"Ocean" View: Jazz bassist Rob Crozier discusses his new album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble

Bassist Rob Crozier, keyboardist Keaton Royer, percussionist Aron Kaufman, saxophonist  Rafael Statin, and drummer Rob Avsharian explore the natural world through music on the ensemble's new CD.

The Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble’s new recording, Ocean Blue, explores the theme of nature in general -- and water in particular -- in a variety of settings and styles. The nine original songs benefit from the support of a rock-solid band: primarily bassist Crozier on bass, Rafael Statin on horns, Keaton Royer on keyboards, Rob Avsharian on drums, and Aron Kaufman on percussion.

The follow-up to last year’s Tall Trees, the new album features Crozier’s compositions and the band’s skilled playing, which make for a powerful combination. The slightly mysterious quality of “Autumn Moon” does indeed evoke its namesake and would make a good soundtrack for Halloween. “Ocean Blue” is built around a sweet and somehow sad flute line courtesy of guest artist Kelly McDermott, Crozier’s wife. “Water Snakes” gives Crozier the chance to show his chops on, of all things, a didgeridoo. 

While most of Ocean Blue is instrumental, the opening and closing tracks do feature vocals. On “Water,” Terry Jackson recites a poem that inspired the music. “Into the Gloaming” features a funky beat, atmospheric charming vocals from Emma McDermott, and a compelling bass solo.

On two occasions, the album departs from its nature theme. “Keaton’s Blues” sounds like it belongs in a smoky New York piano bar in the 1940s, highlighted by Royer’s swinging and shuffling piano. Meanwhile, “R Is For Richko,” with its sharp drumming and inventive sax solo, might have fit comfortably in that same bar a couple decades later.

Crozier took the time to answer a few questions about the new album in advance of a show on Friday, Nov. 16, at Kerrytown Concert House.

Home Sweet Second Home: They Might Be Giants at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

They Might Be Giants

The offbeat, thoughtful, melodic, and often hilarious music of They Might Be Giants clearly suits a town like Ann Arbor, and the band seemed to treat Wednesday’s show as a bit of a homecoming.

“We are super excited to be back at the beautiful Michigan Theater, our home away from home here in Ann Arbor,” co-leader John Flansburgh said early in the show. “I’m a little disappointed that like nine-tenths of the used bookstores have closed.” After wondering aloud about a possible Wikipedia edit and noting someone in the audience would probably make the change before the night was out, he added, “I have a sneaking suspicion we are performing for some of the highest-SAT-scoring individuals among our fan base.”

The flattery was hardly necessary, as the adoring crowd was fully engaged for every note of the nearly three-hour show. Flansburgh and co-leader John Linnell have always made a great partnership, with complementary personalities and voices that blend in a perfectly geeky harmony.

Joan Baez summed up her iconic career at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Joan Baez

It’s not easy to say goodbye to an old friend. Maybe that’s why the great Joan Baez is calling her final tour, which came to the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, “Fare Thee Well.” 

If indeed that’s the last time Ann Arbor gets to see Baez in person, she left us with an evening full of terrific memories. She set a relaxed, friendly tone from the very start, when she strolled out on stage alone, with no introduction at all, drawing the first of several standing ovations.

Any apprehension about how she might sound at age 77 disappeared as soon as she began to sing. If her voice doesn’t quite have the crystalline edge it once did, it’s still a gorgeous, powerful force, full of warmth and depth. Accompanying herself on guitar, she fleshed out the sound with various combinations of a backup singer, a multi-instrumentalist, and a percussionist (who happens to be her son, Gabe).

Baez has a fine new album out, Whistle Down the Wind, and she played several songs from it Tuesday. The bulk of the show, however, leaned toward old favorites, to the delight of the sellout crowd. 

Alec Baldwin coming to Ann Arbor for a collaboration on "Death of a Salesman"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Alec Baldwin

It’s not unusual for well-known performers to speak to students at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Just last year, Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons both stopped at the school.

Alec Baldwin’s visit this week is a little extra special, however: He’ll take part in a full reading of Death of a Salesman that involves students, faculty, and members of the community, presented by the University Musical Society along with the SMTD.

UMS President Matthew VanBesien came to town from the New York Philharmonic, which has worked with Baldwin in the past. Word got around that Baldwin was interested in working with students, he heard that Salesman author Arthur Miller was a U-M graduate, and everything fell into place. 

“We wanted to use a combination of faculty, students, and guest artists,” said Daniel Cantor, an associate professor of theater and drama who is directing the play. “All those things came together in this reading.”

Vision for Flint: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's “What the Eyes Don’t See” tracks the city's public health crisis

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See

Photo by Mike Naddeo

While it’s easy to see the Flint water crisis as a story of government failing the people it’s supposed to serve, it’s a lot more than that. It’s also the story of a resilient community, the determined people who live there, and the activists who helped bring the situation to light.

Those stories meet in the work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center. She played a pivotal role in the crisis, conducting research and publicizing results that showed how lead levels rose alarmingly in Flint children after the city switched its water source.

Now “Dr. Mona” has published a book about her experience, What the Eyes Don’t See. She will discuss the book at Rackham Auditorium with Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council, an event sponsored by Literati Bookstore and the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, where Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s degree (under its earlier name, the School for Natural Resources and the Environment).

“I never set out to write a book in my career,” Hanna-Attisha said in a recent phone interview. “It’s not about Flint, it’s about who we are and who we want to be.”

Michigan’s extensive role in modern design among Kerrytown Bookfest highlights

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Wayne State University's McGregor Memorial Conference Center

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1958. Architect: Minoru Yamasaki & Associates. From the book, Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America, edited by Amy Arnold and Brian Conway of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Jim Haefner, MI State Historic Preservation Office.

If you don’t necessarily consider Michigan a hotbed of the modern design movement, you’re not alone. But two recent books aim to change that perception, and their authors will appear in Ann Arbor this weekend as part of the Kerrytown Bookfest.

“People do not think of Michigan as a design center," says Brian Conway, Michigan’s state historic preservation officer. "They think of New York or Los Angeles but skip over the Midwest. But there was this very strong design industry here in Michigan, and it actually still exists.”

Roots in Tree Town: Nashbash showcased terrific country-tinged music

MUSIC REVIEW

Annika Bennett

Nashville's Annika Bennett was this year's Nashbash special guest.

Every August for the last 12 years, a bit of Nashville has visited Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown District Association’s Nashbash music festival.

Thursday’s edition of the event coped with extensive road construction around its location at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, along with threatening weather for much of the day. But by the time the festival kicked off, the weather was flawless, the fans dodged the construction barrels, and the smell of barbecue filled the air.

Emotionally Yours: Bettye LaVette brought fresh life to the songs of Bob Dylan at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Bettye LaVette at Sonic Lunch

Tangled up in blues: Bettye LaVette dug into the soul of Bob Dylan at Sonic Lunch on Thursday. Photo by Christopher Porter.

For anyone who believes in the power of pop music to communicate in a powerful, even transcendent way, the idea of Bettye LaVette singing the songs of Bob Dylan creates some pretty high hopes. On August 9, the Sonic Lunch concert series brought that pairing to downtown Ann Arbor, and the results were just as good as expected.

Local singer Antwaun Stanley and his tight band opened the show with a sharp, energetic set that brought a modern spin to a 1970s soul/funk sound. A couple of terrific covers -- Maze’s “Running Away” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” -- demonstrated his compelling stage presence and showcased his vocal range. 

But the highlight of Stanley’s set was “Where Are We Now?,” a song he wrote with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Something of a modern-day “What’s Going On,” the song drew a huge response from the crowd. “Are we breaking through, or are we breaking down?” Stanley sang. “We’ve got to be the change; we’ve got to preach the change.”

LaVette opened her set with the title song of her recent Dylan album, Things Have Changed. One of the best of Dylan’s latter-day works, it carries a new, ominous impact in the current social climate, and LaVette brought all of that to her performance.

Broken Branch Breakdown is a backyard party for all of Ann Arbor

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Broken Branch Breakdown 2018

Over the first four years of its existence, the Broken Branch Breakdown roots-music festival has established itself as a truly grassroots event in the Ann Arbor community.

Admission is free. The vibe is casual and family friendly. The music itself is rootsy, mostly falling somewhere into the Americana/folk/jam-band genres.

It’s almost like somebody just invites all of Ann Arbor over to relax and listen to some tunes in the backyard. And in fact, that’s exactly what happens.

Mustard’s Retreat comes full circle with a new album, new shows, and the return to a trio

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Mustard's Retreat by Love Imagery

Mustard's Retreat by Love Imagery

Over more than 40 years making music together, Mustard’s Retreat has established a reputation around the region as a talented and entertaining folk duo -- two guys and two guitars.

However, the group actually started out as a trio -- and for a new album and current concerts, original member Libby Glover has rejoined David Tamulevich and Michael Hough. Her presence brings a whole new dimension to the Mustard’s Retreat sound, yet the transition sounds just like it feels -- perfectly natural.

“When David and I first began singing together, something happened. We didn’t have the words to articulate what it was, but we both felt it was important. Then when Libby and David began singing together, something more happened,” Hough says of the group’s 1970s roots. They soon started working as a trio and found a special sound. But life took Glover out of state and Mustard’s Retreat made its reputation as a duo.