Open Book: Hip-hop MC and singer Dessa reveals her life and loves in "My Own Devices"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dessa

Dessa photo by Sam Gehrke.

On the song “5 Out of 6” from her latest album, Chime, Dessa raps:

I'm out here, arms wide
Hiding nothing
I've done it all in broad daylight
And I left the cameras running

That’s an apt characterization of her new autobiography, My Own Devices: True Stories From the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, too, where he chronicles her 15-year career with the fiercely independent Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree. The book is an honest, clever, humorous appraisal of her family, career, and P.O.S., the Doomtree rapper with the highest profile and the longtime love of Dessa’s life. He’s referred to as X throughout the book because that’s what he is -- her ex-boyfriend. He’s still a member of Doomtree, and for years Dessa and P.O.S. have done the delicate dance to keep their group together and their solo careers growing even as their romantic relationship swung wildly between emotional hills and valleys as they rode coast to coast in a tour van.

“The task was to try to hide that, to try to not look like we weren’t getting along, and I’m sure we failed miserably at that and the tension was obvious,” Dessa said by phone between flights. “But a lot of times, I think we were able to keep the tension out of the van, to keep it to ourselves, keep it in the back with our luggage. That meant being nice, being cordial, making sure nobody had to worry about us.”

Grantstand: The Idle Moments Project celebrates the guitar artistry of Grant Green

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Grant Green's Idle Moments album cover

It's not an insult to say jazz guitarist Grant Green favored feel over technique. He didn't play double-time phrases or blaze with extended chords, instead favoring a languid, minimalist style that feels more like a blues singer's phrasing transferred to the fretboard. Green's single-line-focused playing was always lyrical, melodic, and funky, which is one of the reasons he was one of the most recorded musicians in the history of Blue Note Records.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, became so enamored with Green's playing that he decided to learn the guitarist's 1965 album Idle Moments in its entirety, which he'll present on Friday, October 12 at Kerrytown Concert House with Gayelynn McKinney (drums), Eric Nachtrab (bass), Janelle Reichman (tenor sax), Alexis Lombre (piano), and Peyton Miller (vibraphone).

The recording is one of the most celebrated of Green's career, mostly because the title track is such a chill charmer. As told in the Idle Moments liner notes by pianist Duke Pearson, who also wrote the song, the tune's nearly 15-minute running time was the result of a happy accident: Green mistakenly played the 16-bar melody twice, setting up the longer solo structure for the rest of the musicians, all of whom followed suit. The rest of the album, which includes the songs "Jean De Fleur" (Green), "Django" (John Lewis), and "Nomad" (Pearson), is equally winsome and it's easy to digest why the record is so beloved.

The CD reissue unearthed alternate versions of "Jean De Fleur" and "Django" (which is four minutes longer), and Anest based his arrangements for the concert on these takes. I spoke with Anest about what inspired him to cover the entire Idle Moments album and what he likes about Green's playing.

Rage Against the Machine: Tim Haldeman's "Open Water As a Child" is a powerful protest for Flint

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Tim Haldeman, Open Water As a Child album cover

From songs such as Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" to full albums such as Max Roach's We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, jazz has been a voice for social issues and protest. Ann Arbor saxophonist Tim Haldeman makes a strong statement on his new album, Open Water As a Child, a brilliant suite that rages against the Flint water disaster.

He originally presented the suite at the 2017 A2 Jazz Fest with no intention of ever playing it again; Haldeman simply wanted to blast out a singular, focused, powerful intention into the universe. But the reception to Open Water As a Child was so positive that Haldeman reconsidered and decided to document his protest piece. 

Haldeman (tenor sax) gathered poet John Goode (words/vocals), Dan Bennett (alto sax), Justin Walter (trumpet), Jordan Schug (cello), Jonathan Taylor (drums), and Ben Willis (bass) at Big Sky Studios in Ann Arbor and they cut a powerful record that inspires even as the topic it tackles infuriates.

The album features five songs with loose structures that allow the players to improvise freely in a way that builds upon his framework and gives them room to add their own voices of discontent to the suite. The album is bookended by Goode's poems, which trace Flint's interactions with water and tragedies, tying the trials of Native Americans with the present-day residents poisoned because of goverment negligence. 

Open Water As a Child is an important record. Its release will be celebrated at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on Thursday, October 11 at 8 pm. I talked to Haldeman about the creation of the album.

Sound Images: A2 Jazz Fest 2018 photos by Jeff Dunn

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Drummer Sean Dobbins

Sean Dobbins at LIVE Nightclub on the second night of the 2018 A2 Jazz Fest. Photo by Jeff Dunn.

The third annual A2 Jazz Fest wrapped up on Sunday and -- as often happens soon after Southeast Michigan music fests or concerts end -- Jeff Dunn uploaded dozens of great photos of the performers and shared them on his SmugMug page and the Facebook group Lifting Up A2 Jazz

Dunn hasn't always been a concert photographer -- he only started snapping shows in 2012 or so -- but he's loved jazz for nearly 50 years.

"I've been a huge jazz fan and supporter since the early '70s," he says. "The first time I went to [Detroit's] Baker's Keyboard Lounge in 1973, I was hooked! I've been addicted to live jazz performances ever since."

Dunn got his jazz-photo start because of a musician friend.

Guitarist Marcus Tardelli will change your conceptions of what it means to shred

MUSIC PREVIEW

Marcus Tardelli

When the phrase "guitar shredder" is deployed, the general picture that comes to mind is a poodle-haired metal guitarist finger-tapping his way through impossible scales on an electric ax.

Marcus Tardelli will change your mental image of what it means to be a guitar shredder.

The Brazilian plays an acoustic with the same sort of jaw-dropping heroics as his plugged-in brethren, but the music he creates evokes that of a full band, not a solo showcase -- even though he usually plays unaccompanied, as he will at Kerrytown Concert House on Thursday, October 4.

A Trio of Days: The 2018 A2 Jazz Fest expands to three swinging nights

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Marion Hayden, Michael Malis, and Marcus Elliot

Bassist Marion Hayden will headline the A2 Jazz Fest's closing night with her Ensemble; pianist Michael Malis and saxophonist Marcus Elliot's Balance duo opens the evening.

The A2 Jazz Fest (A2JF) began in 2016 as a single day, featuring 14 acts over 10 hours.

Even if your name is Jazzbo von Chromatic Chord Progression, 600 straight minutes of jazz is a grueling marathon.

A2JF added a second in 2017, spreading out the shows, and it's a three-day event in 2018, running Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, at LIVE Nightclub and Sunday, Sept. 30, at Kerrytown Concert House. Bassist and fest organizer Dave Sharp said it was a "natural progression and a way to make it easier to attend more events."

And the whole event is still free of charge.

But there was an additional reason for stretching the fest to three days: "From musicians, there was intense interest," Sharp says, "and the committee worked hard to include as many groups as possible." (See the full lineup below.)

Rocket Ride: Anne and Jerzy Drozd's "Science Comics: Rockets - Defying Gravity"

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD

Science Comics: Rockets - Dying Gravity front cover and page

Everything I learned about rockets as a kid came from a Kiss song. That's rather unfortunate because I found out much later that "Rocket Ride" was not, in fact, about space travel but rather very Earthy matters.

If only I had Anne and Jerzy Drozd's Science Comics: Rockets - Defying Gravity to guide me rather than a subliterate Ace Frehley jam.

An Annotated Guide to Fred Thomas' "Good Times Are Gone Again" Video

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Screen grab of Fred Thomas from his video Good Times Are Gone Again

Pretty in Pink: Fred Thomas in a clip from his music video  "Good Times Are Gone Again."

In Pitchfork's review of Fred Thomas' new song and video, "Good Times Are Gone Again," Contributing Editor Jayson Greene notes the tune is "a little less agonizingly specific than Thomas’ usual fare."

That's true of the song's lyrics, but if you know Ann Arbor, the music video is filled with scenes that are very specific.

The promo clip is for Thomas' new album, Aftering, which comes out September 14 on Polyvinyl Records. The video features Thomas interacting with friends and strangers -- who immediately fall ill as if he passed on an instant plague, echoing the song's lyrics: "Bad things are happening now / Sharp days are wrapping around us."

It's the song of the bummer summer.

Ann Arbor is featured throughout the video: Thomas spends time walking alone through Buhr Park and strumming his guitar behind the long-running punk joint Far House; and he spreads his illness at Encore Records, The Hosting art space, Lab Cafe, a recording studio in Ellsworth Commerce Park, his bandmate Chuck Sipperley's home, and his own apartment where his wife, spoken-word artist Emily Roll, starts foaming toothpaste at the mouth.

More rare recordings from 1960s Canterbury House shows have surfaced

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When I came across a blog post recently that referenced rare Neil Young tapes from Canterbury House, I assumed it was an old story related to the Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968 album that came out 10 years ago.

But it turns out there might be another tape from the Nov. 8-10 stand Young had at Canterbury House's 330 Maynard St. location. (It's now at 721 E. Huron St.)

Sugar Mountain is made up of recordings from Nov. 9 and 10, so it's possible the Nov. 8 performance was found. But Young also played Canterbury House on Oct. 16, 1969 -- the final time he played the venue -- so perhaps it's that show.

Fun House: Ron Asheton's 70th Birthday Celebration at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW INTERVIEW

The Shemps at the Asheton family home

The Shemps outside the Asheton family home in Ann Arbor. Front: Jennifer Herrema. L to R: Henry McGroggan, Kim Gordon, Don Fleming, Kathy Asheton, Mario Rubacalba, Mike Watt, J Mascis, and Mark Arm. Photo via the Ron Asheton Foundation.

Kathy Asheton’s voice was cracking.

“It’s all very sensitive,” she said, the sentence trailing off to silence.

She’s recalling her brothers, Ron and Scott, the guitarist (and later bassist) and drummer for The Stooges.

Ron died in 2009 at 60 and Scott in 2014 at 64, and their younger sister still struggles with their loss.

The Facebook page Kathy runs for the Ron Asheton Foundation is filled with personal remembrances and family photos taken in their West Ann Arbor home near Weber’s Restaurant. Her mom bought the house from Herman Weber in 1964, and it's still owned by Kathy.

The modest 1,400 square foot structure, with its brick facade on the lower half and siding on top, doesn’t look like the sort of place that would launch a musical revolution. But the band that helped plant the roots for punk rock, The Stooges, began its life here, all with the blessing of mother Ann Asheton.

“She was not only accommodating by letting my brothers practice -- that’s where the band literally started, in the family home,” Kathy said. “But she could also rip and say, ‘Don’t drink out of the milk cartons!’ and let us have it. She was a mom in the true sense. She yelled at them like she yelled at us.”

“Them” includes the MC5 and other bands who passed through the Asheton home, and it was Iggy who Ann yelled at for drinking out of the milk carton. Momma Asheton’s support was repaid in song.