“We’ve been in Ann Arbor before!” announced Rachael Price, lead singer of Lake Street Dive, at the band’s performance Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater. “We played The Ark way back when -- was anyone here at that show?” One or two members of the crowd hooted. “That seems about right,” said Price with a laugh. “Because that’s about the number of people who were at that show.”
Since then, Lake Street Dive’s star has risen rapidly. The four-member band filled the Michigan Theater, and Lake Street Dive has been touring almost constantly for the past year and a half, simultaneously promoting its acclaimed 2016 album, Side Pony, and bringing some of their overlooked older work back to the stage.
Guitar maestros Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge gave Ark-goers a show to remember on February 27, deftly weaving a rangy array of influences into a coherent and lively musical conversation.
Equally at ease in the company of jazz greats (Gary Burton, Fred Hersch) and bluegrass luminaries (Béla Fleck, David Grisman), Julian Lage continues to cover new ground while honoring the traditions that have informed his evolution as a musician. Chris “Critter” Eldridge is no slouch either, having cut his teeth on the national stage with The Seldom Scene and the Infamous Stringdusters before bringing his nimble and artful guitar work to the inventive, genre-bending Punch Brothers.
While much of the duo’s 2015 effort, Avalon, featured Eldridge’s vocals, their latest, Mount Royal (released last week) carves out more space for the interplay between the voices of their vintage Martin guitars. This heightened focus on instrumental improvisation, evident in concert, was a key driving force behind the songwriting process for the new album, which Lage and Eldridge discussed in greater detail with Pulp last week.
When Harry Allen was a sideman for drummer Oliver Jackson on long European tours, Jackson introduced the up-and-coming tenor saxophonist to the local promoter in every city they played. “He would say, ‘Remember this name, you’re going to want him,’” Allen recalls. Thirty years later, some of the same people book Allen regularly.
Now an internationally acclaimed jazz artist, Harry Allen swings into town with his quartet to play the Kerrytown Concert House on Wednesday, March 1. They will perform audience favorites from the Great American Songbook as well as a few new songs Allen recently wrote. Joining him on this date are Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown and Ann Arbor veterans Paul Keller, bass, and Pete Siers, drums.
After graduating college and spending a year abroad in Ghana, Kahil El'Zabar came home to Chicago excited to tell his dad what he wanted to do with his life.
"I’m gonna play in a badass band," El'Zabar recalled telling him. "No bass, no piano, no guitar, no chromatic chordal instrument to set the tonic sensibility of the music."
His new vision called for a tonal center set by the "various rhythmic impulses" and "harmonic syntax of the music," African influences, and "urban contemporary expression" from his own experience.
"And he says, 'Man, it sounds hip, boy. But you’ll never make a living.'"
Guitarists Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge have formidable track records in jazz and bluegrass, respectively. Lage has worked with Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline and more. Eldridge is widely known as a member of the innovative Punch Brothers.
So when Lage and Eldridge play as a duo -- on their new album Mount Royal, their 2015 gem Avalon and their 2013 five-track EP Close to Picture -- there’s a whole universe of music open to them, a wide range of shared tastes and enthusiasms.
Playing rare Martin acoustic guitars from 1937 (Eldridge) and 1939 (Lage), they survey the varied lineage of acoustic music and Americana while pursuing their own contemporary aesthetic. The music is improvisational, lyrical, whimsical, textural, and highly virtuosic. While Eldridge sang on much of Avalon, Mount Royal is mainly instrumental, though there are two vocal covers of bluegrass classics and even a reading of one of Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs. We caught up with them shortly before their February 27 gig at The Ark.
There’s a whole mess of influences on Hate Unbound’s debut album, Plague, which came out on the Finnish label Inverse Records. Reviewers have mentioned brutal bands (Lamb of God, Gojira, Hatebreed) along with thrashier groups (Exodus) and death metal pioneers (Death) -- but not enough have acknowledged Hate Unbound’s occasional laser-sharp deployment of twin-lead guitars, evoking classic Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.
“I actually wanted to be KK Downing when I grew up,” said guitarist Daryl Mitchell, naming the ax partner of Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest. (Hate Unbound's other guitarist, William Cundiff, is Mitchell's Tipton.)
But don’t mistake Hate Unbound’s love of twin leads fool you: This southeastern Michigan group, which includes bassist Sean Demura and drummer Franklin "Foot" Hannah, is primarily about pummeling you with riffs, not tickling you with harmonized solos.
You'll be able to have your chest caved in by said riffs when Hate Unbound celebrates the release of Plague at the Maidstone Theatre in Ypsilanti on Saturday, February 18. We talked to Mitchell and vocalist Art Giammara about the Plague year, song meanings, and whether too many influences is too many.
While reading our chat, stream all of Plague at Zero Tolerance Magazine.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas prepared to play his mom’s funeral by arranging the hand-picked hymns and Bible verses she wrote down on a scrap of paper and gave to him.
“I didn’t do too much to them,” Douglas said, whose jazz can edge toward the avant-garde at times. “I thought these are pretty straight-ahead renditions of these hymns.”
Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy band -- with the New Orleans-type front line of trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, plus drums -- was the group he picked to play his mother’s chosen hymns at the funeral, with the sung verses handled by the church’s congregation.
“We got to the service and we go through the first chorus,” Douglas said, “and I turned around to hand it to the congregation and they’re all just looking at me like, ‘Whaaat?’ It was way over their heads. We had to totally adapt and have the [church’s] organ player come help out.”
He laughs about the event now, but that was a tumultuous period for Douglas.
If there's any doubt what Detroit musician and performance artist Duane Gholston is up to with his new look and sound, the snippet from a Don King speech that opens his recent single, "When the Eel Accepts Your Invitation" is a pretty solid clue.
"You got to try to imitate and emulate the white man, and then you can be successful," the notorious boxing promoter -- and Donald Trump supporter -- is heard saying, before a classic honky-tonk shuffle and meandering lap-steel lick ushers in Duane the Jet Black Eel, the 24-year-old's latest persona and "first truly conceptual project."
"It's a young queer person of color taking on the classic vision of America (when it was 'great,' according to some red hats, LOL)," Duane wrote in an email to Pulp. "A bunch of rock 'n' roll songs taking on both conservative and neoliberal politics, homophobia in the black community, and systematic racism in America."
Singer/songwriter Timothy Monger's career peaked in middle school.
Despite three albums during a decade-plus run with the acclaimed folk-rock band Great Lakes Myth Society and a solo career that has also produced three records, including the new Amber Lantern, Monger said the loudest cheers he's ever received was when his middle school band, All the Young Dudes, rocked his former elementary.
Perhaps Monger's fans will take that as a challenge and make some noise when he celebrates the release of Amber Lantern at The Ark on Wednesday, February 8 at 8 pm. (Caleb Dillon of Starling Electric will open.) The album is slightly more rock-oriented than his past works, but Monger also made a conscious decision to set aside his guitar at times and experiment with instruments outside his wheelhouse, such as an organ, a hurdy-gurdy, and a Pocket Piano synth, which he checked out from this library's Music Tools collection.
Monger, who grew up in Brighton and lives in Saline, recently answered questions about his new songs, crowdfunding rewards, never finishing Moby Dick, and the world's greatest elementary school rock concert.
But as a solo artist, Porter plays her own compositions, which are thoroughly contemporary because of the creative arrangments.
The U-M grad composes the songs and arrangements with notation software, so even though her classically steeped art-pop sounds loose and jammed with details, it doesn't happen through randomness. The woozy blend of strings, piano, wind chimes, marimba, vibraphone, harp, woodwinds, and more are carefully plotted out with specific players in mind.
Porter's first album, 2012's The Child Wrote a Poem, is written like a 15-chapter book set to music. Her latest, 2016's The Summer Sinks, is a song cycle about hurt and redemption, and the music is even more fragmented and quirky than the sounds on her debut. But Porter's flexible voice, which can sound as delicate as a bird outside your window or as ferocious as a crow cawing on your shoulder, shapes the songs through elastic Joni Mitchell-like melodies and her smart, raw lyrics keep your ears attuned to the tune.
With a bachelor in music composition and a minor in creative writing, Porter combines the two disciplines with excellent results. But she's also a visual artist, hand drawing her brand new video, "II," the second promo clip in support of The Summer Sinks.
Now splitting time between her native California and Ann Arbor, Porter talked to us about her solo work, compositional process, the "II" video, and what's on tap for Ensoleil.