Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice


Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Shaman Sounds: Abdullah Ibrahim at the Michigan Theater


Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor

Detroit baritone saxophonist Alex Harding (pictured far right) joined Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Abdullah Ibrahim's concert at the Michigan Theater on April 13 began like all his shows: the pianist alone on stage with his instrument, playing a meditative piece filled with sustained chords, floating harmonies, and a sound that slipped naturally from Bach to blues. Then Cleave Guyton (flute) and Noah Jackson (cello) joined Ibrahim for the chamber-jazz piece "Dream Time" from 2014's Mukashi.

It was in these solo and trio moments that listeners could best appreciate the 83-year-old Ibrahim's piano playing -- because otherwise, he didn't play much at all.

In Extremis: Colin Stetson’s interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 pushes it to the edge


Colin Stetson

Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 is nearly an hour-long dive into anguish.

But rather than sounding angry, aggressive, or atonal, the three movements that comprise Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” are stunningly beautiful.

Symphony No. 3 is filled with dolor, but the modal framework, simple harmonies, and gentile repetition give the music a familiar and comforting feeling despite being inspired by stories and songs of mothers and children being separated by war.

On the album Sorrow -- A Reimagining of Górecki's Third Symphony, Ann Arbor native Colin Stetson tweaks the mega-popular work in a way that stays true to the composition’s raw emotional state while also diving deeper into its deep well of gorgeous despair. (You can hear Stetson and 11 other musicians in the Sorrow band, including Ann Arbor’s Justin Walter (EVI, synths), Dan Bennett (sax), and Andrew Bishop (sax), perform the piece at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, April 14.)

Pat Thomas reconstructs the revolutionary history of Jerry Rubin in "Did It!"


Pat Thomas' biography on Jerry Rubin, Did It!

As an archivist, Pat Thomas is focused on letting the subject speak or sing unadulterated. So, whether it's working on album reissues for the Light in the Attic label and others, or writing about the Black Panthers and other political movements, Thomas wants voices and ideas to be presented as the artists and activists intended.

Thomas' latest search for the truth is Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary, which follows his other graphics-heavy book for Fantagraphics, Listen, Whitey!: The Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975.

Germán Andino addresses Honduran gang violence in the #NoHumanIsAlien exhibition at U-M


German Andino standing next to his #NoHumanIsAlien exhibition at U-M

Comic-based journalism, where an artist tells reported stories with his or her drawings, has the benefit of addressing sensitive issues with a bit of emotional distance that doesn't always exist in the more immediate video- and audio-based storytelling. It can also give reluctant participants the freedom to tell their difficult and dangerous tales without a direct visual representation, which could put their lives at risk.

Joe Sacco is a pioneer of graphic journalism as shown in his many books, including Palestine (2001), Safe Area Gorazde (2002), and Journalism (2013). In Sacco's wake a mini-movement of graphic journalism has emerged, such as Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2016), Wendy MacNaughton's Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words (2014), and Germán Andino's El Hábito de la Mordaza / The Habit of Silence (2016).

Indigenous Inspiration: Power couple donates Inuit art collection to UMMA


Kathy and Philip Power

Kathy and Philip Power hold Walking Bear—Unidentified artist (Inukjuak), ca. 1950, stone, ivory. Photo courtesy of UMMA.

Hail to the University of Michigan Museum of Art -- its Victor campaign just found a new leader in donations and it's the best.

Philip and Kathy Power donated $4.5 million worth of Inuit art, making UMMA one of the most important museums for creative works from the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.

The Unknown Guitarist: Throwaway's Kirsten Carey is in the bag for avant sounds



Brown-paper frag: Kirsten Carey's explosive avant-punk-metal-jazz fits in every genre bag. Photo by The Ottolab.

Kirsten Carey shreds on guitar like free-jazz icon Derek Bailey.

She also wears a paper bag on her head like The Gong Show's Unknown Comic.

That combination of avant-garde string slaying and performative humor defines Carey's art-punk duo Throwaway, which just released the songs "Bonathan Jyers" and "Exotic Bird" as a digital single and booked several shows in Southeast Michigan, including March 16 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti.

Syncretic Sounds: Tim Haldeman's "Jazz + Film" blends art forms


Tim Haldeman by Miles Larson

Saxophonist Tim Haldeman and bassist Dave Sharp are teaming up again for "Jazz + Film." Photo by Miles Larson.

When the Tim Haldeman Quartet assembles at Hathaway’s Hideaway in Ann Arbor on Sunday, March 11, to play improvised jazz while films are screened, the musicians will continue a tradition that is most associated with a pioneering soundtrack by trumpeter Miles Davis.

At the end of November 1957, Davis flew to France to begin a monthlong series of concerts, including a three-week stint at Club Saint-Germain in Paris.

But the trumpeter didn't bring the musicians who comprised his first great quintet.

Risk-taking jazz vocalist Estar Cohen can add "award-winning" before her name now


Estar Cohen

Estar Cohen returns to the site of her Live at Willis Sound album with a concert on March 2.

Serendipity isn't something that just happens; you have to work on putting yourself in a position to make it happen.

Jazz vocalist Estar Cohen puts in the work.

"On December 26, 2016, I recorded my piece 'Moments' with a string quartet live for The River Street Anthology Project at Cultivate in Ypsilanti," said the Toledo-raised, Ypsilanti-based singer. "Ben Lorenz of Willis Sound happened to be in the audience that night. He told me about a church he was in the midst of converting into a studio and invited me to hold a concert there."

That concert was recorded and released last year as Live at Willis Sound, the second album by The Estar Cohen Project.

Sean Curtis Patrick's "Exo" is museum-quality art masquerading as a music video


Images from Sean Curtis Patrick's film Exo

Images from the Sean Curtis Patrick's film Exo, a music video for Bana Haffar.

Sean Curtis Patrick's film Exo is a sumptuous work of art. It also happens to be a music video for Bana Haffar's song of the same name from her recent Matiere 12-inch single, but it could slot easily into a multimedia exhibition at a museum.

"Exo," the song, is filled with clicks, blips, buzzing, and bells that eventually build into a spiraling passage of ambient arpeggios. Haffar recorded the song live, with no overdubs, using a custom-built Eurorack synthesizer featuring modules by Make Noise, whose in-house record label put out the 12-inch. The song is abstract and lovely, just like Patrick's video.

Patrick performed at the Mini MoogFest in November 2017, and I spoke with him back then about his musical plans for that day; the interview below talks about his background as a multifaceted artist -- he also works in ceramics and is a graphic designer -- and the inspiration, research, and details behind the gooey and gorgeous images in Exo. (I embedded the video in this post, but you should watch it full screen and use good headphones for the full effect.)