We trawled the universe and found five Ann Arbor artists with new or recent singles, albums, and compilations that you need to hear right this instant. So, put down the welding torch, slide on your headphones, and slip off into a quiet space to listen to tunes by The Kelseys, Same Eyes, Emilie Lin, Matthew Dear, and a Spotify playlist from the Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO).
Edgefest, the annual explosion of avant-garde jazz in Ann Arbor centered on Kerrytown Concert House, was in its final planning stages when Covid-19 shut down the world. The festival was canceled soon after and it looked like Edgefest's 24th year would have been a lost one—just as 2020 has been for everyone.
But it turns out, Edgefest will happen this year—and it will last six months.
Beginning October 23 and continuing through March 26, the Edgefest virtual concert series will be a once-a-month show streamed on the Kerrytown Concert House website featuring some of the artists who were supposed to play the 24th edition of the fest, which had a brass-heavy theme.
Each concert will begin with performances by Michigan-based musicians, followed by national artists. All the concerts will be free to view but links to donate to the festival and artists will be provided.
"The local opening sets will be streamed live from the Concert House (artists from the SE Michigan area) with no live audience except the KCH staff/crew, but the national artists will stream from their location," wrote Abby Dotz, administrative liaison and events manager at Kerrytown Concert House, in an email. "We're trying to bring the atmosphere of KCH to the screen, but still respect what is safest for everyone during these times."
The Edgefest 24 virtual concert lineup includes:
Are you a parent who just went through a week of trying to work from home while also playing IT consultant to your children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a teacher who just went through a week of teaching other children from home while also playing IT consultant to your own children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a human being who likes music made with electronics?
Are you human?
If you grunted in the affirmative to any of the aforementioned questions, then the five artists below have something good for you to hear.
Check out recent synth-based music by local musicians Fred Thomas, John Beltran, and Doogatron, as well as a new one from former Ann Arbor-ite Heathered Pearls, and an EP by a young German producer that came out on none/such, a burgeoning electronic-music label out of A2.
Ann Arbor trio Towner created the terrific power-pop album "This Is Entertainment" during quarantine
The Ann Arbor trio of bassist Jason Horvath and guitarists Kris Ehrig and CT James recorded 12 songs for the LP and every tune could be single. Towner originally intended This Is Entertainment to be an EP, but the musicians were so happy with the results, they just kept recording at home, with Ehrig programming the drums. This Is Entertainment isn't exactly lo-fi, but there's a distinct bedroom-pop ambience to the record and that intimacy and warmth serves the band's songs perfectly.
"We had plans to record the 'normal' way in a studio in April," Ehrig wrote in an email, "but that got canceled for quarantine. At that point, I started recording a few songs on my own that weren't going to be on the record just to pass the time and keep myself sane. Then our drummer [Alex Molica] dipped to Vermont and everything got thrown out the window. Instead of scrapping it and starting over, or quitting altogether, we looked at a recording process that was working and switched to the material we had originally planned."
Towner's combined sound is reminiscent of the most melodic Guided By Voices songs, with Ehrig's tunes edging more toward those of The Only Ones -- mainly because of his slightly snarly singing, though he's a much stronger traditional crooner than Peter Perrett -- and James' compositions yanking out the catchier aspects of Weezer's music and leaning into them while discarding the annoying stuff (basically, being Weezer). I say this with peace and love as a Weezer non-fan and as someone who was knocked out by This Is Entertainment, but the way Towner plays with doo-wop-y harmonies and 1950s and 1960s rock 'n' roll vibes under its modern, hazy, indie-rock top layer frequently reminded me of the sorts of things Rivers Cuomo toys with in his songs.
Ehrig answered some questions about how Towner put together This Is Entertainment.
Over the past year, University of Michigan student and Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) member Jordan Stanton has put together three smart, stylish videos: one traced the history of electronic music in the city (Impulse Ann Arbor), another documented the work of one of the genre's most important local artists (58AAFF Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinix), and a new music video features the two recent artists on the scene, producer Scary Steve (Steve Klingbiel) and rapper by A.N.G.E.L.I. (Kamryn Thomas).
The video blends computer-generated landscapes and real-world places -- a Michigan forest in the fall, an Ann Arbor alleyway, Club Above -- along with the deadpan delivery of A.N.G.E.L.I. delivering a speedy rap over Scary Steve's skittering beats.
The song and video are both excellent, so have a look and listen.
Like most musical groups, the Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble spent much of 2020 in quarantine due to the pandemic.
But Crozier managed to keep the creativity flowing by digging into live recordings the group made at Grosse Pointe’s Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in February 2019, and the result is the Ensemble's first live album.
Live is a nice mix of funky fusion, straight-ahead jazz, and world music, featuring tunes from Crozier's last two studio albums, Tall Trees (2017) and Ocean Blue (2018), plus a couple of new songs. For this album, the Ensemble consisted of bassist Crozier, Rafael Statin on reed instruments, pianist/keyboardist Keaton Royer, drummer Rob Avsharian.
Crozier and Co., who were always active playing area stages and festivals before the pandemic, recently started performing again to socially distanced crowds as part of the ongoing series Jazz After Dark at Weber’s Restaurant.
In advance of the album’s release concert at Weber's on September 5, I emailed with Crozier about Live and how he stays creative during the pandemic.
Jazz pianist, Juno Award winner, and U-M professor Andy Milne guides us through his new album, "The reMission"
When jazz pianist Andy Milne moved to Ann Arbor in 2018 to become an assistant professor of music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation at the University of Michigan, he didn't know he would win the 2019 Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year by a group for The Seasons of Being record with his Dapp Theory ensemble.
But Milne did know he had survived prostate cancer in 2017, so winning Canada’s Grammy equivalent was a nice side note to, you know, being alive.
After recovering from cancer but before moving to Michigan, Toronto-area native Milne, who had lived in New York City since the early 1990s, also started the Unison trio featuring drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert, composing stripped-down music that is the opposite of Dapp Theory’s fractured-funk polyphony, which features a multitude of instruments and voices. The trio released its debut album, the contemplative The reMission, in April and had planned a tour for May, which the coronavirus pandemic wiped out.
While Milne was disappointed he wasn't able to promote The reMission, he's used the downtime to get acquainted with Ann Arbor now that his wife, the singer and Oberlin College and Conservatory educator La Tanya Hall, was finally able to join him in Michigan.
Plus, he looking forward to diving into what the University of Michigan has to offer in terms of combining his interests in pairing music with science and research.
“I realized when I came here, my primary focus was like, ‘Oh, I’m coming to Ann Arbor to take this teaching position and really embrace a role in the university community,’ both within [the school of] music, theater, and dance and just exploring where my path and where my place would be in the university,” Milne said. “So, I’ve been collaborating with faculty and researchers in different areas of the university for public health and these kinds of things. I’m finding where my zone will be inside of that.”
Combining music with other disciplines has long informed Milne’s work, including Dapp Theory’s The Seasons of Being, which coalesced around ideas he learned while treating his cancer with homeopathy, and the documentary soundtracks he’s composed for Capt. Kirk himself, William Shatner. (The reMission’s “Vertical on Opening Night” is named after something Shatner said in one doc.)
Being at a large research university like Michigan means Milne can continue to explore cross-disciplinary creativity, all in a town he finds welcoming and easy to navigate.
“I think it’s probably just the proximity of everything,” Milne says of Ann Arbor. “The fact that I’m living close to my work, and people are super-friendly here, and there’s great restaurants. I mean, it’s a really livable city, and I’ve been able to get out and enjoy riding my bike and exploring neighborhoods and things like that. I like the feeling here.”
While Milne wasn't able to go out and promote The reMission, he did give us a song-by-song tour of the new album, which you can listen to below on Spotify as you read his commentary.
This story originally ran September 16, 2019.
Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. We asked him to recommend some jazz from Tree Town.
Ann Arbor makes a number of cameo appearances in my book Jazz From Detroit. Several recordings highlighted in the text were taped live in Ann Arbor, and a number of the musicians featured in the book have ties to the University of Michigan. (The book itself was published by U-M Press.) Here’s a playlist that takes its inspiration from the Detroit-Ann Arbor jazz connection.
"Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documents how the Detroit-born publication rose to the top
Creem magazine was the 1970s dirty rock 'n' roll branch of The New Journalism practiced in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. The magazine's salty, raunchy prose and passion-first stance helped crack the egg of music journalism, scrambling it into a form that had as much attitude as the music Creem was covering.
Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine is a new documentary by Scott Crawford -- director of the essential Salad Days chronicling the D.C. punk scene he grew up with -- that captures the mag's spirit of chaos, tracing Creem's rise and fall with open-eyed honesty.
Started in 1969 from Detroit's Cass Corridor, Creem spent 20 of its 30 years publishing out of Michigan and helped launch the careers of influential music journos Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, documentary co-producer Jaan Uhelszki, and more. The Creem documentary treats Bangs, Marsh, and cantankerous publisher Barry Kramer as the heart of this dysfunctional band of misfits, many of whom not only covered rock 'n' roll but also lived the lifestyle. Kramer and his wife, Connie, were no exception, and the film's co-producer JJ Kramer deals with his parents' issues with grace during his on-camera interviews.
Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Crawford published numerous fanzines and magazines, including the well-known indie/roots/rock mag Harp, which was influenced by Creem and featured many of its writers. Crawford and I worked for the same company that took over publishing Harp for a few years, and I caught up with Crawford about his latest movie, which is currently available to stream at the Michigan Theater's virtual cinema. This chat was edited for length and clarity.
The Goose Lake International Music Festival was the Woodstock of the Midwest.
Between August 7-9, more than 200,000 people traveled from around the country to Jackson County's Leoni Township and set up shop at an otherwise unremarkable lake area where the got to hear some of the biggest name in rock 'n' roll including Jethro Tull, Chicago, Mountain, James Gang, then regional fave Bob Seger, and many more. Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker, and Savoy Brown were slated to play but did not, so the fest added The MC5 and Faces, whose singer Rod Stewart was having such a good time that the band canceled its next gig at the Fillmore East in New York and stayed in Michigan to party.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Goose Lake fest. It's had a lot of coverage over the years, some of which we've collected below, including two documentaries and a Nerd Nite talk on the festival. But the recent big news about Goose Lake is that Third Man Records unearthed audio from The Stooges' August 8 performance there, which was the last show by the band's original lineup, and have released it on vinyl and CD.