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.
A lot of folks blame the influx of tech companies in Ann Arbor as a prime reason for the rising rents that have gradually pushed portions of the creative community out of downtown. The Intermitten conference returns June 8 and 9 to remind us that artistic adventure and modern business success don't need to be mutually exclusive or adversarial (even if there's no immediate solution to the rent situation).
Now in its second year, Intermitten brings together speakers to discuss how "how creativity in both art and technology helps us add value to our home, work, and global communities," as stated on intermitten.org. "We're technology people with creative prowess and artistic people powered by tech, and we unite to discover the many ways in which working together and thinking creatively can help us accomplish our goals."
Trevor Scott Mays, co-founder of Intermitten and director of support operations for Duo Security, walked us through the event's brief history, current focus, and bright future.
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Every first Sunday in May since 2011, Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood becomes a giant outdoor nightclub. Bands set up on lawns, porches, and inside homes and play for free as people pack the streets roaming from venue to venue.
The festival, which also gave the previously unnamed neighborhood its name, is heavy on folk, bluegrass, and Americana. But I went to Water Hill in search of the artists who didn’t fit under those umbrella terms. The event has always included music that’s not based on acoustic strings, but according to some longtime Water Hill attendees, this year was particularly low on bands bucking the festival’s perceived standard sound.
To evoke Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, music was in the air in 1987. Two major children’s choirs were founded in Ann Arbor that year and both are celebrating their 30th anniversaries: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Youth Chorale (AAYC).
“There was a boom in children's choir development in the U.S. at that time,” said Shayla Powell, who's directed the AAYC’s preparatory Descant Choir for 25 years. “The European boy choir is a significant piece of choral music history and in the early ’90s English cathedrals such as Salisbury were beginning to launch girl choirs.”
While the Boychoir of Ann Arbor followed the European tradition for youth-choir membership, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale charted a path that welcomes boys and girls. “The mixed gender treble choir has been a somewhat unique American tradition,” Powell said. “The Indianapolis Children's Choir, founded by Henry Leck, was the model that our founders looked to for inspiration.”
As a member of pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio -- one of the most acclaimed groups in modern jazz -- bassist Stephan Crump gets to play with a great drummer, Marcus Gilmore, all the time. But for his own music, the New York City-based Crump avoided drummers for more than 10 years.
“I love playing with great drummers -- only great drummers,” laughed Crump. But, he said, “with the acoustic bass, there are a lot of expressive areas of the sonic range of the instrument that get covered up really quickly in more traditional lineups, particularly with drums or piano.”
It wasn’t until Crump formed his Rhombal quartet in 2015, which released its self-titled debut last year, that the bassist hooked up with a drummer -- the remarkable Tyshawn Sorey, another frequent Iyer collaborator -- for his own jams. Before that, Crump released a series of duo albums, including two with guitarist Mary Halvorson as Secret Keeper and one each with saxophonist Steve Lehman and pianist James Carney. He also released the trio record Planktonic Finales with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Cory Smythe, and three with Rosetta Trio, featuring Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox on electric, which makes beautiful chamber jazz with touches of folk and blues. (Rosetta Trio plays Kerrytown Concert House on Thursday, May 4.)
But rather amazingly, Walter heard Eno's pioneering music only recently.
"That is true. So, I listened to a couple of his albums, one of which I liked a lot, Discreet Music," Walter said. "For me, it pointed to the beginnings of Boards of Canada, especially that opening number on Music Has the Right to Children. It also sounded like something I might come up with and I realized that my exploration into the world of ambient electronic music probably would have been very different had I heard this record at an earlier date. Seems like he makes amazing music."
So does Walter, whether he's playing trumpet with the avant-Afro-funk collective Nomo, sitting in with Ann Arbor jazz bands, or wielding the EVI, a wind-controlled synthesizer. His first recording featuring the instrument was 2009's Music for Science Film Strips EP; 2017's Unseen Forces is his sixth. They're all gorgeous, too, featuring languid melody lines hovering over clouds of harmony.
Walter's EVI music is improvised and the songs are selections from those free recordings, which are edited and treated in the studio. "I like to use the unique structure of the instrument to explore how a melody can be created using intuition," Walter said, "which is to say that most of the time I really have no idea what I'm doing."
Well, it sure sounds like he knows what he's doing and we wanted to find out more, so we talked to Walter about improvisation, the influence of trumpeter Louis Smith, and all things EVI.