Evolution is real, but it's usually something that's out of view, the process hidden over the course of many years. But the Ann Arbor group Hydropark evolved before our ears -- and quickly.
The band formed as a trio in 2013 when drummer Chad Pratt, keyboardist Chuck Sipperley, and guitarist/keyboardist Fred Thomas would get together and create noisy instrumental jams that focused more on texture than melody, hammering out aggressive, improvised space rock. You can hear these practice-room freak-outs on four cassettes the group released in 2013-2014, two of which are on Hydropark's Bandcamp page.
Joseph Keckler is a writer, artist, actor, musician, and singer with a three-octave range, and he often blends all those talents while creating his art. Because of his multidimensional skills, Keckler is frequently called a performance artist, which is fine by him.
“I didn’t intend to be one," the Michigan native said, "but it’s a good umbrella term for me and people like me who don’t fit into a particular discipline. ... So while I’m still not sure I am (a performance artist), the label has given me a great deal of permission to create my own way of working and to pursue certain traditions outside the traditional realm.”
Keckler graduated from the University of Michigan and he makes his triumphant return to Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Feb. 7 as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series where he'll read from his recently published book of essays, Dragon at the Edge of a Flat World: Portraits and Revelation.
Anıl Çamcı is a builder, but the materials he uses aren't wood and nails. The assistant professor of Performing Arts Technology at the University of Michigan creates worlds from soundwaves, constructing sonic cities with software and synthesizers.
This is Çamcı's first year teaching at U-M, coming from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory and, previous to that, Istanbul Technical University's Center for Advanced Studies in Music. But he's already managed to rework some of his compositions to take full advantage of the Chip Davis Technology Studio, a multimedia lab funded by the U-M grad and Mannheim Steamroller founder.
Ziggy's is a cafe, performance space, and arcade in downtown Ypsilanti that has hosted an appealing wide range of concerts ever since it opened in August 2017, from experimental jazz to hip-hop and indie rock. Most of the performers have been local, but on Friday, Feb. 2, Ziggy's goes international with Kenyan musician Kamba Nane.
Nane plays an eight-string nyatiti, a plucked lyre associated with the Luo people of Kenya. Traditionally the nyatiti is played alone, accompanied only by the player's singing and percussion items attached to his feet. But the Nairobi-raised Nane takes a modern approach to the instrument, playing in groups of all sorts, from jazz to electronica. At Ziggy's, Nane will be accompanied by the RAKA Ensemble, featuring Dave Sharp on bass and percussionists Abbas Camara and Lamine Souma.
Below is a short documentary on Nane and some of his music on Soundcloud:
Some art exhibitions are carefully curated to represent a theme or mark a period of time in an artist's working life. Other exhibitions are based on practicalities, such as Ypsilanti artist Jim Cherewick's show at the Ferndale Area District Library.
The paintings there are "whatever I haven’t sold yet or to show before the owner buys it," he said via email. "Mostly watercolor and ink drawings I’ve been painting lately."
Crayons are another medium in the exhibition, with neither an oil or acrylic painting in sight.
There was a sense of things coming full circle Saturday at Hill Auditorium for the sold-out second night of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
There was Joe Pug, who first became known to Ann Arbor audiences via a well-received one-song cameo at the 2009 festival; since then, he’s become a very popular singer-songwriter and this year returned as the festival’s MC. (Pug will play The Ark on March 9.) There was Mountain Heart, the terrific young bluegrass band that has developed a special affinity for Ann Arbor, even recording a live album here in 2007. And most of all, there was John Prine, headlining the 41st edition of the festival just as he did the very first one back in 1976.
But that’s not to imply that the festival -- which is a fundraiser for Ann Arbor musical institution The Ark -- is stuck in the past. On the contrary, Saturday proved again just how vital, vibrant, and compelling roots-based music can be in 2018 and beyond.
William Grant Still didn't write his three-part suite "Ennanga" in 1956 to be performed on the Ugandan harp for which it's named. But it's telling that Grant, one of the most important African-American classical composers of the 20th century, chose to name this gorgeous piece after an instrument from the motherland but have it performed on the more common European harp, alongside piano and a string quartet. He was blending musical inspirations from two far-away continents into a uniquely American sound.
"Ennanga" is just one of the pieces that will be performed at Out of the Silence at UMMA on Jan. 26 as part of a "narrated concert to honor black classical musicians of the past." But the composition is illustrative as an example of the two worlds African-American artists inhabit as they navigate the primarily white classical-music universe.
Have you ever heard a band and just been confused?
That's the effect Ann Arbor's Platonic Boyfriends had on me the first time I listened to the trio's debut album, Pee on These Hands.
That confusion stayed through the second listen. And the third. And it's continued unabated through subsequent spins. But I keep listening, and listening, and listening, which is a testament to Platonic Boyfriends' puzzling uniqueness.
Noor (bass), Klayton Dawson (guitar), and Isaac Levine (drums, lead vocals) create a kind of countrified, performance-art-inspired, lo-fi indie rock that is smart, surreal, funny, disjointed, and sui generis. My simple brain wants to put Platonic Boyfriends in a genre box for easy categorization, but Pee on These Hands doesn't allow it.
Platonic Boyfriends will celebrate the release of Pee on These Hands (CD, cassette, Bandcamp) with a record-release show on Friday, Jan. 26, at a secret location (that you can find on the band's Facebook page). I emailed with Ahmad and Levine about the band's origins, influences, and the serious message behind their song "Don't Move."
Dec. 29, 2016
It's cold outside, zero degrees, and snowflakes are falling fast, covering downtown Ypsilanti in powder. Everything is quiet and slow. Tonight is the first night of the three-day Mittenfest, the annual music-festival fundraiser for 826Michigan, an organization that supports literacy in children and teens primarily through tutoring and after-school programming.
When I reach Bona Sera, the Ypsilanti restaurant where Mittenfest is being held, I walk down a flight of stairs into a crowded basement. The audience is young, almost everyone is in their 20s or 30s, and most people are wearing flannel. There’s an energy of anticipation.
The Threads All Arts Festival has finally been rescheduled. The second edition was originally set for August 2017 at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, but when the city put a temporary kibosh on live events at the artisanal spirits space due to parking issues, Threads was called off. It took the U-M student-run festival a while to reorganize, but it has now found a home in Ypsilanti’s Historic Freighthouse and will present its rangy mix of live music, dance, film, poetry, and art on March 10-11.
The idea for Threads began in 2015 when Nicole Patrick (U-M 2016, percussion and jazz and contemporary improvisation) and her friends "wanted to find a way to share, with many people, all the amazing art they saw coming out of their friends and neighbors," they told Pulp contributor Anna Prushinskaya for piece meant to preview the 2017 edition.
But along with the break came a new mission statement that shows Threads has expanded its focus: