Retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth co-authored the definitive biography of blues legend Robert Johnson
Decades of painstaking research and meticulous attention to detail have led to the 2019 book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, which aims to rewrite and correct the story about the legendary bluesman. Co-authored by retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, this book entertains with facts, cut through myths, and lets readers learn about a man who has for too long been reduced to a single (and impossible) anecdote about trading his soul to the devil down at the crossroads in order to play the blues.
“When Columbia released its Thesaurus of Classic Jazz [in 1959], it was the first chance for most country-blues artists to have their recordings on a major label," Conforth says. "Most people didn’t even know that these folks existed. And on this record was Robert Johnson. … The liner notes said that he was the greatest blues musician there ever was, but we had nothing to compare him to and didn’t know anything about him. Almost immediately this mystique formed around Johnson while at the same time people were saying, ‘Oh, we’ll never know anything about him.’”
Conforth, who grew up in and around New York City during the 1960s folk revival, took that as a challenge.
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.
When Bob Dylan plays Hill Auditorium on November 6, it'll be the 12th time he's played Ann Arbor (and the 13th time in Washtenaw County when counting his 2007 concert with Elvis Costello at EMU Convocation Center).
But unlike what is sometimes stated, his first solo show was not September 9, 1964, at Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer); it was on April 22, 1962, at the Union Ballroom as part of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. That show is sometimes forgotten about by writers because they have to expand their concert-database searches to find it: Dylan, who had released his self-titled debut LP the month before, was so little known that he was mistakenly advertised as "Bob Dillon," as shown in this ad in The Michigan Daily.
Another Daily ad, reprinted in Neil Cossar’s 2018 book Bob Dylan: The Day I Was There, showed Dylan's name spelled correctly and also quotes Jay Margulies about the 1962 concert and its afterparty:
The 2019 edition of Rasa -- Akshara's annual multi-arts, inspired by India festival -- hits the home stretch
The fall 2019 edition of Akshara's Rasa Festival is coming to a close, but not before it celebrates with four "multi-arts, inspired by India" events.
"Dances of India: classical and folk traditions" happens Thursday, September 19, at 7 pm, at AADL's downtown location. It will feature classical and folk dances from India, plus a discussion on the historical and cultural context of each.
The following night at 7 pm will be "Music from the East and the West," also at AADL's downtown branch. Indian and western musicians will talk about the concepts behind Indian and western music, and how they collaborate to create new music. This will be accompanied by a short concert.
The largest event of the festival is "Rasa Performing Arts Weekend: dance|music, east|west, classical|folk" on Saturday, September 21, 4 pm, at Towsley Auditorium, Washtenaw Community College. This is an evening of classical and folk dances from India as well as a concert that brings together Indian and western music traditions.
Sonny Sharrock played guitar like a boxer throws punches: with fluidity and violence. Sweet-science superfan Miles Davis must have recognized this when he had Sharrock join John McLaughlin in the ax section for the trumpeter's stellar 1971 jazz-rock soundtrack for a documentary on the boxer Jack Johnson.
In the mid-'60s, Sharrock began about a decade-long run playing with his singer wife, Linda, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, flutist Herbie Mann, and others, but he went into semi-retirement from music after divorcing. As with many singular stylists, Sharrock's skills weren't fully appreciated when he first came onto the scene, but his reputation rose up in the 1980s when bassist and producer Bill Laswell recruited him to play in his avant-funk jazz band Material and the punk-jazz supergroup Last Exit. During this time, Sharrock resumed his career as a leader and also played free jazz with Machine Gun, with everything culminating in the 1991 avant-jazz-rock masterpiece Ask the Ages, a Laswell-produced album featuring Sanders on sax, Elvin Jones on drums, and Charnett Moffett on bass. (Sharrock also did soundtrack work for the Cartoon Network classic Space Ghost Coast to Coast.)
But on the eve of signing to a major label, Sharrock died in 1994 at the age of 53. While he died too young, the guitarist's reputation as a major force was sealed forever.
On September 11 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti, four Ann Arbor jazz musicians will fete Sharrock's Ask the Ages by playing the album in its entirety. Guitarist Max Bowen transcribed the music on Ask the Ages, which he'll interpret with saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Aidan Cafferty, and drummer Bob Sweet.
I interviewed Sweet and Bowen about Sharrock, Ask the Ages, and how this project came together.
The Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) is made up of U-M student DJs, producers, and party planners. But these sonic scholars didn't take the past summer off -- at least not from music-making and mixing. MEMCO members past and present were hitting the decks throughout the summertime, recording remixes, generating jams, and creating more mixes than the Jiffy plant.
MEMCO is recruiting members for this school year -- visit the collective's FB page for details -- and soon enough it will start throwing parties around town at familiar venues like Necto, Club Above, Lo-Fi, Alley Bar, Ann Arbor Art Center, and more (Edit: Put on your dancing shoes because the first fall 2019 MEMCO event is happening September 20 at Club Above.)
But until then, below are eight MEMCO mixes that run the gamut -- from trippy techno to funky footwork -- created during the hazy days of summer 2019. And if that's not enough music to keep you moving, MEMCO members sometimes host the long-running electronic music show Crush Collision on WCBN 88.3-FM every Thursday at 10 pm.
Two Ann Arbor visits by the Art Ensemble of Chicago were documented on recordings made 46 years apart
The 2018 Edgefest at Kerrytown Concert House was the launchpad for a year-long celebration of the legendary avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group not only performed at the long-running, annual Ann Arbor festival, it recorded a studio album during its stay here.
“This is the first performance of this 50th-anniversary project," Deanna Relyea, Edgfest’s artistic director, told me last year for a Pulp post. Ensemble co-founder "Roscoe [Mitchell] has written music for this group based on music written for the Art Ensemble years ago by Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, and Lester Bowie. (Bowie and Favors are deceased; Jarman is retired.)
The recorded fruits of the Art Ensemble's Ann Arbor labor, We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, was released in April on CD/digital via Pi Recordings and on vinyl in July via Erased Tapes. One part of the We Are on the Edge is live from the Kerrytown Concert House and the other section is music recorded at Big Sky, with University of Michigan professor Stephen Rush -- a longtime Mitchell collaborator -- conducting the large ensemble.
“I have been asked to conduct two pieces by Roscoe Mitchell and one by Don Moye," Rush told me last year. “I’m also providing instruments from my own collection for [percussionist] Don Moye. No question I would get involved a little bit in editing the scores, too. These things are extremely fluid and not at all like recording some of my other works like symphonies and chamber stuff. And the musicians are all amazing readers and amazing improvisers, which makes it really exciting.”
We Are on the Edge isn't the first Art Ensemble record made in Ann Arbor. Recorded on September 9, 1972, at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, Bap-Tizum is a free-wheeling, politically charged performance. (The first track on the LP is a band introduction by John Sinclair.)
Check out music from both albums below as you buy tickets to the 2019 Edgefest, which happens October 16-19:
Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito returns to Ann Arbor with a new album and the history of choro at his fingertips
Brazilian mandolin wizard Danilo Brito is returning to the Metro Detroit area for what now annual performances in Ann Arbor (September 1 at Kerrytown Concert House), the Detroit Institute of Arts (August 30), and the GlasSalon in the Toledo Museum of Art (August 29). Brito (mandolin and tenor guitar) will be joined by Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar).
Brito's new album, Da Natureza das Coisas (The Nature of Things), is bookended by two important works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, closing with "Melodia Sentimental" and opening with "Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)," which was composed for guitar in 1920 in tribute to composer Ernesto Nazareth. Villa Lobos grew up among choro musicians and said that the soul of Brazilian people is found in choro. Many classical guitarists play this work, but Brazilians such as Turíbio Santos play it with a distinctive verve absent in the others. Brito takes this a step further -- arranging the work for his mandolin in the lead voice with two guitars carrying the others. The bright, clarion sound of his mandolin riding the group's Brazilian drive leaves Brito thinking that it would make Villa Lobos smile.
"Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)" sets the tone for the album which journeys through composers venerated and new. Works of Garoto and Jorge Santos are mingled with newcomers Brito, Penezzi, and Arante.
Brito's U.S. booking agency, Musica Extraordinaria, is based in Ann Arbor and its leader, Michael Grofsorean, conducted an interview with the Brazilian mandolinist. (For even more Brito, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed him before his April 1, 2017, appearance in Ann Arbor.)
But False Figures’ sound is anything but fake. The band is low-fi and low-profile (their social media presence is limited), creating a soulful, warm sort of Americana music that sounds like it might be played by friends around a campfire.
The core band has mostly consisted of Jim Cherewick, vocals, guitar, harmonica, and violin; Joel Parkkila, vocals, guitar and more; and Jason Lymangrover, bass and guitar. More recently, Stefan Krstovic has joined the band as the regular drummer. All the members have experience in other local bands including Human Skull, Best Exes, Congress, and Hydropark.
Their self-titled debut album is an accessible, engaging listen. The no-frills sound is well suited to the songs, which tend to be short and to the point -- one highlight on the album, “Matchbox,” gets the job done in just over a minute and a half. There’s a thoughtfulness to the lyrics, though, especially in songs like “Stay On” and “Out of Time.”
A second album is already in the works. And although the band has been primarily a studio project, they will play a live date at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, August 28 with Simon Joyner, Raw Honey, and Idle Ray. The show is being produced by Fred Thomas' Life Like Tapes.
The band recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.
A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.
This is the vacation-catch-up edition of Pulp Bits, so we have links going back to late June -- a true smorgasbord of culture news. Feast!