I went to the pond not to fish, not to swim, but to listen to experimental music.
And all I heard was silence.
It's not because the University of Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble (DME) was performing John Cage's 4'33". The group, under the guidance of Professor Stephen Rush, had worked up a piece inspired by Brian Eno's Music for Airports, the landmark 1978 ambient record that was built by having pre-recorded tape loops of varying lengths go in and out of phase with each another.
The DME's Pond Music XVII: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports -- or more colloquially on the promo posters, Pond Music for Airports -- was created by students who wrote and performed the short music segments that were then committed to tape. The DME artists then spliced the tapes and loaded them onto old reel-to-reel machines, which were set up in front of the retention pond behind the Earl V. Moore Building, which is the home of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, located on North Campus.
The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a fundraiser for The Ark, returns to Hill Auditorium on Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1, 2020. A combined performance by Calexico and Iron & Wine headlines the first night and a solo Nathaniel Rateliff tops the second evening.
Calexico and Iron & Wine released the collaborative album Years to Burn last year, but the groups' artistic relationship stretches back to the 2005 EP In the Reins.
Rateliff is leaving his soul band the Night Sweats at home and will perform songs from his earlier, folk-based albums (but don't let that stop you from shouting out requests for "S.O.B." -- the audience can handle the hand-claps).
Check out the rest of the lineup below along with videos for each of the artists.
The Comic Opera Guild was founded on the premise that the operetta (or comic opera) was the perfect vehicle to introduce people to opera and the thrill of listening to classically trained voices. Comedy makes everything approachable. Comic songs were common in the last century, either as pop music or taken from Broadway shows. Unfortunately, the comic song is uncommon now, and so we decided to produce a show that brought this idiom to people's attention.
On Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location, the Guild presents Follies, a revue-concert featuring high-spirited and comic entertainment reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies. Classically trained singers and instrumentalists will cross over into light-hearted music from the 1920s to the present day, from shows, Vaudeville, and even Tom Lehrer and Eric Idle.
Saxophonist Allison Au said her 2016 album, Forest Grove, was inspired by the Toronto neighborhood where she grew up. But it's not city life she's referring to; it's a place where trees and nature provided the vista, not concrete.
The pastoral spirit of the Forest Grove neighborhood runs deep through Au's alto on all three of her records. She tends to play relaxed, melodic phrases that reinforce an ensemble sound rather than firing up solos that race over the harmonic foundation of her compositions. Keyboardist Todd Pentney, bassist Jon Maharaj, and drummer Fabio Ragnelli have plenty of freedom to explore Au's tunes and they feel essential to her vision, not just a backing band.
Forest Grove won a Juno award -- the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy -- for best jazz album and her latest, 2019's Wander Wonder, was nominated as was her debut, The Sky Was Pale Blue. Au self-released all of the albums, so to garner this type of recognition for independent releases is a testament to her talent.
You can see the Allison Au Quartet at Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, October 23. Below are some videos of the band in action and you can listen to her three albums.
The 2019 Edgefest (Oct. 16-19) has been on my calendar for months and I've been meaning to write a preview of this Ann Arbor experimental-music institution for weeks.
This year's theme, "OUT West," focuses on "the rich historical contributions of West Coast artists in the development of avant jazz improvisation and new music." That quote is from the website of Kerrytown Concert House, which is Edgefest's hub, even if all the October 17 concerts are at the sparkling Blue LLama Jazz Club and the large-ensemble finale on October 19 is at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. You can't have Edgefest without the Concert House.
But this and that happened, time got away from me, and I never got around to writing the preview.
Thankfully, longtime music writer and Edgefest musician Piotr Michalowski wrote the festival's program, which is an excellent primer on the dozens of musicians and various ensembles performing at this year's edition. You'll find Michalowski's write-up below, but first, I want to share a story about one specific event at Edgefest -- and why I think it defines the festival as a whole.
Moon Hooch's music has all the manic energy of a city. The Brooklyn group's drums-sax-sax lineup rumbles like the New York City subway system, where the trio spent many hours busking when it formed in 2010. The way the band combines dance beats and avant-garde jazz is akin to a metropolis' relentless forward rhythm that's being intersected by speeding cabs running red lights.
But the nervous energy Moon Hooch exudes in its simultaneously catchy and edgy music is in direct opposition to the way drummer James Muschler and saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen live their lives off the stage.
Or even in their touring van.
Moon Hooch's members are avid meditators and they use this practice to stay mentally and physically fit during arduous tours across the U.S.
"Yeah, it’s not easy," McGowen said of touring. "Meditation, Qigong, and breathing exercises are what keeps me going. I try to transmute stress through present moment awareness. I don’t succeed always, but when I am enough present I can stay calm even if the situation is challenging. We usually get together every morning, sit in a circle, breath together and share how we feel. We aren’t doing that every day, but whenever we do it, it really uplifts the group dynamic."
Long-running folk duo Annie and Rod Capps coalesced with a great band for its new album, "When They Fall"
For fans of heartfelt and well-played acoustic roots music, a new album from Ann Arbor duo Annie and Rod Capps is always a treat. But with their latest, When They Fall, something’s a little different.
The songwriting, always smart and heartfelt, has become richer. The musicianship -- fleshed out on the record by Jason Dennie (mandolin and mandola), Dan Ozzie Andrews (bass), and Michael Shimmin (drums and percussion) -- is also better than ever. And the duo is making its most concentrated publicity push. It all feels like something of a step forward for a project that was already a vital and important part of the local music scene.
When They Fall goes from one highlight to the next, but among the most memorable tracks are “Poor Old Me,” showing a great sense of humor with the band sounding particularly lively; the touching “Happy New Year” and “Walking Through” (the latter featuring memorable lines like “I’m praying for the strength to grieve”); and “Build that Fire,” a warm and optimistic conclusion to a truly great recording.
Annie Capps answered a few questions recently via email.
Double Date in Kerrytown: William Bolcom, Joan Morris, Amy Burton, and John Musto paired up for cabaret
A crowd of concert-goers buzzed with excitement last Sunday as they packed into the seats of Kerrytown Concert House, excited for an afternoon of music with a cabaret duo that over the years has emerged as a community favorite.
Pianist William Bolcom and mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, a husband and wife musical team, are among the leading performers of cabaret music active today, as well as having been members of the Ann Arbor community for over four decades. Both former faculty at the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, they have been concertizing together for over 40 years, and even performed at the very first concert hosted by Kerrytown Concert House some 35 years ago. The duo was joined on the stage Sunday afternoon by another musical couple, soprano Amy Burton and pianist John Musto, for a light-hearted performance billed as “Double Date.”
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a milestone. So, co-artistic director and cellist David Finckel says it was fitting that CMS begins this season with milestones in the art of chamber music. “We identified pieces of music that have somehow influenced the way chamber music evolved,” he says.
The program CMS will bring to Rackham Auditorium in Ann Arbor on October 11 includes four of these works: Harry Burleigh’s Southland Sketches (1916), Antonin Dvořák’s Quintet for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello in E-flat Major, Op. 97 (1893), Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1941), and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944), originally called Ballet for Martha (Graham).
“The story of Dvořák in America is colorful and entertaining,” says Finckel.
Turns out, it is Burleigh’s story, too.
You can debate who the best guitarist is all day and still not carve out a consensus. Braaap all you want about who's the finest trumpeter and the winner's horn will never sound. Argue about pianists and you'll be talking in circles about tickling the ivories even though a title-holder will never be crowned.
Might as well cue Jadakiss' "The Champ Is Here."
It's Ciani by knockout.
The 73-year-old champ is bringing her Buchla to Ann Arbor for a master class (2 pm) and a performance (8 pm) on Saturday, October 5 as part of the Resonance festival, an annual one-day event that celebrates women and non-binary artists in music technology, sponsored by the Performing Arts Technology department at the University of Michigan. Ciani will work in Hankinson Rehearsal Hall -- limited seating, get there early because both events are free -- and perform her Buchla compositions in quadrophonic sound with accompanying visuals.
If you're unfamiliar with Ciani, here's a crash course in her music and the synthesizer she mastered.