The Music Overfloweth: A Snapshot of March 2020 Jazz, Classical & Folk Concerts in Ann Arbor

MUSIC PREVIEW

March 2020 jazz, classical, and folk concerts in the Ann Arbor area

The Pulp email inbox is overflowing with jazz, folk, and classical pitches related to upcoming Ann Arbor-area concerts -- more than we can cover with individual posts. So, here's a curated compilation of these genres' March 2020 events in sonically rich Washtenaw County. It's just a fraction of concerts in the area, but more than enough to fill your dance card. For more jazz listings, visit Lifting Up A2 Jazz; for classical, visit U-M's School of Music, Theatre and DanceUMS, and Kerrytown Concert House; for folk, rock, hip-hop, electronica, and more, visit Ann Arbor Loves Live Music and The Ann Arbor Observer

Water Music: Kat Steih's "Hymns of the Huron" takes inspiration from Ann Arbor's liquid landmark

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kat Steih

Photo by Jamie Chiu

The Huron River is one of the unifying elements of the greater Ann Arbor area, so it's not surprising that it has provided inspiration to a local singer-songwriter, Kat Steih, for her recent album, Hymns of the Huron: “I’d really like to focus on using my voice as a musician to make connections between things. I’d like to advocate for holistic music/creative education, women in creative fields, and water rights.” 

Steih will get to support water rights when she performs benefit for the Huron River Watershed Council on March 27 at Triple Goddess Tasting Room in Ypsilanti.

Hymns of the Huron features a fully realized sound, led by Steih’s rich, expressive voice. She’s backed on the record by Jesse Morgan, piano; Ben Lorenz, drums (who also produced); Jason Magee, guitar; and Kristin von Bernthal, bass and backup vocals. Steih wrote all the songs on the album. It opens with “Hole in My Heart,” placing sorrowful lyrics against a jaunty melody. The poppy “I Need a Friend” similarly establishes an infectious groove over a serious theme, while “I Haven’t Seen a Couple …” is a thoughtful heartbreak song. A sense of sadness and longing runs throughout much of the album, until “Don’t Push Me Away” brings in a sense of hope and “You’re Not Gonna Lose Me” concludes the record with a reassuring promise. 

Steih answered a few questions via email.

Sensitive Sounds in a Snowy Town: West-Eastern Divan Ensemble at Rackham Auditorium

MUSIC REVIEW

West Eastern Divan Ensemble by Peter Adamik

West Eastern Divan Ensemble 4 by Peter Adamik

“You’re a mighty and hearty lot,” said UMS President Matthew VanBesien, peering out over the snow-dusted crowd that had slowly filtered into the seats of Rackham Auditorium Wednesday evening.

It was a lighthearted joke at the expense of those would-be concert-goers who might have filled in the empty chairs throughout the venue had they not been defeated by the weather, but it wasn’t unjustified: The snowstorm that had swept over Ann Arbor throughout the previous day and night had made navigating the roads a tricky proposition, and the spacious Rackham Auditorium looked to be more empty than not.

In introducing the concert, accordingly, VanBesien invited patrons to fill in the seats towards the front, jettisoning the assigned seating in favor of creating a more compact, less spotty-looking audience for the evening’s musical entertainment. Once condensed, it looked like the venue was maybe just under half-full, give or take a few dozen people.

Those who had braved the snowstorm had turned out to see the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble, a chamber group offering sensitive interpretations of music both old and new, but perhaps better known for the quietly political origins of their parent organization, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Founded in 1999 by the famed pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said -- famous in numerous fields for his books Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism -- the orchestra was created as a place for musicians from throughout the Middle East (notably Isreal, Palestine, and their Arab-majority neighbors) to come together to make music on an equal basis. 

Interlocking Parts: Hi Potent C and Dyelow's "War Medicine" highlights the KeepItG Records collective's creative bond

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Hi Potent C & Dyelow, War Medicine

Hi Potent C (left) and Dyelow at WCBN-FM. Photo by Herb Read.

The Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records isn't just a rap crew with a tight handle. The various MCs, producers, musicians, and filmmakers treat KeepItG like a band, with scheduled practices, interlocking their skills and lifting each other up to create audio and visual art.

"The entire KeepItG Records meets and rehearses weekly, and each individual sets up their personal studio time around what’s going on for them at the time being," said rapper Hi Potent C, who has a new album, War Medicine, with KeepItG producer Dyelow. "A lot of the music gets made on the spot, but everyone is always cooking up something on their own time, too. For this specific project, we did a lot of the outlining in person in order to make sure we were sticking to the theme and storyline. From there it made it easier to fill in the blanks separately because we both knew what was needed and expected."

War Medicine is a loose concept record that takes some cues from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Prodigy’s 2017 LP, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). Lamar's album recounts his rough teenage years in Compton and Progidy's record is named after the philosophical model that posits thesis, antithesis, then synthesis -- or problem, reaction, solution -- is the way to determine "truth" or "the way."

"The personal ins and outs of living and not only the 'good side,'" is how Hi Potent C describes War Medicine's theme. "At the same time, keeping familiarity with people by showing them how to keep your head up no matter how unfavorable things might be going, because we all need that motivation from time to time."

Before & After Scents: Smell & Tell explores the fragrant world of Brian Eno

MUSIC PULP LIFE REVIEW

Brian Eno

In addition to being an ambient-music pioneer, superstar producer, and cutting-edge visual artist, Brian Eno also likes to exercise his sniffer.

This account of a previous Brian Eno-focused Smell & Tell was originally published February 23, 2018. Michelle Krell Kydd hosts another Eno-themed Smell & Tell on Wednesday, February 19, 6:30-8:45 pm, at AADL's Pittsfield branch.


The temple bell stops --
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
--Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

“This one smells like stinky feet!” is not something you want to hear at a perfume-smelling event.

But considering the spikenard essential oil in question was used to anoint the feet of Jesus, perhaps it deserved another whiff.

As the 40 people gathered in the fourth-floor conference room at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library took another hit of spikenard, something akin to turning water into wine started happening. As the molecules of oil on the sampler strips began to evaporate, people began describing the oil as having elements of licorice, red hots, mint, wintergreen, cough medicine, camphor, turpentine, violets, and fruit.

Welcome to Smell & Tell.

AADL's "Music Tools Lab: Intro to Guitar Pedals" will give you a hands-on chance to sharpen your ax sounds

MUSIC PREVIEW

Photo of various guitar pedals

You’re at a show. Somewhere.

A band you’ve never heard of is busy hauling their gear onto the stage. The musicians fuss about adjusting amp volume, mic placement, cymbal height. 

The group begins its first tune, and the guitar player, after a whisper-quiet intro in D, sends her sparkly white hollow-body Fender Mustang into a fit of feedback and fuzz, improbably multiplying every note she plays, chords modulating and warbling up and down and back and forth through the room as if she held a shattered mirror up to her amp’s speaker.

What just happened?

How does she do it?

Beach Daisy's haunting music blooms with discontent on its debut EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Beach Daisy

Beach Daisy’s Zach Moorhaus, Samantha Steinbacher, Andrew Walsh, and Brandon Sams. Photo by Miles Marie of Nomadic Madam.

Despite the summery name Beach Daisy, the music by this Ann Arbor alt-pop quartet is anything but sunshine on its debut EP, Something They Can’t Take AwayIt features seven haunting tracks about isolation, fractured relationships, and hopeful tomorrows.

“There’s a theme in a lot of them of loneliness and emotional solitude, and the final track on the EP is a response to a lot of those feelings,” said Beach Daisy guitarist-vocalist Zach Moorhaus.

As Beach Daisy, Moorhaus and bandmates Samantha Steinbacher (vocals, keys), Brandon Sams (drums), and Andrew Walsh (bass) tackle a spectrum of challenging emotions ranging from self-doubt to frustration to despair. In a sense, the band’s 30-minute EP eloquently reflects the ongoing struggle people face well into adulthood.

“With this EP, we really honed in and tried to make it cohesive. We tried to make a group of songs that refined our sound a little bit,” Steinbacher said.  

Cover Your Heads: Angélique Kidjo and others interpret Talking Heads

MUSIC PREVIEW

Angelique Kidjo

When Angélique Kidjo first heard Talking Heads' 1980 LP, Remain in Light, she instantly recognized the music's deep debt to Africa. That was in 1983, the year the singer had moved from her native Benin to Paris to study music. It was there that Kidjo began to absorb the city's confluence of Afropop, jazz, Latin, and rock, which she has turned it into a 40-year international career touching on all those styles.

That memory of hearing an American band apply African rhythms to art-rock stuck with Kidjo to such a profound degree that in 2018 she released a song-for-song cover of Remain in Light, which has received raves.

Kidjo turned to another inspiration -- Cuban singer Celia Cruz -- for her 2019 album, Celia, which won a 2020 Grammy. But when Kidjo performs at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, February 16, as part of UMS's current season, she'll highlight the Remain in Light project.

While Kidjo was the first artist to reinterpret all of Remain in Light in the studio, Phish's 1996 Halloween concert featured the jam band playing the album live in its entirety. Covering entire records like that is rare, but interpreting Heads tunes has been happening almost since the band debuted. One of the first was by German pop singer and actress Debbie Neon, whose version of "Psycho Killer" came out in 1979, two years after it appeared on Talking Heads: 77, the band's debut. 

The next year, Massachusetts' The Fools released a parody version, "Psycho Chicken," and Heads covers have been nonstop since.

Popular groups such as The Lumineers ("This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"), Smashing Pumpkins ("Once in a Lifetime"), Florence and The Machine ("Wild Wild Life"), Umphrey's McGee ("Girlfriend Is Better"), Widespread Panic ("Life During Wartime"), Car Seat Headrest ("Crosseyed and Painless"), Yonder Mountain String Band ("Girlfriend Is Better"), and Phish again ("Cities") have had no fear of Talking Heads music.

The long-running Ann Arbor/Metro Detroit band Frontier Ruckus even recorded a special version of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" for a fan's wedding.

That song and "Once in a Lifetime" are among the most popular covers, but the clear number one is "Psycho Killer," which has been played by Velvet Revolver, Jason Isbell, Barenaked Ladies, Cage the Elephant, Local H, and more.

The "and more" is what we'll concentrate on below: the five quirkiest Talking Heads covers that I found on YouTube, starting with The Fools' fowl take. Plus, check out Kidjo's videos from her Remain in Light record as well as a special bonus Heads cover by a Chicago vocal legend who is also playing the Michigan Theater on February 15.

Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman and Soul Message Band are steeped in Chicago's swaggering jazz-blues tradition

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Chris Foreman of the Soul Message Band

When you hear Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman glide across the keyboard, you can all but hear Chicago's Saint James AME Church congregation shouting behind him. As a performing member of Saint James for 40-plus years, Foreman's music is steeped in gospel and blues, with the added energy of smeary bop lines that evoke fellow organ greats Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith.

Perhaps the only reason Foreman isn't mentioned in the same breath as the Jimmys, or even a contemporary player like Joey DeFrancesco, is that he hasn't recorded a lot as a leader and hasn't spent a ton of time outside of Chicago.

But on Friday, January 31, the Soul Message Band with Foreman, drummer Greg Rockingham, and guitarist Lee Rothenberg will leave the Windy City for two sets at Blue LLama in Ann Arbor for an evening of greasy, feel-good jazz-blues. The group is performing in support of its recent album, Soulful Days (Delamark), which is filled with gut-bucket swagger and interplay so deep that it might touch the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Since Foreman is legit part of Hammond history, we asked him to name five songs by five fellow B3 players and tell us what he likes about the tunes and the musicians.

"It's difficult to exclude a lot of our organ greats," Foreman said, but there's no denying the five musicians he picked are among the top players of the instrument.

Check out Foreman's selections below, listen to Soulful Days, and see a live video of Soul Message Band before they take the Blue LLama stage.

But first, let's start with his beautiful solo-organ tribute to McGriff at his 2008 memorial service. 

Straight Outta Nairobi: Dr. Pete Larson's Dagoretti Records brings the sounds of Kenya to Ann Arbor

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dr. Pete Larson

Dr. Pete Larson jamming on his nyatiti. Photo by Doug Coombe.

When Dr. Peter Larson found out he was going to Malawi in Southeast Africa as part of his graduate studies, one question came to his mind:

"Where's Malawi?" Larson said with a smile during an interview at the Ann Arbor District Library. "I didn't know anything about Africa."

Now an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research, Larson later went to Nairobi, Kenya to work on public health issues. He lived there between 2014-2017 and immersed himself in the music scene.

That experience changed the trajectory of Larson's artistic life.

A longtime guitarist who played in numerous rock and noise bands since the 1990s, including 25 Suaves and Couch, Larson is also one of the people behind the experimental Bulb Records, which released the first records by Wolf Eyes and Ann Arbor native Andrew W.K.

But Larson was so enchanted the first time he heard a nyatiti -- an eight-string lyre/lute-type traditional instrument of the Luo people in Western Kenya -- he decided to learn how to play it. 

"In 2015, I received an instrument from a friend and had no idea what to do with it," Larson wrote in the press release for the Nyatiti Attack LP on Dagoretti Records by his teacher, Oduor Nyagweno, who he lovingly calls Old Man. "Sometime in 2016, I saw Daniel Onyango play with his band Africa Jambo Beats in Nairobi and approached him about taking lessons. He then introduced me to the Old Man, I haven’t looked back."