Jad Fair and Half Japanese are "Invincible" after 42 years

MUSIC

Half Japanese's Invincible album

The documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King begins with a title card that says, "Ann Arbor, Michigan - 1975" and then cuts to a blurry, grainy, backlit film of David and Jad Fair with their friend David Stansky jamming in the Fair family's living room.

The brothers' time living in Ann Arbor was a warm-up run for the primitive rock 'n' roll band that they officially started in Uniontown, Maryland, in 1977 with the car-crash-erific Calling All Girls 7-inch EP. The Fairs couldn't play their instruments whatsoever, but their unholy sound became an inspiration to Yo La Tengo, The Pastels, Beat Happening, Nirvana, and countless other punk-adjacent bands.

Forty-two years later, Jad is still bashing his untuned guitar and singing about love and monsters in Half Japanese, which just released the Invincible album. Meanwhile, David is a retired librarian and, like Jad, a prolific artist working in paper cuttings.

Jad's wondrous paper cuttings are featured in the 15 videos he made for every song on Invincible, which is far more musical than some Half Japanese offerings but no less sui generis. Check out the video playlist below. 

Alone in a Crowd: Pianist Gwilym Simcock performs solo at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC PREVIEW

Gwilym Simcock

The last time British pianist Gwilym Simcock was in Ann Arbor, it was as a sideman with Pat Metheny's quartet when the guitarist played Hill Auditorium in October 2018.

But in June 2017, Simcock played Kerrytown Concert House solo, which he'll do again on March 3.

I interviewed the pianist then and asked him how his playing changes when performing solo versus with a band:

Timeless Ocarinas: The Seven Sages interpret music from The Legend of Zelda

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Seven Sages' Korok Forest

John Coltrane on the saxophone.

Eddie Van Halen on the guitar.

Link on the ocarina.

These are giants of their instruments.

But only one of these masters will be feted by The Seven Sages, a new quintet dedicated to playing music from The Legend of Zelda video game series.

Comprised of accomplished jazz and experimental artists Kirsten Carey (guitar), Andrew Hintzen (keyboard), Neal Anderson (EWI / trumpet), Jon Hammonds (bass), and Jonathan Taylor (drums), The Seven Sages make their debut at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on February 21 -- the 33rd anniversary of the first Legend of Zelda game being released.

Carey and Hammonds answered some questions in an email interview about how The Seven Sages materialized, which Zelda songs the band will play, and their favorite tunes from the games. The queries were posed by myself and Eli Neiburger, who is deputy director of the Ann Arbor District Library and a member of the Nintendoland Family Band.

Set the Controls for the "Heart" of the Sum: Robert Spalding Newcomb's music adds form to freedom

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Robert Spalding Newcomb's Dance of the Heart

Robert Spalding Newcomb, Ken Kozora, and Erik Gottesman performing "Dance of the Heart" on March 13, 2018, at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.

In "The Heart Sutra," one of Buddhism's most famous texts, there's a line that's often translated as "form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form."

I don't know if this particular sutra informed Robert Spalding Newcomb's structured improvisation "Dance of the Heart," but this long-form piece revels in the sort of free-flowing ambiance that feels simultaneously disembodied and corporeal. The music is an ode to freedom and that freedom helps shape the music's form.

Newcomb is a polymath -- computer expert, software developer, yoga teacher, stringed-instrument virtuoso (guitar, sitar) -- who combines all his talents to create modern music that's rooted in ancient traditions. "Dance of the Heart" is a reflection of that unique skillset, combining electronic percussion, synths, and effects-laden guitar.

"Dance of the Heart" premiered March 13, 2018, at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti -- you can watch the high-quality video here -- with Newcomb (guitar, sitar, laptop), Ken Kozora (electronic and acoustic percussion, iPad, trumpet), and Erik Gottesman (analog synthesizers, bio-sensors with EEG/shortwave/Theremin-style gesture proximity and ribbon controllers). The trio is reuniting at Riverside Arts for another performance of "Dance of the Heart" on 

Newcomb explained the concept behind "Dance of the Heart" in an email interview:

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2019 [updated: 2/20/19]

MUSIC

Washtenaw County Mixtape 2019

A regularly updated collection of music released in 2018 by Washtenaw County-associated acts and labels. Submit music to pulp@aadl.org.

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2018 [Updated: 2/20/19]

MUSIC

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2018

A regularly updated collection of music released in 2018 by Washtenaw County-associated acts and labels. Submit music to pulp@aadl.org.

Elizabeth Youngblood's "The Smell of Lint and Frost" evokes Midwestern winters

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elizabeth Youngblood's The Smell of Lint and Frost

I was left in the cold the first time I viewed Elizabeth Youngblood's exhibition The Smell of Lint and Frost.

(I'll give you a second to recover from that high-end wordplay.) 

And it's not just because I trudged across the University of Michigan's campus through piles of snow in sub-20-degree weather to view the Detroit-based U-M grad's mixed-media sculptures and drawings at the East Quadrangle's RC Art Gallery.

(I'm really going in on the cold/frost thing here. Take a deep breath.)

Like having no ice cubes in the freezer, it felt like something was missing in this small gallery's exhibition. 

(Sorry, like you, I've been cooped up for days. I'm *this close* to reenacting Jack's death scene in The Shining. But I'll let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door on all these chilly puns. The cold never bothered me anyway. .)

I'm not sure if it was the lack of an artist statement to contextualize the works or that there were no title cards giving some sense of the materials used and whether the pieces had names, but something about The Smell of Lint and Frost wasn't landing in my frozen brain.

Youngblood's work is minimalist and austere, and in this exhibition, the pieces range from monochromatic gestural paintings and fine-line drawings of spirals with accompanying complementary sculptures that appear to consist of wire and plaster.

It wasn't until I left the gallery and read a bit more about Youngblood's working methods and then went to see the exhibition again that The Smell of Lint and Frost made some sense to me.

Relentless Forward Progress: Ellen Rowe's "Momentum" seeks to inspire women in jazz and beyond

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ellen Rowe and her album Momentum

University of Michigan's Ellen Rowe is the world's first female chair of a major university jazz department, and last year she was one of four faculty members to be honored as an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. Interim Dean Melody Racine said Rowe engaged in “concrete and repeated steps to build a sense of teamwork, mutual support, and collegiality within the department."

That desire to cross bridges and engage with people extends to Rowe's music, too, and is particularly evident on the pianist's new album, Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion.

Recorded at the U-M studio in the Duderstadt building, each of Momentum's eight compositions is dedicated to a woman or women who have influenced Rowe.

"What was fun was to pick women that really mattered to me and who had made a difference in my life from the time I was 8 or 9 up til now and write music for them," Rowe said in a video interview about Momentum

"Some of the readings I was doing about race and social justice, I just came across really incredible women that I had no idea about, who started NAACP chapters, they started schools, they started colleges, they had been at the forefronts of the civil rights marches, and yet we don't hear about them," she said. "Women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Amelia Boynton, Septima Clark, Mary McLeod Bethune, and I just thought, 'Where are these women?' We need to know about these women -- I need to know about these women. And certainly, young women -- and part of this project, of course, involves mentoring -- I want to be able to talk about these women when I go out and play this music."

Great Lakes Soundtrack: Sean Curtis Patrick and Benoît Pioulard team up for an LP that feels like destiny

MUSIC PREVIEW

Patrick & Piolard's Avocationals LP cover

Cover art by Sean Curtis Patrick’s father, Lynn Curtis Patrick: The Sinking of the Bradley, 1983. Created with graphite, charcoal, and collage.

Ann Arbor musician and video artist Sean Curtis Patrick is teaming up with Haslet, Michigan native Benoît Pioulard (née Thomas Meluch) for a concept album that these prolific ambient musicians were destined to create. Avocationals is about nine shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and Patrick posted a teaser video on Instagram:

Michael Erlewine releases a free PDF book that chronicles Ann Arbor's 1960s counterculture scene

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD HISTORY

Ann Arbor - The 1960s by Michael Erlewine

In a recent Facebook post, former Ann Arborite Michael Erlewine posted a link to his free PDF book Ann Arbor: The 1960s Scenesaying:

Here are a series of articles on Ann Arbor, Michigan culture in the late 1950s and 1960s. It is mostly some history of the time from my view and experience. I could add more to them, but I’m getting older by the day and I feel it is better to get something out there for those few who want to get a sense of Ann Arbor back in those times.

I hope there are some out there who can remember these times too. As for those of were not there, here is a taste as to what Ann Arbor was like back then.

Long before he became a software pioneer who created astrological programs and, later, the All Music franchise and its spinoffs, Erlewine was an integral member of Ann Arbor's 1960s counterculture scene as co-founder of blues band The Prime Movers, which eventually featured Iggy Pop on drums.