Ken Vandermark is a method musician.
The Chicago-based saxophonist/clarinetist likes to construct scenarios and systems for his various bands and then write material that fits whatever methods he's devised. It's rigorous work that forces Vandermark and his musicians out of their comfort zones, but it has led to a voluminous and varied body of work that is among the most impressive in modern jazz and composition.
Vandermark's latest creation, Maker, came to Kerrytown Concert House on July 9 and ripped through a four-song, 75-minute set that touched on avant-garde jazz, funk, drones, minimalism, and Afrobeat.
Raccoons, foxes, and hawks prey upon the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.
But the Michigan Rattlers are most susceptible to being consumed by broken hearts, Bell's Two-Hearted, and the eternal debate about where your heart truly belongs.
Comprised of Petoskey-raised childhood friends Graham Young (guitar) and Adam Reed (upright bass), along with more recent members Christian Wilder (keyboards) and Anthony Audia (drums), the Los Angeles-based Michigan Rattlers returned to the Sonic Lunch concert series on July 5 and played 13 originals plus a cover of Leonard Cohen's "On the Level."
Young and Reed performed as a duo at Sonic Lunch last year and their close-harmony Americana was immediately striking for its beauty and simplicity. But as a quartet, Michigan Rattlers brought a honky-tonk rock 'n' roll vibe to their acoustic-guitar-based compositions.
When schizophrenic super-hero Moon Knight falls into one of many personalities, it's usually due to trauma or the intervention of Khonshu, the ancient Egyptian god of the moon, who also gave Marc Spector his powers.
When Ann Arbor's Tadd Mullinix creates or resurrects one of his numerous alter-egos, it's due to musical inspiration, not mental illness.
Whether as hip-hop producer Dabrye, EBM-techno savant Charles Manier, acid-house auteur James T. Cotton, or drum 'n' bass fiends SK-1 and the new X-Altera, Mullinix immerses himself in the persona and electronic-music genres attached to those names.
Whether it's with food, art, or music, fusion depends on a natural blending to be successful. Adding cayenne peppers to cherry ice cream just ain't gonna work.
But the music of Sumkali works perfectly, an expert blend of East and West, the ancient and the futuristic.
The Ann Arbor band's fourth album, Dha Re Dha, is a particularly good fusion of sounds and working methods. Recorded over a three-year period, the band says the LP falls into three categories:
1). arrangements of traditional Indian folk melodies, 2) Improvised studio sessions with minimal editing, and 3) Fully composed 'hyper-realistic' original studio creations that were built from the ground up in the studio track by track.
In addition to Sumkali's core members -- John Churchville (tabla), Bidisha Ghosh (vocals), Dan Ripke (guitar), Rich Rickman (bass), Anoop Gopal (violin), and Will Ciccola (sax/flute) -- Dha Re Dha features 15 guest musicians, including tabla giant Pandit Samar Saha and local legend Peter "Madcat" Ruth on harmonica.
Sumkali has honed it sound through monthly gigs at Indian Music Night in Crazy Wisdom's tea room, but those shows focus more on traditional materials. Dha Re Dha extends the band's sound by adding studio manipulation to the mix, allowing Sumkali to turn traditional Indian music into a modern mash-up without ever killing the original roots of inspiration.
It's a legit tasty fusion.
I emailed with Churchville to discuss Dha Re Dha.
The first book about pouring hot water over cured leaves, The Classic of Tea, was written in 780 A.D. by Lu Yu. While it's ostensibly a how-to guide for cultivating and brewing the best teas, Yu couldn't resist waxing poetic over his shrubby beverage:
Tea can look like a mushroom in whirling flight just as clouds floating from behind a mountain peak. Its leaves can swell and leap as if they were lighting tossed on wind-disturbed water. Still others twist and turn like rivulets carved out be a violent rain in newly tilled fields.
Many writers have feted tea since then, from Lu Tung and Marcel Proust to Henrik Ibsen and Alexander McCall Smith, so Arbor Teas dipping its leaves into literature with its Summer Reading Series feels like a natural fit.
Since 2016, Arbor Teas has serialized fiction on its website each summer, beginning with Lauren Doyle Owens' lighthearted marriage drama The Wintree Waltz, continuing with David Erik Nelson's "till death do we part" sci-fi story Expiration Date, and this summer's historical novella An Exchange of Two Flowers by Sarah Zettel, who reads from her work on Monday, June 25 from 7-8:30 pm at AADL's downtown branch.
To find out how a family-owned organic tea company decided to start publishing fiction, I emailed with Arbor Teas' Lea Abbott.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.