Ann Arbor jazz musicians interpret guitarist Sonny Sharrock's avant-jazz masterpiece "Ask the Ages"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sony Sharrock

Sonny Sharrock played guitar like a boxer throws punches: with fluidity and violence. Sweet-science superfan Miles Davis must have recognized this when he had Sharrock join John McLaughlin in the ax section for the trumpeter's stellar 1971 jazz-rock soundtrack for a documentary on the boxer Jack Johnson.

In the mid-'60s, Sharrock began about a decade-long run playing with his singer wife, Linda, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, flutist Herbie Mann, and others, but he went into semi-retirement from music after divorcing. As with many singular stylists, Sharrock's skills weren't fully appreciated when he first came onto the scene, but his reputation rose up in the 1980s when bassist and producer Bill Laswell recruited him to play in his avant-funk jazz band Material and the punk-jazz supergroup Last Exit. During this time, Sharrock resumed his career as a leader and also played free jazz with Machine Gun, with everything culminating in the 1991 avant-jazz-rock masterpiece Ask the Ages, a Laswell-produced album featuring Sanders on sax, Elvin Jones on drums, and Charnett Moffett on bass. (Sharrock also did soundtrack work for the Cartoon Network classic Space Ghost Coast to Coast.)

But on the eve of signing to a major label, Sharrock died in 1994 at the age of 53. While he died too young, the guitarist's reputation as a major force was sealed forever.

On September 11 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti, four Ann Arbor jazz musicians will fete Sharrock's Ask the Ages by playing the  album in its entirety. Guitarist Max Bowen transcribed the music on Ask the Ages, which he'll interpret with saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Aidan Cafferty, and drummer Bob Sweet. 

I interviewed Sweet and Bowen about Sharrock, Ask the Ages, and how this project came together.

Sonic School: Michigan Electronic Music Collective mixes to extend your summer vacation

MUSIC

A collage of mix art for MEMCO

The Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) is made up of U-M student DJs, producers, and party planners. But these sonic scholars didn't take the past summer off -- at least not from music-making and mixing. MEMCO members past and present were hitting the decks throughout the summertime, recording remixes, generating jams, and creating more mixes than the Jiffy plant.

MEMCO is recruiting members for this school year -- visit the collective's FB page for details -- and soon enough it will start throwing parties around town at familiar venues like Necto, Club Above, Lo-Fi, Alley Bar, Ann Arbor Art Center, and more (Edit: Put on your dancing shoes because the first fall 2019 MEMCO event is happening September 20 at Club Above.) 

But until then, below are eight MEMCO mixes that run the gamut -- from trippy techno to funky footwork -- created during the hazy days of summer 2019. And if that's not enough music to keep you moving, MEMCO members sometimes host the long-running electronic music show Crush Collision on WCBN 88.3-FM every Thursday at 10 pm.

Two Ann Arbor visits by the Art Ensemble of Chicago were documented on recordings made 46 years apart

MUSIC

Art Ensemble of Chicago's We Are on the Edge album covers

The 2018 Edgefest at Kerrytown Concert House was the launchpad for a year-long celebration of the legendary avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group not only performed at the long-running, annual Ann Arbor festival, it recorded a studio album during its stay here.

“This is the first performance of this 50th-anniversary project," Deanna Relyea, Edgfest’s artistic director, told me last year for a Pulp post. Ensemble co-founder "Roscoe [Mitchell] has written music for this group based on music written for the Art Ensemble years ago by Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, and Lester Bowie. (Bowie and Favors are deceased; Jarman is retired.) 

The recorded fruits of the Art Ensemble's Ann Arbor labor, We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, was released in April on CD/digital via Pi Recordings and on vinyl in July via Erased Tapes. One part of the We Are on the Edge is live from the Kerrytown Concert House and the other section is music recorded at Big Sky, with University of Michigan professor Stephen Rush -- a longtime Mitchell collaborator -- conducting the large ensemble.

“I have been asked to conduct two pieces by Roscoe Mitchell and one by Don Moye," Rush told me last year. “I’m also providing instruments from my own collection for [percussionist] Don Moye. No question I would get involved a little bit in editing the scores, too. These things are extremely fluid and not at all like recording some of my other works like symphonies and chamber stuff. And the musicians are all amazing readers and amazing improvisers, which makes it really exciting.”

We Are on the Edge isn't the first Art Ensemble record made in Ann Arbor. Recorded on September 9, 1972, at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, Bap-Tizum is a free-wheeling, politically charged performance. (The first track on the LP is a band introduction by John Sinclair.) 

Check out music from both albums below as you buy tickets to the 2019 Edgefest, which happens October 16-19:

Mind-Body Connection: Nora Venturelli's "Body of Work" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Nora Venturelli, two paintings from Body of Work

Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa No.51 (left), 34″h x x 46″w, and Reaching for the Stars, 36″h x 46″w; both acrylic on canvas.

In Elizabeth Smith's Pulp review of Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa exhibition at WSG Gallery in 2017, she noted that it consisted of "large-scale mixed-media paintings of the human figure in motion, with gestural lines and overlapping forms suggesting the trajectory of the body through space."

That description is true for Venturelli's new WSG exhibition, Body of Work -- except for the "large-scale" part. In an interview published on wsg-art.com, Venturelli says she hasn't "had the time to work on bigger pieces these past two years. Therefore, I decided to show what I had been doing since my last solo at the gallery. Most of the work in this show is the result of short poses during weekly 3-hour sessions."

Ruth Leonela Buentello's "Yo Tengo Nombre" evokes the horrors immigrants face at the U.S.-Mexico border

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Ruth Leonela Buentello, Desaparecidos

Desaparecidos by Ruth Leonela Buentello, acrylic on canvas.

Ruth Leonela Buentello's Zero Tolerance series was inspired by the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and the subsequent mistreatment of migrant individuals as revealed by media investigations. Six paintings from the series will be displayed at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities under the title Yo Tengo Nombre [I Have a Name] from September 19 to October 31.

While the San Antonio, Texas-based Buentello is an interdisciplinary artist, the works in Yo Tengo Nombre are all acrylic-on-canvas paintings. She asked members of her family to pose for the paintings, telling them to imagine what it would be like if they were in the position of these migrants. "Family and immigration enforcement are personal to many of us with migrant roots," Buentello said in a press release and she tried to capture the terror in her relatives' faces as they acted out moments that immigrants deal with every day.

Buentello, the 2019 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence, will talk with curator Amanda Krugliak during the opening reception on September 19, 5:30-7 pm.

Below is a sneak peek at the paintings.

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Dani Darling and her band outside Ziggy's in Ypsilanti

Singer-songwriter Dani Darling (far right) with her band Joel Harris, Noor Us-Sabah, and CA Jones outside Ziggy's in Ypsilanti. Darling's latest release is the Nocturne EP. Photo by Kyla McGrath via Facebook.com/pg/danidarlingmusic.

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

This is the vacation-catch-up edition of Pulp Bits, so we have links going back to late June -- a true smorgasbord of culture news. Feast!

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

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

This story was originally published on June 11, 2018.

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.

Tools Crew Live: Fred Thomas

MUSIC TOOLS CREW LIVE INTERVIEW


Downloads:MP3 for "Echolocation"720p video, 480p video or 240p video

This story was originally published on January 26, 2017. Thomas has since moved back to Ann Arbor and has released several more recordings. Check out the entire Tools Crew Live series here.

Fred Thomas is like a library. The Ann Arbor-raised musician has lent his talents to approximately one billion recordings, from his own to his friends' and the many bands who have hired him to produce their records.

When the Montreal-based artist lived in Tree Town, the Ann Arbor District Library frequently lent Thomas assets from its Music Tools collection when he recorded his numerous solo records or those of his various bands, including Saturday Looks Good to Me and Hydropark.

So, when Pulp and the Music Tools crew decided to record musicians performing with instruments from the collection, Thomas was the perfect person to launch the video series: Tools Crew Live. Thomas was back in Ann Arbor over the winter break, and on December 15, 2016, he came to the library’s Secret Lab makerspace and recorded “Echolocation” (from his new record, Changer) and “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II" (from 2015’s All Are Saved), using six instruments from the collection, including synths, effects pedals, and a guitar.

We also interviewed Thomas about his instrument choices and his amazing new album. Changer combines all the elements of Thomas' past work -- raw emotional insights, indie-rock stompers, and electronic evocations -- and manages to be the most personal and cohesive record of his long and creative career.

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

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

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.

This story was originally published on April 23, 2018.

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.

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan.

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

This is a music-crazy post. We have 28 links to various new albums, singles, videos, interviews, and more. Plus, several Ann Arbor Art Fair previews and stories about Washtenaw Dairy turning 85.