Less Talk, Rock Action: Fuzz Fest 5 at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fuzz Fest 5 logo

Fuzz Fest lets the music do the talking.

I don't just mean the harmonious racket that'll be created by 33 bands performing nearly 18 hours of jams on June 21-23 at The Blind Pig for the fifth edition of this annual event. Well, I do mean that, but because Fuzz Fest has two performance areas in the club -- one on the main stage and one on the floor -- there are no breaks between the bands' 30-minute sets, which means no time for extraneous jibber-jabber.

It's just CONSTANT ROCK ACTION.

Chris "Box" Taylor, the primary person behind this sonic endurance event, is also content to let the music do the talking. When I asked him to name the most memorable things from Fuzz Fests past, Taylor got straight to the point:

Good Tickle Brain's Mya Gosling interprets Shakespeare one stick figure at a time

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

What if Cliff's Notes had Cliff's Notes?

Mya Gosling's Good Tickle Brain is a web-based comics series that reduce Shakespeare's works to three panels. Named after a Falstaff line from Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1 -- "Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain" -- Gosling's stick-figure interpretations of ol' Will's works have garnered acclaim across the web for their wit, particularly her "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?" flowchart, which has allowed her to transition from being a library cataloger to a full-time comic artist.

Gosling has expanded her focus to include Keep Calm and Muslim On, written by her friend Andrea Annaba, and Sketchy Beta, the world's only rock-climbing comic strip, as well as three-panel interpretations of many other plays and movies. But the website's namesake Shakespeare strip is when I first discovered Gosling's work during last year's Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). My kids fell in love with her The Complete Works of Shakespeare in Three Panels book, which inspired them to go on and dive deep into the Bard's full catalog of plays as well as the film and graphic novel versions.

Gosling will be at this year's A2CAF festival June 16 & 17 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and I emailed with her about all things three-panel Shakespeare.

Soul Mining: Emily Roll speaks from the heart

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Emily Roll

Considering her namesake, Emily Roll was destined to be a writer.

"I was named after Emily Dickinson and always felt a strong connection to her poetry," said Roll. "When I got older I started writing poetry of my own and later took an extensive experimental acting class and realized that making my poems three dimensional was when I really found my creative voice."

The 3D came as spoken-word stories and poems, a form that the Ann Arbor resident has been exploring since 2012. She recently posted a large body of her work to Bandcamp and it's surprisingly musical -- and not just because she sometimes backs her words with synths and throws in a few cover tunes. Roll's voice invites listeners into her intimate world akin to what a singer does with a ballad.

Sweet Smell of Success: Michelle Krell Kydd's Smell & Tell celebrates 6 years with a field trip

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michelle Krell Kydd

Michelle Krell Kydd is here to say one person's rank stank is another person's memory-jarring concoction that evokes almonds, butterscotch, fresh-cut grass, brown leaves, and lavender soap.

For the past six years, Kydd's hosted Smell & Tell events at the Ann Arbor District Library, teaching attendees how to get in touch with their sense of smell and explore all the wonders -- and horrors -- that come along with being aware of the scents that surround us every day.

In fact, her next Smell & Tell explicitly focuses on this: "Follow Your Nose in the Great Outdoors" has participants walk in the outdoors and whiff smells in the wild at County Farm Park on June 2 and 3.

If you've never been to a Smell & Tell, sign up now -- it's a true treat, guaranteed. Read my recap of her "Brian Eno Smells" event in February to get a sense of Kydd's smarts, humor, and passion. All of those traits come through in our email interview, which also puts her fantastic writing on display. (Read more of her words at glasspetalsmoke.blogspot.com.)

Overpowered by Funk: Disaster Relief lift you up by gettin' down

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Disaster Relief

Check it out now: Darrin James, Ross Huff, Rob Avsharian, Molly Jones, Brennan Andes, and Tim Haldeman (not pictured) are the funk-soul brothers and sister who provide Disaster Relief.

Since 1967, The Meters have created ultra-greasy syncopated grooves that induce spontaneous boogie. The New Orleans funk legends' catalog is stuffed with influential jams, such as "Cissy Strut" and "Look-Ka Py Py," that are the very definition of rump shakers.

Even if The Meters' name doesn't invoke the immediate recognition of fellow funk pioneer James Brown, the band's influence looms large and has spread from the Crescent City to every booty-shaking band in the world, including Ann Arbor's Disaster Relief.

Led by guitarist-organist Darrin James, Disaster Relief recently released its self-titled debut, which features nine dancefloor fillers. But it's not just New Orleans second-line funk that has seeped into Disaster Relief's sound. The spirit of Afro-beat is present, too ("August Addiction," "Too Soon for June," "March Wind"), as well as Motown and Memphis influences ("October, Who's Sober?"). But tracks such as the opener, "Downtown F#@karound," and "January Junk" bring New Orleans to the heart of Washtenaw County.

Disaster Relief's musicians are also active participants in southeast Michigan's jazz scene, so there's also plenty of improvisation from James, Brennan Andes (bass), Rob Avsharian (drums), Dan Bennett (baritone sax), Molly Jones (tenor sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), and Ross Huff (trumpet).

I chatted with James over email about how this serious singer-songwriter came to lead a party-ready funk band.

Film Studies: A preview of this year's Cinetopia movies in A2

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Cinetopia logo

Cinetopia's website states that its film festival, which features acclaimed movies from Sundance, Cannes, and more, was "created for the people of southeastern Michigan." 

That's cool, but for our Pulp preview, we're keeping it strictly provincial and have highlighted films playing in Ann Arbor at the Michigan and State theaters. (Click here for the full Cinetopia schedule.)

We've also embedded the fifth episode of the Michigan Theater and AADL podcast Behind the Marquee, which features hosts Nick, Caitlin, and Brian talking about all things Cinetopia, including some of their favorite films arriving this year.

Get out your calendars and plan your May 31 to June 10 cinematic experiences.

At the Crossroads: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet bridges the East and West on its debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

Around the Worlds Quartet: Mike List, Igor Houwat, Dr. Henrik Karapetyan, and Dave Sharp.

The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet is like Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge: a sturdy gateway between the East and West.

The group -- Sharp (bass), Dr. Henrik Karapetyan (violin), Igor Houwat (oud), and Mike List (percussion) -- transports listeners through Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Indian, and American music with reliable strength on its new album, Delta.

Sharp is a busy bandleader who heads up Klezmephonic (klezmer), RAKA (African fusion), and various sizes of world music and jazz groups, from duos to the Secret 7. The Worlds Quartet came together through a chance meeting when Sharp sat in with Wisaal, a Mediterranean fusion group out of Lansing. 

“I subbed on bass with Wisaal for a small number of gigs, where I met Mike List and Igor Houwat and really connected with their Arabic fusion sound,” Sharp said. “Igor also played a few shows with Dave Sharp’s Secret 7 and recorded oud tracks for the second DSS7 release, Worlds. Igor, Mike, and I played a few dates as a trio, and one night we invited [Klezmephonic co-leader] Henrik to sit in with us. Once that happened, we all had a “Wow!” moment and decided to assemble as a quartet.”

Liner Notes: Track by track through Ann Arbor Guitar Trio's debut album, "Tides"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

Three's company: Evan Veasey, Adam Kahana, and Alex Anest are the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio. Photo by Pink Moon Photography.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio (A2G3), enjoys the puzzle of arranging for three axes. No rhythmic accompaniment. No additional instruments. Just 18 amplified strings.

"There are so many tunes that I want to arrange for this group," he said. "I could quit everything and just arrange for guitar trios and probably be a pretty happy person doing it." 

The challenges, he said, are "figuring out how to blend and also how to get voices to stand out. I realize that those are opposite challenges but they both come up."

Adam Kahana and Evan Veasey are Anest's partners in Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, whose debut album, Tides, is out May 17, which is also the day the group plays Kerrytown Concert House.

Get Away With She: Nellie McKay wants to escape from it all

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nellie McKay

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Nellie McKay often seems like she’s at a loss for words.

During our phone conversation to promote the pianist-singer-songwriter’s show at The Ark on May 13, her answers were often preceded by a swarm of ums, uhs, I means, and various other utterances. And when McKay did get to the answers, it wasn’t necessarily in response to my questions, instead offering long vignettes about politics and the stark realities of being a full-time musician. 

On stage, McKay has a similarly discursive way of speaking, mixing funny anecdotes, political pleas, and stammering self-effacement.

But once McKay strikes a piano key, everything flows. Words stream from her gorgeous voice with confidence and warmth. The quirkiness that defines her conversations gives way to sass and power, and listeners get invited into her world -- which is not of this era.

Pluto-cracy: Dr. Alan Stern & Dr. David Grinspoon's "Chasing New Horizons"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon

They chased new horizons with New Horizons: Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon. Photo by Henry Throop.

When the NASA spacecraft New Horizons did a Pluto driveby at 32,000 MPH on July 14, 2015, it was the first close-up view we had of our solar system’s most distant planet.

And yes, it's a full-blown planet, despite what you may have heard on Aug. 24, 2006, when Pluto was reclassified by astronomers as a “dwarf planet.”

Please do not try to tell planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern otherwise.

“What the astronomers did was really a travesty; planetary scientists don’t buy that b.s.,” said Stern, whose new book, Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, recounts the spacecraft mission he led, which provided unprecedented photos and information about the Milky Way's tiny trouper. (He will be at AADL’s downtown branch on Thursday, May 10, at 7 pm.)

“We know what planets are, and if you go to planetary science meetings, Pluto is called a planet every single day,” Stern said. “Don’t follow what the astronomers do any more than if I tried to classify black holes as a non-expert. But the journalists who lapped it up in 2006, if that would have happened in the ‘90s, there would have never been a mission.”