM, the floor finds its voice. On wired platforms designed by Nicholas Van Young, every step not only makes the expected tap sound but also triggers an electronic tone. Now there are musicians on stage too -- Donovan Dorrance, Aaron Marcellus, and Gregory Richardson -- their live performance instantaneously recorded and played back so that they can accompany themselves. Richardson plucks a simple theme on his stand-up bass, then impishly stands by as the theme continues without him touching his instrument. He layers on bowed tracks, then switches to electric guitar. Vocalist Marcellus lets loose with a stream of golden tones, these likewise immediately re-played and altered by a device he holds in his hand.

You get the idea: the sonic landscape has exploded. In the same way, the movement goes far beyond its Act I parameters. SOUNDspace’s movement vocabulary -- with the exception of Craft’s rubbery, off-kilter solo -- stayed largely in the realm of familiar tap-dancing. Dancers were upright with their torsos inclined a bit forward, arms mostly a functional, swinging counterbalance to the complicated activity below. In ETM, upper bodies become more eloquent, and the more pedestrian, vertical stance cedes some of its default status. This isn’t always successful, as when Dorrance stands slumped and alone; she seems contrived or affected, like a caricature of despondency. More often, though, the expanded physicality delights. Dorrance shares a duet with Craft in which they lean into each other, barely holding each other up as their feet get away from them on some runaway train.

Matthew “Mega Watts” West shows up, and at first he seems gratuitous -- why is this man in sneakers rather than tap shoes executing showy hip hop and b-boy moves? Sure, these forms share a common Africanist lineage with tap, but you might think he looks out of place. You’ll get over it; he is the harbinger of a broader and richer movement palette.


Dorrance Dancers wired up at the Power Center.

There is a nearly perfect duet for Byron Tittle and Leonardo Sandoval, poignant in an unexpected 3/4 time. One leans, the other holds him up, slides him across the floor. They are in sync, and then just a little out, like windshield wipers gone awry. Sandoval stands and watches Tittle dance, but when Sandoval dances, Tittle faces away -- it’s so apparent, though, that he’s listening intently to Sandoval. Somehow, it’s a heart-breaker. You’ll see.

Dorrance, on a raised wired platform, starts a duet with West who is below, on the stage itself. She recedes into the role of accompanist, generating a simple rhythm of sounds that remind me of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s celesta, as West pours and snakes his way onto his shoulder, his hands, back on his feet. West starts messing with an intriguing-looking wooden control panel near the front of the stage. Its wires and knobs allow him to control amplified electronic sounds; he turns on this one and then that one, like a kid with a Casio keyboard. Dorrance joins him, and you won’t know it just then, but you are poised on the edge of something.

What follows is a full-on eruption, sound and bodies hurtling in all directions. Dancers cross the stage, playing percussion instruments as they go. All the musicians are whaling on their instruments, the electric guitar is rocking out, limbs are flailing, taps are hitting the floor with furious frequency. The stage is fevered, the energy is at maximum intensity and there’s nowhere to go but oh yes, there is: Watts bursts into the center pulling out all the power moves, his legs flaring as he spins on his hands. Is this the climax? Or is this it, a minute later, when, impossibly, there is even more movement, more sound? I think there might even be smoke….

The only response possible at this point is to participate in the onstage bedlam: stand up with all the people around you, and clap and clap.

From 1993-2004, Veronica Dittman Stanich danced in New York and co-produced The Industrial Valley Celebrity Hour in Brooklyn. Now, PhD in hand, she writes about dance and other important matters.

Dorrance Dance continues through Friday, October 21 at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor. For more information and tickets, visit:

Preview: Ingrid Racine Moving Toward Major Player Status


Ingrid Racine at the recent Ann Arbor Jazz Festival

Ingrid Racine, with Ben Rolston and Chuck Newsome, at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company during the recent 2016 A2 Jazz Festival.

Our local contingent of modern jazz improvisers is as substantial as those coming in from out of town. We’re fortunate to have them, considering the paucity of performance spaces for them to ply their craft.

One performer who seems to take it all in stride is trumpeter Ingrid Racine. Juggling motherhood in tandem with her mate, club DJ Alvin Hill, creating and exploring performance spaces, teaching, performing some administrative duties, and recently making her debut recording would be a bit overwhelming for anyone. Add to that the tricky parameters of playing a brass instrument and one has to admire how from day to day she fits all this in yet plays so beautifully, straddling the not so fine line between jazz tradition and her personal brand of modernity that appeals to a mostly younger -- but some older, universal -- jazz demographic.

She has listened to and incorporates many aspects of the 100 years of jazz; she embraces everything from early trad and swing to mainstream jazz, and be bop, fusion, folk forms, and even the hip hop of her generation.

It's rare for a jazz musician to be born, raised, and continuing to live in Ann Arbor. Racine graduated from the jazz program at Community High School, guided by Mike Grace in 2000. She obtained her BFA in Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan where she was instructed by the great Detroit saxophonist Donald Walden, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra and jazz trumpeter Bill Lucas.

By graduation, Racine was entrenched as a member of Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings, Mady Kouyate’s Heat of Africa, and the Detroit-based all female jazz group Straight Ahead. She toured and recorded with the Afro Beat large ensemble NOMO from 2003-2009, recording for the West Coast based Ubiquity label. In 2007, she returned to University of Michigan to study with vaunted jazz piano star Geri Allen while completing her Masters Degree in Improvisation. She also curated for three years the summer outdoor series of shows on the patio of the Gandy Dancer.

Other associations include collaborations with Marion Hayden, the Paul Keller Orchestra, Wendell Harrison, the Heather Black Project, Jesse Kramer's Juice Box and Ethan Davidson. She’s also been heard with the Gin Dandies.

Ingrid Racine was working professionally during her days as a student. Her playing has fit in with trad jazz groups like P.O.R.K - Phil Oglivy’s Rhythm Kings led by James Dapogny, the Paul Keller Orchestra and Women In Jazz ensembles. While far from petite, Racine handles her brass trumpet with a savvy that has recalled veterans twice her age such as Freddie Hubbard, Jack Walrath or Valery Ponamarev, while also adding some of the ethereal qualities of the late Kenny Wheeler.

As a composer, Racine is also asserting herself, as evidenced by the release of her independent Kickstarter funded debut CD Concentric Circles. She’s a little on the funk side of jazz, can swing as hard as she needs to, and sings on occasion delightfully. Her recent hit performance at the A2 Jazz Fest with her regular quartet, numerous club dates, and her regular gig every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer has shown her to be a reliable player that delivers consistently. In a world dominated by male instrumentalists, Racine is proving she is a leader among women or any gender in jazz, a contingent that is finally ascending with rapid and overdue recognition.

Her regular band with guitarist Chuck Newsome, bassist Ben Rolston, and drummer Rob Avsharian are proving that practice does indeed make perfect, especially hearing the quartet at the Gandy Dancer. On the CD she’s joined on select tracks by rising star keyboardist Ian Finkelstein and veteran trombonist Vincent Chandler.

The fluid motion of her horn lines belies the fact that hard metal pressing against teeth and lip skin embouchure is no easy task, and can eventually be damaging, yet she takes care of business on all of these levels to emerge as perhaps the premier female jazz player in this era and this region.

She recalls her early days listening to funk and ska music. “In ninth grade it was the British second wave - The Specials and English Beat. Then I went backwards to the Jamaican stuff. There were strong Community High school bands back then. I played in an all-female punk band Vomica, named from the homeopathic remedy, and The Brewts, whose drummer was Barrett Miller, Ben Miller from Destroy All Monsters’ son.”

The unlikely bridge between the harder edged music and jazz was Chet Baker. “My brother was in the CHS Jazz band and the rockabilly group Lucky Haskins. Justin Walter and Ben Jansson were in his band - great jazz players. It started for me with Chet Baker on records, something that was accessible to me, and someone singing, and the playing. I heard a Thelonious Monk compilation record which I listened to death. Then I was in Sandy Machonochie’s jazz band at Tappan Middle School and she made me take improvised solos against my better judgment."

The juxtaposition of working simultaneously with James Dapogny a.k.a. Phil Oglivy, and NOMO as a bridge between Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington to Fela Kuti might seem disconnected, but Ingrid Racine considers it a blessing. “For NOMO, it was cool kids playing at dance parties, but when I was hungry for gigs I sat in and got my butt kicked for the first two years with P.O.R.K."

Her career path has led her to the long overdue solo recording Concentric Circles, the culmination and an offshoot of her 12 year, regular Sunday brunch gig at the Gandy Dancer, where she has honed her playing and singing. “I feel like writing-wise I go through phases. I’ll book a gig and challenge myself to write all new tunes. So this batch of music with this band goes back to 2012 at The Raven’s Club. I knew the vibe I wanted to go with. So over the course of a few years we only played it a few times. Then there was music we did at the Elk’s Lodge. So the CD is an amalgamation of two writing periods."

“I’m not a big wailer, a high note player. My approach to the instrument is more forgiving. Just the way I hear things is more lyrical. I even didn’t want to think about it being a so-called jazz record, because I didn’t want that pressure of being virtuosic."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

Ingrid Racine & Friends perform every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer, 401 Depot St., from approximately 10 am - 2 pm. For dining reservations, call 769-0592. Ingrid also performs every Sunday with the Heather Black Project at the Ravens Club, 207 S. Main St., from 8 pm - 11 pm.

Ingrid is also leading an ongoing Music Production workshop presented by All Arts Access at AADL on Tuesday, October 25, November 8 and 22, 2016 at the Downtown Library.

Preview: Screw It: Doin' Time on the Line presented by Theatre Nova

Tim Campos, doin' his time.

Tim Campos, doin' his time.

A new one-person show, Screw It: Doin' Time on the Line, tells the story of an artist, broke from following his performing arts dreams, who gets an assembly line factory job in order to get back on his feet. Written and performed by native Detroiter Tim Campos, the show runs October 27-30 at Theatre Nova.

Campos portrays more than 50 different characters in this close-up view of factory life, drawing from his personal experiences during his years working on Ford Motor Company assembly lines in Saline, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. Fast-paced and funny, the show is peppered with explicit language, absurdity, and emotion.

Directed by Midwestern director and actor Antoine McKay, the show features original music by Ryan Bentley, Ray Smetana (former Ford Saline Parts Plant worker, now working at Dearborn Truck), and band Quasar Wut-Wut.

Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Performance are Thursday, Oct. 27 through Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8 pm, and Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 and are on sale at the Theatre Nova box office and online. Theatre Nova is located at 410 West Huron, tucked away in the parking lot across from the YMCA in downtown Ann Arbor.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #616


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #616

The buzz around Brit(tany) Bennett's debut The Mothers* * * is hard to ignore. Vogue and The Washington Post are not alone in their over-the-moon praises, so richly deserved.

A wise and sad coming-of-age story set largely in Oceanside, CA, it is about the tangled destinies of three teens growing up in a tight-knit African-American community. 17 year-old Nadia Turner, smart, pretty, and ambitious is getting out - with a full ride to Michigan, away from her silent father, and away from the grief of losing her mother to suicide; but not before she realizes she is pregnant by the pastor's son, Luke. Her decision to abort creates a web of secrets that will haunt them for decades to come.

Years later when Nadia, now a successful attorney returns home to care for her ailing father, her reunion with Luke threatens his marriage to Aubrey, Nadia's childhood friend as well as the peace of their church community.

Narrated by Nadia and a Greek chorus of gossipy 'Mothers' from the local Upper Room Chapel, who "(f)ar from reliably offering love, protection, and care,...cause all the trouble." -Kirkus Reviews

"There’s much blame to go around, and Bennett distributes it equally. But she also shows an extraordinary compassion for her flawed characters." -Publishers Weekly

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Preview: Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers at the Blind Pig


Rainbow Seekers

Someday you'll find it, Rainbow Seekers.

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers were just in Ann Arbor a couple months ago to play a rousing show at Sonic Lunch, and they’ll be making the trip across the state again to play the Pig on October 21. Spread out all over Michigan, from Kalamazoo to Lansing to metro Detroit, all the band members have day jobs and then travel together most weekends to perform. It makes for a hectic lifestyle, but they don’t seem to mind. In an interview this summer, Hertler poked fun at the popular phrase, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” “It’s bullshit,” he said. “We work our asses off, and it's hard work, but we think it's worth it."

The band boasts of their ability to “make a sprightly young groove doctor out of anyone,” and with their folksy, funky, Motown-like jams, it’s a promise that they can uphold. The seven-man band traces their roots back to 2008, when lead singer Joe Hertler dropped out of music school at Central Michigan and started trying to put together his own band. He met guitarist Ryan Hoger and bassist Kevin Pritchard in Lansing in 2010 and with that, the Rainbow Seekers began to assemble. Saxophonist Aaron Stinson, violist Joshua Holcomb, and drummers Micah Bracken and Rick Hale all felt the pull of the rainbow and joined the band over the next four years.

Joe Hertler et al believe in providing their audiences with a true “experience,” which is why they don’t only play songs from their albums, the most recent of which, Terra Incognita, came out last year. Instead, they play a mix of old and new material, and improvise on stage, too. Typically dressed in bright clothing and costumes—Stinson sometimes puts a giant sunflower in his sax—Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers instill their infectious energy and good cheer into the audience, often accompanied by a giant inflatable rainbow that they drag on stage with them. Audience members are always encouraged to dance, clap and sing along. “Having a good time is contagious, and we try to spread that,” Hoger said earlier this year. At their Sonic Lunch performance this summer, they got almost everyone up to the front of the stage to dance to “Future Talk,” one of the best songs off of Terra Incognita.

The band is planning to release as-yet-unnamed new album, which Hertler claims will be their best yet, in early 2017.

Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers are playing at The Blind Pig on Friday, October 21. Doors are at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $15. Ages 18+. For more information, visit .