Korde Arrington Tuttle and The National's Bryce Dessner examine photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work through song in "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely.

By the time the singers, musicians, and iconoclastic images of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe take the stage at Ann Arbor's Power Center on Friday, March 15, everything should be in place for the premiere of a new UMS-commissioned work examining the late photographer's work and legacy through song.

But just a little over a week ago, composer Bryce Dessner admitted some tweaks were still being made.

"With these types of new works, the music and the staging and the piece is always evolving," he said. "The ink is still drying, so we can kind of feel that, which I think is exciting. There are some last-minute changes I'm making to the score. By the time it gets to Ann Arbor, it will have settled more."

"It" is Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a re-examining of Mapplethorpe's work 29 years after the famous obscenity trial over a retrospective of his photographs in Cincinnati -- and 30 years after the artist died of AIDS -- made a lasting impression on a teenage Dessner.

Produced by Thomas Kriegsman at ArKtype, with music by Dessner, libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, and direction by Kaneza Schaal, the show also features Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth with soloists Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson.

Dessner has a Wiki entry full of impressive composing credits; he's performed with new music giants, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Lang; and he plays guitar in Grammy-winning indie rock band The National, which also plays Hill Auditorium on June 25 in support of its latest record, I Am Easy to Find

I caught up with the prolific musician by phone on the eve of Triptych's music premier at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Funtime: Photographer Paul McAlpine's "BARE + REAL" captures Iggy Pop at the height of his solo career

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Iggy Pop by Paul McAlpine, Brixton 1986

Iggy Pop at London's Brixton Academy in December 1986. That's steam rising off his body. Photo by Paul McAlpine.

Iggy Pop is a photographer's dream.

The Ann Arbor native's sinewy body, hollow cheeks, intense eyes, and manic contortions make for photos that leap with life.

And that's exactly what photographer Paul McAlpine wanted to convey in his new book of Pop pix.

"BARE + REAL is a book about life -- passion, art, music -- keeping your eyes open and friends near," McAlpine said. "The book is filled with wonderful images that I feel have aged well with time."

McAlpine first shot Pop in 1977 at the first American concert of The Idiot tour in the photographer's native Boston. For the next decade-plus, McAlpine toured with Pop numerous times and amassed a huge collection of concert photographs featuring one of rock 'n' roll's greatest frontmen.

The limited edition BARE + REAL is 236 pages of the best of those photos, plus introductions by McAlpine and Pop, all housed in a 12" x 12" LP-sized slipcase.

I emailed with McAlpine to find out more about BARE + REAL and how he came to be Pop's go-to photographer -- or Jim, as he calls the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr.

Sweetness & Fight: FUBAR leader Randy Tessier steps out on his own with "Sugar Town"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Randy Tessier

Randy Tessier Explores New Sounds and Old With Solo EP

Area music fans know Randy Tessier first and foremost as the front man for the popular local band FUBAR, but he also works as a solo artist. Five years back he released a solo album called Hold Me Close, and now he’s following that up with a new six-song EP called Sugar Town

The EP showcases Tessier’s love for a variety of musical styles, yet all feature his trademark gravelly vocals and guitar. “It’s Too Late” is a new take on old-school soul, complete with a horn section. “He Lifts Me Up” is bluesy rock, while the title song is catchy acoustic pop. 

Tessier’s songwriting here is ambitious. “Texas Blues” paints a portrait of a young woman trying to escape, while “A Child Asked Me” is an anti-war song. “Incarceration: Marquette County Jail” includes the great line, “It’s not that I’m a spineless man / it’s just that I need help.”

Personnel varies from track to track, but primary contributors to the record include Chris Benjey, keyboards, producer; Geoff Michael, drum programming, engineer, and producer; Kim French, bass; and Don Kuhli, drums and woodblocks.

Tessier answered a few questions about the new record via email:

Generation Next: "Inner Fragments: Contemporary Art by Iranian Women Artists"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elahe Farzi

Solitude Memories by Elahe Farzi, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 60”.

Art exhibits get organized for lots of reasons. In the case of Inner Fragments, a traveling exhibit of 16 young Iranian women artists that landed recently (and briefly) in the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Gallery, the organizers aim to correct what they see as some misperceptions in the West about contemporary art and artists in Iran.

Their work, varied in style and tone and featuring media from painting to  sculpture to video, suggests that Iranian women artists share more with their Western sisters than the sum of their differences might suggest.

Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.

Representation, Now: “Art Now 2019: Painting” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Judith Bemis' painting Waiting for His Grace

Judith Bemis, Waiting for His Grace, oil on canvas, 60" x 48". Roula David and Judith Bemis at the opening night for Ann Arbor Art Center's “Art Now 2019: Painting” exhibit. Images courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Continuing with the fifth installation of its semi-annual exhibition themes, the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting illustrates the vitality of this perennial art form in our contemporary arts.

Given the dramatic permutations that some art mediums have experienced in the last century -- fabrics and ceramics come readily to mind -- the transitions that painting underwent are seemingly under the radar. But this statement, of course, is not the case.

After all, it was only a little more than one brief century ago that the fury of expressionism was beginning to be felt in European art. Ultimately, various abstractions were going to rule the cutting-edge roost for all intent and purposes through mid-century to be supplanted by the playful shock of Neo-Dada in the 1950s and then branch into the various -isms that would amaze audiences through the balance of the 20th century.

Representation -- expressive or otherwise -- was always a predominant force in painting that worked itself around these flashier kinds of headliner aesthetics. And as the Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting heartily shows us, representations -- expressive or otherwise; particularly portraiture -- are still front and center in the visual arts same as it ever was. 

Ypsilanti poet Rob Halpern's "Weak Link" connects the personal and the political

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Halpern and his book Weak Link

Cover image: Dee Dee Kramer from Corrugated Love Poem 16: Being Seen (2013)

Ypsilanti writer and Eastern Michigan University professor Rob Halpern considers the relationship between the personal body and political violence in his new book, Weak Link. Through several forms ranging from poetry to numerical essay, Weak Link examines physicality, art, politics, and war, among other topics, and also is self-referential. 

How the writing is working and what it is doing are explicitly addressed and questioned within the text itself. How do we understand and connect with that which we haven’t experienced? How do we go beyond ourselves and situations while still recognizing where we are and what is? What can poetry be and do? These questions and many more populate the collection. 

The text expresses a desire to make connections between the public and the personal, between socio-political issues and the self who is interacting with them. At times reading like a stream of consciousness and at others like a well-plotted argument, Weak Link simultaneously consists of a thought experiment, aspirational view of poetry, and penetrating depiction of reality. 

Halpern expands on his writing and Weak Link in this Pulp Q&A. He will read from Weak Link on Friday, March 8, at 7 pm at Literati Bookstore. 

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.