Colin Simpson was a veteran of bands in Oregon and Washington before returning to his home state of Michigan a few years ago. He arrived in Ann Arbor with no job and no connections to the local music community. But he did have an idea that he wanted to try something a little different.
“I knew I wanted to continue with music, but I also knew I didn’t want to just be the guy at the back of the coffee shop with a guitar,” he recalls now. So he created the concept of The Low Voltage to play out his musical ideas, adding a kick drum and some electric guitar -- and, later, a musical partner, singer-instrumentalist Emily Fox.
The result is a remarkably distinctive sound, sitting somewhere in the realm of Americana/folk/indie rock but managing to find its own unique niche. The sound is effectively evoked by the name [https://www.reverbnation.com/thelowvoltage|The Low Voltage].
Saxophonist [https://www.daverempis.com|Dave Rempis] has fond memories of playing Ann Arbor over the years. The Chicago-based improviser and long-time member of renowned free jazz group The Vandermark 5 fondly recalls late-'90s gigs with locally grown and trained players, such as Colin Stetson, Stuart Bogie, and Matt Bauder.
But none were likely more memorable than a workshop for students at the University of Michigan School of Music, where Rempis had applied and been rejected a few years earlier.
The local ensemble [http://www.akropolisquintet.com|Akropolis Reed Quintet] made waves nationally in 2014 when the group won the prestigious Fischoff Gold Medal, the first group of its kind to win the award. Tim Gocklin (oboe), Kari Landry (clarinet), Matt Landry (saxophone), Andrew Koeppe (bass clarinet), and Ryan Reynolds (bassoon) founded [https://www.facebook.com/akropolisquintet|Akropolis] at the University of Michigan in 2009. The reed quintet has been extremely prolific from the start, including releasing albums, streaming concerts online, and conducting educational programs locally, nationally, and internationally (when I reached out to the group, they were in Abu Dhabi).
On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Akropolis will relaunch its web series on [http://www.akropolisquintet.com|akropolisquintet.com] and [http://www.youtube.com/akropolis5tet|youtube.com/akropolis5tet]: "In 2011, we created our YouTube Web Premiere Series as a platform to showcase new works for reed quintet online, around the world," the group wrote on the Facebook event page for its latest, which will feature a live studio recording of Gregory Wanamaker's new arrangement of "Elegy" from his Duo Sonata written specifically for Akropolis. "This series has over 31,000 views, 522 subscribers, and features 13 online premieres, 9 of which are from American composers!"
I caught up with ensemble member saxophonist Matt Landry to chat about the group’s latest album, [https://www.innova.mu/albums/akropolis-reed-quintet/space-between-us|The Space Between Us] (“pure gold” according to the San Francisco Chronicle), classical music and popular culture, and what’s next for the group.
Last night was not [http://www.wildbelle.com|Wild Belle]’s first time playing at the Blind Pig. In fact, the group played one of its first ever shows there years ago, opening for the Afro-beat dance band Nomo in what was something like a family reunion. Elliott Bergman (saxophones, keyboards) is in both bands -- he founded Nomo while at the University of Michigan -- as are Erik Hall (guitar) and Quin Kirchner (drums), and Bergman's younger sister, Natalie (vocals, guitar), started guesting with Nomo when she was just 16. (Bassist Kellen Harrison is the only non-Nomo-affiliated member of Wild Belle.)
With a reserved “Hello, Ann Arbor” from Natalie, the band took the stage and launched into the first three tracks from 2016's Dreamland: “Mississippi River,” “Losing You,” and the title track. Natalie often seemed lost in her own world as she sang, but she was also a gripping stage presence, dressed in a loose white blouse and velvet pants emblazoned with white snakeskin stars.
I didn’t grow up going to church, but seeing the poet-playwright-author-musician-activist-performance artist [http://jessicacaremoore.com|jessica Care moore] do her thing is what I imagine an incredibly moving church experience feels like.
moore’s appearance at the Michigan Theater on September 14 was the kickoff event of the 2017 Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. The series aims to bring innovators from a wide variety of fields to the university in order to interact with and inspire university students, faculty, and the greater community. (See the full fall 2017 lineup [http://stamps.umich.edu/stamps|here].)
In order to play at The Ark’s nearly sold-out fall fundraiser on Sunday night, [http://www.darlingside.com|Darlingside] had to skedaddle out of Kansas City after a show on Saturday night. The Boston-based quartet packed into a minivan with its sound engineer and drove through much of the night.
This hadn’t been the original plan, but the sudden appearance of a 200-mile-wide storm system meant that Darlingside's flights, scheduled several months earlier, weren’t going to happen. “So we arrived in Ann Arbor this morning, badly in need of a shower,” confessed cellist/guitarist Harris Paseltiner.
Five hundred years ago a theological revolution was heralded in by the ping of hammer on nails. When Luther left his theses pinned to the church door at Wittenberg that day in 1517 he didn’t intend to start a schism or to tear asunder the heart of the Catholic Church. But with the posting of his grievances, Luther set into motion a series of events that would forever alter the history of the world, and in so doing, would change the course of all that his movement touched. Swept up in the wave of Reformation was the art of the age, which warped in such a way that new worlds were born -- and now, echoing down the halls of history, the music of that era of transmutation arrives in Ann Arbor.
“Probably the most important change that the Reformation brought us was that music started to be sung in the vernacular,” said [http://www.stevenrickards.com|Steven Rickards], founder and countertenor of the early music ensemble [http://echoingair.org|Echoing Air]. “The music of the language is going to affect how the text is set.”
[https://www.facebook.com/EchoingAir|Echoing Air], which will be performing a program of music from the German Reformation at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at 8 pm on Saturday, September 16, was founded by Rickards in 2009 with the purpose of advocating for music that features the pairing of two countertenor voices, two recorders, and basso continuo.
Saying the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s 89th season has variety would be a gross understatement.
“We like to feature pieces that were written all the way from the Baroque era to the classical era to the romantic era to the 21st century and beyond, even pieces that were written in the last couple of years,” said Arie Lipsky, A2SO’s musical director and conductor. “I think the variety is much more apparent in this season.”
Although the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area is certainly home to many talented jazz musicians, sometimes it might seem that they fly a little under the radar. The [https://a2jazzfest.com|A2 Jazz Fest] is out to change that.
The free admission, two-day festival returns for its second edition Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9. Friday evening’s venue is the First Congregational Church, while on Saturday the festival takes over LIVE nightclub. (This is a change from the initially announced location at the Ann Arbor Distilling Co.)
“Currently jazz is featured at a number of restaurants and bars, once or twice a week, but there is no longer a dedicated jazz club in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti," says [https://www.davesharp.com|Dave Sharp], local bassist, bandleader, and organizer of the A2 Jazz Fest. "UMS and the Kerrytown Concert House certainly feature amazing jazz groups, but not on the scale or frequency of a jazz club or jazz festival."
New York meets New Orleans in Ann Arbor on Friday, Sept. 8, as Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 bring their unique twist on classic jazz to a special concert at [http://www.downtownhomeandgarden.com|Downtown Home & Garden]/[http://www.billsbeergarden.com|Bill's Beer Garden].
[https://ums.org/performance/butler-bernstein-the-hot-9|The show], which opens the new season of the University Musical Society, continues a successful partnership of the great New Orleans pianist and singer [http://henrybutler.com|Henry Butler] with [http://www.stevenbernstein.net|Steven Bernstein], the accomplished New York trumpeter and bandleader known for working in a number of different styles with various ensembles.