Friday Five: Prism Quartet, Jib Kidder, Virga, Blowhole, Frontier Ruckus
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features classical/jazz/new music by PRISM Quartet, glitch pop by Jib Kidder, indie rock by Virga, thrash-punk by Blowhole, and indie-folk by Frontier Ruckus.
PRISM Quartet, Mending Wall
PRISM Quartet was founded in 1984 by students at the University of Michigan, and for the past 39 years, the saxophone ensemble has explored the intersections of jazz, classical, and new music. The group's recent Mending Wall album is the documentation of a project with soprano Tony Arnold and pianist Arturo O’Farrill that started as staged performances featuring commissioned works by Martin Bresnick, George Lewis, Juri Seo, and O’Farrill. The PRISM Quartet core four—Timothy McAllister, Zachary Shemon, Matthew Levy, Taimur Sullivan—along with O’Farrill, Arnold, and guest tenor saxophonist Matthew Koester recorded these original tracks, which were inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Waly Salomão, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, as a "response to the walls, tangible and not, found within our everyday existence." If that description sounds ethereal, the title of the O’Farrill-penned opening track's ideology is concrete: "Something to declare? (yeah, fuck your wall)" is unambiguous about its thoughts on the previous administration's ridiculous border control plan even if the music isn't nearly as strident as the 14-minute work's name. The rest of Mending Wall tends more toward healing, as the album title implies, drawing on world music, spoken word, and art songs but rendering the pieces with the experimental jazz-classical vibe that PRISM does so well. There's a lot of info about the project on the Mending Wall website, including photos from the performances, which featured a designed stage with props and all the musicians wearing boxy suits and wigs.
Jib Kidder, various releases
Tireless Washtenaw County music supporter Jason Adam Voss tipped on his Instagram page that Ann Arbor's Jib Kidder had unlocked a ton of music and videos on his YouTube page. Kidder has released so much music over the years, covering everything from hip-hop and electronica to indie rock and sampledelica. And despite all those genre names I nabbed from my Music Critic Handbook, none of Kidder's music is easy to categorize—but all of it is worth your time and attention. He's a sui generis musician. A few examples of his YouTube page's riches are below:
Ypsi indie-pop quartet Virga celebrates the release of its Backsplash mini LP on Sunday, December 10 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti. Only two songs are streaming so far—"Calling Graves" on the Bandcamp page and the video for "Ghost Telephone," directed by guitarist Mary Frasier—but I can already tell from these two surfy, reverb-swimming songs that I'm going to jump into the entirety of Backsplash.
Blowhole, Belligerent Oceanspawn
Ypsi's Blowhole is a thrash-punk trio that writes sarcastic political ragers. The group's debut album, Belligerent Oceanspawn, is the perfect soundtrack for your next visit to a rage room.
Frontier Ruckus, "On the Northline"
In February, indie-folk trio Frontier Ruckus is set to return with the On the Northline album, which the band recorded in Ypsilanti with Ben Collins. It's the group's first record since 2017, and the first single/video is the title track. While Frontier Ruckus is often described as being from Metro Detroit, the group has a long track record in Washtenaw County—from recording several albums in Ann Arbor to singer-songwriter Matthew Milia working here and banjo player David Winston Jones being a U-M grad.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.