Open Book: Hip-hop MC and singer Dessa reveals her life and loves in "My Own Devices"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dessa

Dessa photo by Sam Gehrke.

On the song “5 Out of 6” from her latest album, Chime, Dessa raps:

I'm out here, arms wide
Hiding nothing
I've done it all in broad daylight
And I left the cameras running

That’s an apt characterization of her new autobiography, My Own Devices: True Stories From the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, too, where he chronicles her 15-year career with the fiercely independent Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree. The book is an honest, clever, humorous appraisal of her family, career, and P.O.S., the Doomtree rapper with the highest profile and the longtime love of Dessa’s life. He’s referred to as X throughout the book because that’s what he is -- her ex-boyfriend. He’s still a member of Doomtree, and for years Dessa and P.O.S. have done the delicate dance to keep their group together and their solo careers growing even as their romantic relationship swung wildly between emotional hills and valleys as they rode coast to coast in a tour van.

“The task was to try to hide that, to try to not look like we weren’t getting along, and I’m sure we failed miserably at that and the tension was obvious,” Dessa said by phone between flights. “But a lot of times, I think we were able to keep the tension out of the van, to keep it to ourselves, keep it in the back with our luggage. That meant being nice, being cordial, making sure nobody had to worry about us.”

Grantstand: The Idle Moments Project celebrates the guitar artistry of Grant Green

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Grant Green's Idle Moments album cover

It's not an insult to say jazz guitarist Grant Green favored feel over technique. He didn't play double-time phrases or blaze with extended chords, instead favoring a languid, minimalist style that feels more like a blues singer's phrasing transferred to the fretboard. Green's single-line-focused playing was always lyrical, melodic, and funky, which is one of the reasons he was one of the most recorded musicians in the history of Blue Note Records.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, became so enamored with Green's playing that he decided to learn the guitarist's 1965 album Idle Moments in its entirety, which he'll present on Friday, October 12 at Kerrytown Concert House with Gayelynn McKinney (drums), Eric Nachtrab (bass), Janelle Reichman (tenor sax), Alexis Lombre (piano), and Peyton Miller (vibraphone).

The recording is one of the most celebrated of Green's career, mostly because the title track is such a chill charmer. As told in the Idle Moments liner notes by pianist Duke Pearson, who also wrote the song, the tune's nearly 15-minute running time was the result of a happy accident: Green mistakenly played the 16-bar melody twice, setting up the longer solo structure for the rest of the musicians, all of whom followed suit. The rest of the album, which includes the songs "Jean De Fleur" (Green), "Django" (John Lewis), and "Nomad" (Pearson), is equally winsome and it's easy to digest why the record is so beloved.

The CD reissue unearthed alternate versions of "Jean De Fleur" and "Django" (which is four minutes longer), and Anest based his arrangements for the concert on these takes. I spoke with Anest about what inspired him to cover the entire Idle Moments album and what he likes about Green's playing.

Rage Against the Machine: Tim Haldeman's "Open Water As a Child" is a powerful protest for Flint

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Tim Haldeman, Open Water As a Child album cover

From songs such as Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" to full albums such as Max Roach's We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, jazz has been a voice for social issues and protest. Ann Arbor saxophonist Tim Haldeman makes a strong statement on his new album, Open Water As a Child, a brilliant suite that rages against the Flint water disaster.

He originally presented the suite at the 2017 A2 Jazz Fest with no intention of ever playing it again; Haldeman simply wanted to blast out a singular, focused, powerful intention into the universe. But the reception to Open Water As a Child was so positive that Haldeman reconsidered and decided to document his protest piece. 

Haldeman (tenor sax) gathered poet John Goode (words/vocals), Dan Bennett (alto sax), Justin Walter (trumpet), Jordan Schug (cello), Jonathan Taylor (drums), and Ben Willis (bass) at Big Sky Studios in Ann Arbor and they cut a powerful record that inspires even as the topic it tackles infuriates.

The album features five songs with loose structures that allow the players to improvise freely in a way that builds upon his framework and gives them room to add their own voices of discontent to the suite. The album is bookended by Goode's poems, which trace Flint's interactions with water and tragedies, tying the trials of Native Americans with the present-day residents poisoned because of goverment negligence. 

Open Water As a Child is an important record. Its release will be celebrated at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on Thursday, October 11 at 8 pm. I talked to Haldeman about the creation of the album.

Joan Baez summed up her iconic career at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Joan Baez

It’s not easy to say goodbye to an old friend. Maybe that’s why the great Joan Baez is calling her final tour, which came to the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, “Fare Thee Well.” 

If indeed that’s the last time Ann Arbor gets to see Baez in person, she left us with an evening full of terrific memories. She set a relaxed, friendly tone from the very start, when she strolled out on stage alone, with no introduction at all, drawing the first of several standing ovations.

Any apprehension about how she might sound at age 77 disappeared as soon as she began to sing. If her voice doesn’t quite have the crystalline edge it once did, it’s still a gorgeous, powerful force, full of warmth and depth. Accompanying herself on guitar, she fleshed out the sound with various combinations of a backup singer, a multi-instrumentalist, and a percussionist (who happens to be her son, Gabe).

Baez has a fine new album out, Whistle Down the Wind, and she played several songs from it Tuesday. The bulk of the show, however, leaned toward old favorites, to the delight of the sellout crowd. 

Sound Images: A2 Jazz Fest 2018 photos by Jeff Dunn

MUSIC

Drummer Sean Dobbins

Sean Dobbins at LIVE Nightclub on the second night of the 2018 A2 Jazz Fest. Photo by Jeff Dunn.

The third annual A2 Jazz Fest wrapped up on Sunday and -- as often happens soon after Southeast Michigan music fests or concerts end -- Jeff Dunn uploaded dozens of great photos of the performers and shared them on his SmugMug page and the Facebook group Lifting Up A2 Jazz

Dunn hasn't always been a concert photographer -- he only started snapping shows in 2012 or so -- but he's loved jazz for nearly 50 years.

"I've been a huge jazz fan and supporter since the early '70s," he says. "The first time I went to [Detroit's] Baker's Keyboard Lounge in 1973, I was hooked! I've been addicted to live jazz performances ever since."

Dunn got his jazz-photo start because of a musician friend.

From India With Love: The second Rasa Festival closes this weekend with a multi-arts showcase

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Sanchayita Bhattacharjee

Sanchayita Bhattacharjee presents East Side Stories, a one-woman solo theater piece, at the Rasa Festival on October 6.

The annual Rasa Festival is a unique India-themed multi-arts festival in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, produced by our multi-arts organization, Akshara which I co-founded a few years ago. Now in its second year, I conceived of and started this festival in 2017 as an exciting month-long celebration of the arts in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas. The Rasa Festival features the arts, from and inspired by the rich cultural heritage of India. Partnering with local arts organizations, it presents several unique and exciting, traditional and innovative programs in performing, visual, literary, films, wellness, and culinary arts.

I feel that more than ever before, it is important for our communities to discover, appreciate, and embrace the richness of cultural diversity, and for us to open ourselves to influences from all over the world. The arts offer a beautiful window to experience and rejoice in the richness of cultures, both far and near. 

On Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6, the Rasa Festival will conclude the 2018 programming with a grand performing arts event at Washtenaw Community College's Towsley Auditorium in Ypsilanti. This year’s performing arts offering is exciting because it includes dance, music, and theater. In curating the two-day program, I wanted to bring a range of art forms and artists from India and other parts of the US as well as from Michigan.

Guitarist Marcus Tardelli will change your conceptions of what it means to shred

MUSIC PREVIEW

Marcus Tardelli

When the phrase "guitar shredder" is deployed, the general picture that comes to mind is a poodle-haired metal guitarist finger-tapping his way through impossible scales on an electric ax.

Marcus Tardelli will change your mental image of what it means to be a guitar shredder.

The Brazilian plays an acoustic with the same sort of jaw-dropping heroics as his plugged-in brethren, but the music he creates evokes that of a full band, not a solo showcase -- even though he usually plays unaccompanied, as he will at Kerrytown Concert House on Thursday, October 4.

Transfigured Foursome: The Jerusalem Quartet will come to Ann Arbor as a sextet

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Jerusalem Quartet

The Jerusalem Quartet -- (l to r) Kyril Zlotnikov, Ori Kam, Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler -- will become six with the addition of Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth for their October 6 concert. Photo by Felix Broede.

Ori Kam, violist for the Jerusalem Quartet, grew up in two countries, studied music in three, and now teaches in Switzerland while performing all over the globe, often with the Jerusalem Quartet.

Kam joined the Quartet in 2010, but “Israel is a small place," he says. "I knew the quartet and its members since its very early days and had some opportunities to hear and even play with them together before joining. When the opportunity came about for me to join, I was very happy and eager to step into the role.” 

In Israel and America, Kam grew up surrounded by music. “My mother is a violinist,” he says. “There was always music in our household, especially chamber music.” He can’t remember a life without music, but two experiences convinced him he might want a life as a musician. 

A Trio of Days: The 2018 A2 Jazz Fest expands to three swinging nights

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Marion Hayden, Michael Malis, and Marcus Elliot

Bassist Marion Hayden will headline the A2 Jazz Fest's closing night with her Ensemble; pianist Michael Malis and saxophonist Marcus Elliot's Balance duo opens the evening.

The A2 Jazz Fest (A2JF) began in 2016 as a single day, featuring 14 acts over 10 hours.

Even if your name is Jazzbo von Chromatic Chord Progression, 600 straight minutes of jazz is a grueling marathon.

A2JF added a second in 2017, spreading out the shows, and it's a three-day event in 2018, running Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, at LIVE Nightclub and Sunday, Sept. 30, at Kerrytown Concert House. Bassist and fest organizer Dave Sharp said it was a "natural progression and a way to make it easier to attend more events."

And the whole event is still free of charge.

But there was an additional reason for stretching the fest to three days: "From musicians, there was intense interest," Sharp says, "and the committee worked hard to include as many groups as possible." (See the full lineup below.)

Carving Out a Sound: Internationally renown luthier Tom Rein sets up shop in Saline

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Tom Rein

In the Woods: Luthier Tom Rein in his Saline workshop. Photo by Laura Rein.

Through a combination of grit, trial and error, an ear for music, and an engineering mind, my brother-in-law Tom Rein has managed to make a living for 40-plus years as a string-instrument maker (also called luthier). Tom started his luthier business, Tom Rein Guitars, in the mid-1970s when there were under 50 in the entire U.S. Now, he estimates, there are over 1,000.

After my sister, Laura, retired as dean of libraries for Webster University, Tom moved his luthier business to Saline, Michigan.

Tom has been involved with music from age 10 when he took up the clarinet. The clarinet gave way to the tenor and baritone sax, which gradually gave way to the guitar.

“Being a player helps a lot in developing a signature sound,” Tom explained. “Musicians are always looking for the instrument that manifests the sound that they hear in their head. I’m able to tailor the sound to suit individual players while remaining true to the sound I’ve developed over many years.”

A huge part of Tom’s process is to figure out what type of wood to use for each soundboard, and he has developed an incredible appreciation for trees.