Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of “Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman”

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the least understood person in the room.

This story originally ran December 5, 2016.

Ornette Coleman’s music can be inscrutable to unprepared ears. The jazz giant, who died in 2015 at 85, developed a music theory he called “harmolodics.” It’s a style that goes beyond the “free jazz” tag that frequently accompanies Coleman’s name -- even if the alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist did release a genre-defining record under that name in 1960 -- and relies as much on a philosophical idea as a musical one. Simply put: Harmolodics is about race.

Harmolodic theory can baffle experienced musicians, too. Even guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, who played with Coleman for 6 years, said, “I don’t get it!” in a new book called Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology at the University of Michigan.

But Professor Rush, who has taught at U-M for more than 30 years, breaks down Coleman’s complicated theories in a series of free-flowing interviews with the legendary composer that clarify harmolodics’ underlying philosophy. Plus, the book’s in-depth musical examinations will help students absorb the style into their own playing.

In addition to being a U-M prof, keyboardist Rush has a staggeringly wide body of work that includes everything from chamber jazz and opera to digital music and sound installations, and he explores harmolodics (and all sorts of other styles) in his Naked Dance quartet.

To celebrate the release of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, Rush is doing two area readings: Wednesday, December 7, at Literati (Ann Arbor) and Sunday, December 11, at Trinosophes (Detroit). Both are at 7 p.m. (For the Literati event, Rush is joined by Jason Corey, associate dean and associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, who just released a new edition of his book Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training.)

Rush answered questions over email about Coleman and the book, and he gave Pulp a list of recommended recordings that illustrate harmolodics at its finest.

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine: Volume 4

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Radio Cassette from Pixabay

Image by Vectronom Studios from Pixabay.

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (These are all studio recordings or professionally shot videos; visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is here.

Volume three is here.

Volume four is below and features music/videos from Virga, The Kelseys, Dre Dav/Flight Team, Laurel Halo, Tadd Mullinix/JTC, TwoFace Suave, Drew Denton/Druzi Baby, and Sean Curtis Patrick.

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine: Volume 3

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Washtenaw music in the time of quaratine: Volume 3

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (These are all studio recordings or professionally shot videos; visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is here.

Volume three is below featuring music from Sean Curtis Patrick, Vulfpeck, Linen Ray, Anna Burch, Stormy Chromer, and Andrew Brown's Djangophonic.

NEW WASHTENAW MUSIC IN THE TIME OF QUARANTINE: VOLUME 2

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New Washtenaw Music in the Time of Quarantine: Volume 2

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (These are all studio recordings or professionally shot videos; visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is below:

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine

MUSIC

Boy screaming into microphone

As I was compiling new releases by Washtenaw-area musicians, my browser crashed under the weight of having 4,796 tabs open. Happens.

Here are the releases I could recall from my brain's memory cache, which is also ready to crash:

Quaranstreams Overload: A quick guide to finding Washtenaw-area concert streams

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Quaranstream Overload

Portrait of the author as he's about to begin his own livestream concert (if he didn't look anything like this and was an image on a royalty-free stock-photo website).

When the quarantine started, we tracked all the livestreams we could find by Washtenaw musicians and published them on Pulp. Now that every musician who has access to an instrument and internet connection is playing a videostream concert, it's been near impossible to keep up. So here's the best way to find livestreams by Ann Arbor-area musicians:

Visit their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. Obvs. Just punch in the name of a musician you enjoy and you're likely to find something you'd like to watch.
Ann Arbor Loves Live Music was the most active of several concert-promoting groups on Facebook before the quarantine. Now it's the most active group to find links to livestreams.
If you like jazz, there's no better place to find out about Washtenaw livestreams, musicians, and album releases than the Facebook group Lifting Up A2 Jazz, run by the indefatigable Jennifer Pollard. It was a tremendous resource to find out about area jazz concerts in the pre-corona era and it continues in this capacity during the quaranstream era.
Search Facebook's Events section for things happening in Ann Arbor. And because nothing else is happening, you'll find all the musician livestreams in the Washtenaw area by artists who posted their concerts as Events.

I wish I could give you links to something other than Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, but I haven't seen many livestream links on Twitter or anywhere else. The only other thing I can think of is to subscribe to musicians' YouTube pages; some artists have been using the livestream feature there instead of Facebook Live. Twitch is another resource, especially for DJ sets, but I only know of two area groups doing streams there: MEMCO and Wax Kings.

Now, stay home and watch MY livestream featuring me learning how to play trumpet as I toe-strum a distorted electric guitar at top volume and my dogs run back and forth over synthesizer keys as they manically bark at imaginary delivery trucks.


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Nessa’s new album explores an “Otherworld” as well as our own

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Nessa's Kelly McDermott

The third album from Ann Arbor's Nessa showcases an ensemble remaining true to its roots while stretching out thematically.

Led by flutist/vocalist Kelly McDermott, the band continues to develop its own particular strain of Celtic-inspired world music. And on the new album, Otherworld, that sound serves to explore two specific themes: of women finding truth and a prayer for the planet.

Joining McDermott in the core band are Rob Crozier on bass and other instruments; Dan Palmer, guitars; Mike List, percussion; Rick Beamon, drums; and Brian Brill, keyboards. Brill and McDermott produced the record.

The album opens with a composition about another world and devotes its second half to an “Elemental Suite” celebrating our own world. The title track is a haunting, flute-led instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come. Thoughtful and enchanting, it effectively suggests the idea of another dimension. Written by Crozier, “RGB Reel” -- inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg -- showcases his expert bass playing. Dan Palmer’s “Buiochas” is a beautiful take on Irish jazz. 

The music on Otherworld is largely original compositions, but the band also weaves in reinventions of traditional songs, further extending the notion of both staying rooted and reaching out. “Sovay” is mellow and jazzy, while “Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” has an almost reggae feel. And “Stitch in Time” even manages to successfully work in rap elements.

The four parts of the closing suite each evoke their particular element. “Air for St. Brigid” features gorgeous wordless vocals; “Singing Waters” uses water sounds and a flute that suggests a flowing river. “Fire Dance” takes listeners from embers to a roaring blaze.

McDermott answered a few questions about the new album via email.

Video Premiere: Evan Haywood's politically pointed "Do Right by My Kin"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Evan Haywood's Perfumed Gardens is a gutbucket folk-rock album soaked in reverb and passion. In addition to 11 Haywood originals, he covers songs by Cody ChesnuTT, Gypsy Trips, Dave Bixby, and Roy Acuff, all while evoking Bob Dylan circa his Rolling Thunder Revue stage where he played with loose abandon.

The album came out in August 2018, but the Ann Arbor-based Haywood didn't release a video for songs on the album -- until now.  

"Do Right by My Kin," which premieres here on Pulp, is a screed against the rise of far-right conservatism, racism, and hatred that has increased in the United States since the 2016 election. The song's targets are obvious and so is Haywood's rage when he sings, "Do me a favor and do right by my kin / Better love your neighbor / Or we gonna make you pay for your sin."

I talked with Haywood over email about why he decided to release the video now, how it was created, and the song's influences, as well as the status of two other projects he's working on: the long-delayed new album by the hip-hop collective Tree City and a film he shot about Jamaica's music and politics.

Extended Stay: Lotus Hotel offers tranquil indie rock accommodations

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Lotus Hotel

Tim Everett of Lotus Hotel. Photo by Erin Wakeland.

Ann Arbor indie rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tim Everett opened the doors to his Lotus Hotel project more than a year ago and began booking a local following with four hypnotic, stirring singles filled with poetic lyrics, soulful vocals, and a sound that strives to transport people away from their everyday lives.

“I love the idea of playing with time and the idea of inviting listeners into a space where it’s completely removed from reality," Everett said. "It’s like a different dimension where you can leave yourself at the door and leave whatever worries you have elsewhere and just kind of be in that nice space with good sounds for a while."

One Time on Bandcamp: A partial list of Washtenaw County bands and musicians on the site

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Bandcamp logo with Michigan map

Bandcamp is already independent artists' favorite way to sell their music, but acts like this deepen the love:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales today (Friday, March 20th, from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

With that in mind, here are all the Washtenaw-area acts and labels on Bandcamp we could gather before the internet went glitchy. (Bandcamp is being slammed today, so the embeds below might take a while to load; we'll try to update the post as the WWW settles down. You can also search for Washtenaw-area artists if they tagged a town in their profiles. Here are links to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti artists.)