Jad Fair and Half Japanese are "Invincible" after 42 years

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Half Japanese's Invincible album

The documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King begins with a title card that says, "Ann Arbor, Michigan - 1975" and then cuts to a blurry, grainy, backlit film of David and Jad Fair with their friend David Stansky jamming in the Fair family's living room.

The brothers' time living in Ann Arbor was a warm-up run for the primitive rock 'n' roll band that they officially started in Uniontown, Maryland, in 1977 with the car-crash-erific Calling All Girls 7-inch EP. The Fairs couldn't play their instruments whatsoever, but their unholy sound became an inspiration to Yo La Tengo, The Pastels, Beat Happening, Nirvana, and countless other punk-adjacent bands.

Forty-two years later, Jad is still bashing his untuned guitar and singing about love and monsters in Half Japanese, which just released the Invincible album. Meanwhile, David is a retired librarian and, like Jad, a prolific artist working in paper cuttings.

Jad's wondrous paper cuttings are featured in the 15 videos he made for every song on Invincible, which is far more musical than some Half Japanese offerings but no less sui generis. Check out the video playlist below. 

Alone in a Crowd: Pianist Gwilym Simcock performs solo at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC PREVIEW

Gwilym Simcock

The last time British pianist Gwilym Simcock was in Ann Arbor, it was as a sideman with Pat Metheny's quartet when the guitarist played Hill Auditorium in October 2018.

But in June 2017, Simcock played Kerrytown Concert House solo, which he'll do again on March 3.

I interviewed the pianist then and asked him how his playing changes when performing solo versus with a band:

Ann Arbor folk-rockers Little Traps hide complexity inside a warm, inviting sound

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Little Traps

The local indie folk-rock band Little Traps brings sharp musicianship, an off-center outlook, and a distinctive sound with a banjo leading the way. Released late last year, their first full-length album, Can’t Count, is a welcome showcase of their work. 

The band charms listeners with its warm, inviting sound, but underneath lies a somewhat more complex tone. “Uncertainty, ambivalence, and second-guessing are the bread and butter of my lyrics,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Nick Bertsos says. 

In addition to Bertsos, the core band consists of singer-banjoist Annie Palmer and guitarist/pedal steel player Thomas Green. At various times other musicians help fill out the sound; on Can’t Count, Howard White plays bass and keyboards, while Ali Snyder plays drums. On New Tricks, a recently released EP of cover songs, Jessiah Hall is the drummer.

Bertsos answered a few questions recently via email:

Timeless Ocarinas: The Seven Sages interpret music from The Legend of Zelda

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Seven Sages' Korok Forest

John Coltrane on the saxophone.

Eddie Van Halen on the guitar.

Link on the ocarina.

These are giants of their instruments.

But only one of these masters will be feted by The Seven Sages, a new quintet dedicated to playing music from The Legend of Zelda video game series.

Comprised of accomplished jazz and experimental artists Kirsten Carey (guitar), Andrew Hintzen (keyboard), Neal Anderson (EWI / trumpet), Jon Hammonds (bass), and Jonathan Taylor (drums), The Seven Sages make their debut at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on February 21 -- the 33rd anniversary of the first Legend of Zelda game being released.

Carey and Hammonds answered some questions in an email interview about how The Seven Sages materialized, which Zelda songs the band will play, and their favorite tunes from the games. The queries were posed by myself and Eli Neiburger, who is deputy director of the Ann Arbor District Library and a member of the Nintendoland Family Band.

Valentines, Funny & Otherwise: The Derrick Benford Quartet will provide the soundtrack February 14 at AADL

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Derrick Benford

Derrick Benford is a piano wiz who knows a thing or two about jazz. He’s been playing in the Michigan jazz scene for a while now, and this Detroit native has been involved with many groups and artists; lately, he’s been a member of the Gene Dunlap Band.

He’s also a Spirit of Detroit Award winner and has traveled across the U.S., U.K., and Asia working alongside the likes of George Clinton, Marcus Belgrave, and his brother Vassal Benford, among many others in the international jazz scene.

For his latest endeavor, the Derrick Benford Quartet, the pianist meshes jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and gospel into their own funky sound.

The quartet will be performing at AADL’s downtown library on Valentine's Day for a special show dedicated to love in all forms. I spoke to Derrick Benford about many things including his piano background, concerts at the library, his international experiences, and more.

Set the Controls for the "Heart" of the Sum: Robert Spalding Newcomb's music adds form to freedom

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Robert Spalding Newcomb's Dance of the Heart

Robert Spalding Newcomb, Ken Kozora, and Erik Gottesman performing "Dance of the Heart" on March 13, 2018, at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.

In "The Heart Sutra," one of Buddhism's most famous texts, there's a line that's often translated as "form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form."

I don't know if this particular sutra informed Robert Spalding Newcomb's structured improvisation "Dance of the Heart," but this long-form piece revels in the sort of free-flowing ambiance that feels simultaneously disembodied and corporeal. The music is an ode to freedom and that freedom helps shape the music's form.

Newcomb is a polymath -- computer expert, software developer, yoga teacher, stringed-instrument virtuoso (guitar, sitar) -- who combines all his talents to create modern music that's rooted in ancient traditions. "Dance of the Heart" is a reflection of that unique skillset, combining electronic percussion, synths, and effects-laden guitar.

"Dance of the Heart" premiered March 13, 2018, at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti -- you can watch the high-quality video here -- with Newcomb (guitar, sitar, laptop), Ken Kozora (electronic and acoustic percussion, iPad, trumpet), and Erik Gottesman (analog synthesizers, bio-sensors with EEG/shortwave/Theremin-style gesture proximity and ribbon controllers). The trio is reuniting at Riverside Arts for another performance of "Dance of the Heart" on 

Newcomb explained the concept behind "Dance of the Heart" in an email interview:

Jimi Hendrix's Experience: Jas Obrecht's "Stone Free" goes deep into the guitar great's transformative 10 months in London

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Jas Obrecht and Jimi Hendrix

The life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has been explored in numerous biographies and documentaries, so you could be forgiven for being skeptical as to why the world needs another book about the man widely considered to be the greatest guitarist of all time and a major influence on the sound of rock music. Jas Obrecht's new offering on the subject, however, takes a much closer look at a specific period in the life of Hendrix.

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966-June 1967 is a detailed, day by day look into the guitar great's arrival in England and his rapid rise from obscurity to fame. Obrecht's book puts into perspective just how quickly and completely Hendrix revolutionized pop music. The supporting cast is a who's who of British rock icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, and many others. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the author, who has written nearly 200 cover stories for Guitar Player and other music magazines as well as a number of books on blues and rock.

Obrecht will be reading from his new book on Thursday, February 14, 7 pm, at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Below is the conversation we had, slightly edited for flow.

Call Me: Telephon9 rings up dance-floor-friendly electro-pop

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Telephon9

Telephon9 is from the birthplace of techno, which the Detroit trio blends with pop/EDM and house to create upbeat music that's full of pulsating energy.

Founder Chris Call, Jair Alexander, and Adari “BaseMODE” Perkins count Black Eyed Peas, Daft Punk, Calvin Harris, and Outkast among their influences, and all the members contribute writing, production, and vocals to Telephon9's infectious sound: when their music starts, you’re ready to dance. 

Telephon9 will perform at AADL's downtown branch on Friday, February 8 at 7 pm in concert as a part of the library’s Black History Month programming. We spoke with the group about their journey from acting to music, the Ann Arbor music scene, their upcoming studio release, and more. 

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2019 [updated: 2/20/19]

MUSIC

Washtenaw County Mixtape 2019

A regularly updated collection of music released in 2018 by Washtenaw County-associated acts and labels. Submit music to pulp@aadl.org.

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2018 [Updated: 2/20/19]

MUSIC

Washtenaw County Mixtape: 2018

A regularly updated collection of music released in 2018 by Washtenaw County-associated acts and labels. Submit music to pulp@aadl.org.