Although the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area is certainly home to many talented jazz musicians, sometimes it might seem that they fly a little under the radar. The A2 Jazz Fest is out to change that.
The free admission, two-day festival returns for its second edition Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9. Friday evening’s venue is the First Congregational Church, while on Saturday the festival takes over LIVE nightclub. (This is a change from the initially announced location at the Ann Arbor Distilling Co.)
“Currently jazz is featured at a number of restaurants and bars, once or twice a week, but there is no longer a dedicated jazz club in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti," says Dave Sharp, local bassist, bandleader, and organizer of the A2 Jazz Fest. "UMS and the Kerrytown Concert House certainly feature amazing jazz groups, but not on the scale or frequency of a jazz club or jazz festival."
New York meets New Orleans in Ann Arbor on Friday, Sept. 8, as Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 bring their unique twist on classic jazz to a special concert at Downtown Home & Garden/Bill's Beer Garden.
The show, which opens the new season of the University Musical Society, continues a successful partnership of the great New Orleans pianist and singer Henry Butler with Steven Bernstein, the accomplished New York trumpeter and bandleader known for working in a number of different styles with various ensembles.
The 2017 season of the Sonic Lunch free concert series wrapped up Thursday with Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers playing to an appreciative crowd.
Over its 10-year history, Sonic Lunch has become a key part of summer in Ann Arbor, and the band provided a laid-back, seasonally appropriate sound, blending jam-band rock and neo-soul with accents of ’70s pop and funk.
The release of a new Chris Bathgate album is a major occasion for fans of great songwriting and enticing sounds -- especially in Michigan, where he has strong ties.
He released the Old Factory EP last year, but this spring’s Dizzy Seas is Bathgate’s first full-length album since 2011’s acclaimed Salt Year. (All came out on the Ann Arbor-based Quite Scientific label.) The songs on Dizzy Seas are as strong as ever, presented in a sound that’s simultaneously rich and stripped down. And although Bathgate now lives in California, Michigan has definitely left an impression.
He agreed to answer a few questions via email about the new record, the themes of his songs, and Michigan music.
Joshua Davis keeps getting better.
Thursday’s Sonic Lunch show by the longtime Michigan singer-songwriter mixed some old favorites, some cool covers, and some songs from his upcoming album, The Way Back Home. And while the music was great throughout, the new songs were the ones that really stood out.
The musicianship was impeccable. Davis’ guitar playing has become more ambitious over the years, and he handled several intricate solos with aplomb. And, following his successful run on The Voice a couple years back, his singing seems deeper and richer.
Michigan singer-songwriter May Erlewine is well known for her moving songwriting and expressive voice, generally showcased in a folk-country style with a slight pop edge. In recent months, though, she’s been working with more of a retro-soul sound -- and as everyone at Thursday’s Sonic Lunch saw and heard, the shift in style suits her very well.
“This winter, things got so bad I decided I had to have some dance parties to get through it,” she told the crowd. And that’s what she did Thursday, with her sharp six-piece band, The Motivations, playing an hour and a quarter of irresistible, infectious grooves in a mix of Erlewine originals and soul classics.
When the curtain rises on the new University Musical Society (UMS) season next month, for the first time in 30 years the venerable performing-arts presenting organization will do so with a new president. Matthew VanBesien comes to Ann Arbor from the presidency of the New York Philharmonic, but that’s not as big a leap as it might appear.
“I was born in the Midwest,” he explains during a recent interview. “I was definitely a product of good midwestern public school music education. I went to school at (Indiana University) for music. ... The times that I’ve been back in this part of the country, it always feels like home.
“Ann Arbor, of course, is a very special place. It’s hard to think of very many small cities in America that have the complete package the way this place does,” he adds. “I really value what’s here -- the environment, the spirit, the intellectual curiosity -- it’s terrific.”
Fans of Lyle Lovett know a solo concert by the great Texas troubadour will be a reliably good time. But a show by Lovett with his Large Band, a 12-member ensemble of brilliant musicians -- well, that’s a real occasion, an event not to be missed.
The reasons for that were on full display Friday night at the Michigan Theater, as Lovett and his Large Band entertained a sold-out house for two and a half hours, exploring any number of different musical styles and evoking a full range of emotions.
“We’re The Record Company, and we play rock-n-roll,” frontman Chris Vos said in opening and closing Thursday’s Sonic Lunch concert. He didn’t really need to say it, since any doubts about that would have been wiped out by the raucous and energetic hour of music in between.
Thursday’s show marked the public return of Martin Bandyke, popular local DJ for WQKL (107.1-FM) and longtime Sonic Lunch MC, who is recovering from recent heart surgery. Vos dedicated the show to him before the trio launched full force into the blues rocker “On the Move” -- one of the highlights of last year’s acclaimed and Grammy-nominated debut album, Give It Back to You -- with Vos punctuating his intense vocals with some equally intense harmonica lines. That led into their latest single, “Baby I’m Broken,” which if anything ramped up the energy level even further.
While building a reputation as a talented performer and songwriter, Ypsilanti’s Chris DuPont has kept up a schedule of releasing an album every couple of years. After three well-received studio outings, this year’s release is called Live in A2 -- and it developed as something of an accident.
“I honestly don’t really like live albums very much,” DuPont says with a smile. “There are a couple I love, but it’s not something I really imagined doing.”
But a soundboard recording was made of his show last year at The Ark. Listening to the results, he was struck by how good it sounded. So he decided to do a low-key release, with the first half of the album drawn from The Ark show and the second half featuring some concert favorites recorded “live in studio” at Ann Arbor’s Solid Sound Recording Co.