During the Ann Arbor Comics Art Festival -- aka A2CAF -- in June, cartoonist Jerzy Drozd interviewed his fellow author-illustrator Ben Hatke about his work. The two were on the third floor of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, standing in front of the framed works that comprise the exhibition Ben Hatke: Art and Adventure:
Explore the plucky heroes, eerie monsters, and fabulous realms of artist and author Ben Hatke in an exhibition of original art from his picture books and graphic novels. Illustrations and watercolors from Nobody Likes a Goblin, Zita the Spacegirl, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and a few surprises. (The exhibition runs through August 31.)
The talk between Drozd and Hatke runs 41 minutes. Pressed for time? Grab the MP3; the conversation works fine as a podcast. Or if you want to skip around, see the list below with the topics discussed and their times in the video/MP3:
* This video contains explicit content. *
As evidenced by their name, Approachable Minorities make strong social statements couched in playfully pointed language. The Ypsilanti hip-hop trio -- MCs Drew Denton and TJ Greggs with DJ Marcus McKinney -- released its debut album, Afro-American, in April 2016, and Denton’s solo LP, The Ascension Theory, arrived in December.
Approachable Minorities have worked hard to promote their music through a series of concerts under the name Northern Threat Entertainment, but the group is largely still a Washtenaw County phenomenon. But any label or manager looking to sign a talented and motivated group of artists who are ready to put in the work to promote their art would do well to turn 2017 into Approachable Minorities’ breakout year.
Impressed by the ensemble’s creativity and energy, we invited Approachable Minorities and their friend Cole Greve to check out a bunch Music Tools from the Ann Arbor District Library, learn how to use the gear, and come cut a Tools Crew Live video. The group re-created two cuts from Afro-American -- “Bodies” and “Bet” -- on the library’s gear and performed the songs at AADL’s downtown branch on June 9, 2017.
We spoke with Denton about the group’s history, the stories behind the songs, and the challenges and rewards of learning new music gear from scratch.
André Mehmari plays piano like it's an extension of his body. It's easy to imagine his fingers taking the place of the piano's hammers and directly pounding the strings that stretch from inside the keyboard and connect directly to his brain. His hands move like dancers, gliding over the keys with such grace and flow that it's hard not to stare at them as he fills the room with gorgeous melodies and blissful harmonic combinations.
Born in 1977 in Niterói, Brazil, a town across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, Mehmari began studying piano with his mom at age 5, learned how to improvise soon after, and by 10 had written his first compositions. His wide-ranging, highly personal playing incorporates jazz, classical, and all forms of Brazilian music, and those styles spill out on the piano with stunning fluidity.
Mehmari returns to Ann Arbor to play Kerrytown Concert House on Sunday, July 16, two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of his last concert there. He’s also playing the Toledo Museum of Art on Saturday, July 15, where he will get to perform in the Glass Pavilion on a super-cool Wendell Castle-designed Steinway piano as well as playing a percussive improvisation on original glass art that was crafted for the museum’s Hot Shop.
We talked to Mehmari about his technique, sui genris Beatles covers, and glass marimbas
Rob Crozier had to end our interview because he arrived at his job.
“I’m an entertainer. I do a lot of senior home gigs,” he said. “I go play ukulele and guitar, and I sing Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, old country, singalongs. That’s my day gig.”
In fact, Crozier's senior concerts are only one part of this Ann Arbor musician's many gigs. Multi-instrumentalist Crozier is also a jazz bassist, co-leader of the Irish-fusion group Nessa with his vocalist-flutist wife Kelly McDermott, a music educator, and the proprietor of Eventjazz, which provides live music for weddings, corporate events, and more.
And when you’re a full-time musician, sometimes you play gigs that wouldn’t make anybody green with envy, such as trying to entertain St. Patrick's Day revelers who are already three sheets to the wind at 8 am.
“I can play (the senior home) for an hour and have a really appreciative crowd that isn't vomiting, necessarily, or falling on themselves,” Crozier said, recalling a particularly harrowing St. Patrick’s Day show. “Green eggs and blllluuuuuurrrrgggh!”
All good music begins in the garage. Music festivals, too.
“I did a show in my dad's garage last summer and started talking with one of the bands that played and started October Punk Fest last year,” said Ypsilanti-raised Ryan Wilcox, 37.
Wilcox has upped the mosh and morphed October Punk Fest into the Summer Metal Fest, which happens July 8 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds.
“This year the Farm Council Grounds was booked in October so we moved the date to July and changed the name,” Wilcox said. “I'm still deciding if I want to do both shows next year; I know for sure I will be doing Summer Metal Fest again.
Before the first encore of The Church’s set at The Ark on Wednesday, June 28, guitarist Peter Koppes joked, “We can use the encore to rehearse for tomorrow's festival.”
Every good jape contains a kernel of truth, and Koppes’ honesty hit the mark. Singer-bassist Steve Kilbey said this was the band’s first show in a year, and The Church spent a lot of the show working out the kinks: adjusting their sound mid-song, dealing with equipment malfunctions, and relearning songs new and old.
Even after hitting stages around the world for 37 years, it's nice to know that the band best known for the 1988 hit "Under the Milky Way" can sometimes still feel like absolute beginners again -- and do so with giant smiles on the muscians' faces.
When The Church announced its summer 2017 North American tour, I was surprised the band was booked at The Ark. When I saw the group play in 2015, the long-running Australian rockers filled the large Fillmore venue in Silver Spring, Md., with loud, room-rumbling psychedelia. The intimate Ark and its acoustic-friendly acoustics might have to call in the remodelers after The Church is done blowing the roof off the place on Wednesday, June 28.
Led by prolific singer-bassist Steve Kilbey, The Church formed in Sydney, Australia, in 1980. While the group will forever be best known for its 1988 hit "Under the Milky Way," the band has survived lineup changes, record label problems, and a changing marketplace to continue producing smart, sonically compelling songs that reward close listening. (Kilby's numerous solo albums and collaborations fit that description, too.)
The Ark show kicks off The Church's North American tour, and my colleague Amanda Szot -- AADL's graphic designer -- bought a ticket as soon as they went on sale. We've talked about The Church many times, so we decided to create a Spotify playlist of our favorite songs -- including the lovely new single "New Century" -- and have a GChat about the band.
Ever since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in 1700, virtuosos have found ways to leave distinctive marks on the instrument's 88 keys. Over the past 15 years, Gwilym Simcock has earned the virtuoso description through a series of recordings, concerts, and compositions that explore the full harmonic and percussive spectrum of the piano.
Simcock blends classical elements that can be traced to the instrument's inception alongside modern improvisational acumen that recalls the harmonically dense but intensely lyrical jazz of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. It's an intensely personal but inviting sound: Even as your brain does flips trying to figure out what Simcock's playing as his hands blaze over the keys, your toes still tap in time to his undeniable grooves.
The pianist is an important part of working bands led by guitarists Pat Metheny and Wolfgang Muthspiel, but it's Simcock's solo performances that have brought him the greatest acclaim, including being nominated for the UK's most prestigious music award, the Mercury Prize, in 2011 for the Good Days at Schloss Elmau album.
Simcock will play solo at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, June 24, and we talked to the British pianist about his work with major guitarists, the way he connects to audiences, how he discovered jazz, and what he teaches classical pianist students about improvisation.
It’s approximately 8,000 miles from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Detroit, Michigan. But music and culture scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda feels like Motown’s daughter.
“Motown raised me,” she said. “I’m a child of Motown music.”
Makwenda owns one of Zimbabwe's largest archives of music-related documents, from newspapers and photos to vinyl records and instruments. The Joyce Jenje Makwenda Collection Archives allows scholars to research the rich history of Zimbabwean music, from folk music played on the mbira (thumb piano) and the township jazz that dominated much of the mid-20th century, to the modern protest sounds of Thomas Mapfumo’s chimurenga music.
She's also the 2017 Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit research resident -- in partnership with U-M's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series and Harare's Njelele Art Station -- which is why she's in Michigan this summer investigating the influence of Motown music on her home country.
That concert was March 3, 1987.
Now, 30 years later, the melody-driven synth-pop group is returning as part of an ongoing tour that kicked off last year with the release of MMXVI – Book of Love – The 30th Anniversary Collection.
“We call them anniversary shows,” said primary songwriter Ted Ottaviano who tours with singer Susan Ottaviano (no relation). “We’ve had reunion shows where we’ve had the (founding) four members, but that’s not easy to pull off. We’ve only done three of them and we specifically did them in the three major cities throughout our career.”
The other original members, Lauren Roselli (keyboards, vocals) and Jade Lee (keyboards, vocals), are still a part of Book of Love officially, but with busy lives outside the band, they can’t hit the road with the other two. “It essentially works because you have the lead vocalist and I’ve been the main songwriter, so the essence of the group is intact,” Ottaviano said.