Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Out of the Ether: Nancy And Beth conjure musical beauty from the fifth dimension

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nancy and Beth

Most of us know Megan Mullally as boozy, unapologetically solipsistic Karen Walker on Will & Grace, and also perhaps as Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman’s real-life partner, but not as a former dancer and Broadway performer. 

This is likely why you’d be surprised to learn that Mullally, in recent years, has teamed up with another multi-talented artist, Stephanie Hunt (who played lesbian bass-player Devin on Friday Night Lights), to form a music duo called Nancy And Beth, which will perform at The Ark on Monday, April 23

Where did the arbitrary names Nancy And Beth come from (complete with a capitalized And)? The answer will tell you a great deal about the two women’s soulmate-like friendship.

“The ether,” said Mullally.

“I was going to say ‘the ether’!” cried Hunt.

Smooth Souls: Cory Wong, Antwaun Stanley & Jacob Sigman at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

Cory Wong

After seeing Theo Katzman at The Blind Pig a few weeks ago, I had been restlessly awaiting the concert there by a couple of his Vulfpeck bandmates, guitarist Cory Wong with vocalist Antwaun Stanley

When I got to the gig there were around 40 people milling about, mostly men in their 20s and 30s. As the night went on, more people arrived and the room filled up until we all standing shoulder to shoulder. 

Generation A: U-M's United Asian American Organizations feted the diaspora in song & dance

MUSIC REVIEW

Minji Kim by Brian Lin

Minji Kim of Seoul Juice on stage at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Photo by Brian Lin.

On April 7, over 500 of the University of Michigan’s Asian Pacific Islander America (APIA) students gathered in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre for the 23rd annual Generation APA Cultural Show. Organized by the student-run coalition United Asian American Organizations (UAAO), GenAPA is a pan-Asian cultural show that features traditional, modern, and fusion performances of different Asian backgrounds to celebrate the dual diversity and unity within the Asian diaspora.

This was my fourth year attending and the second year performing as a part of Seoul Juice, a Korean-American singing and instrumental cover group, alongside performances like Vietnamese and Chinese fan dances, Korean traditional percussion and pop, Indian classical dance and song, Mongolian instruments, spoken word, hip-hop dancing, and more. 

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra closed its season with a Spanish tinge

MUSIC REVIEW

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra logo

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra wrapped up its 2017-2018 schedule on April 17 with a sonic Spanish tapas along with an exploration of a once-controversial French piece steeped in Germanic influences.

This was my first time in the magnificent Hill Auditorium. While I was reading the program before most of the orchestra came out, I heard a deep, stirring, bellow of a note from the stage. As a bass clarinetist myself, I recognized it as one of the lowest notes that can be played on the instrument. For me, the sound signified that it was going to be an enjoyable night.

Shaman Sounds: Abdullah Ibrahim at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor

Detroit baritone saxophonist Alex Harding (pictured far right) joined Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Abdullah Ibrahim's concert at the Michigan Theater on April 13 began like all his shows: the pianist alone on stage with his instrument, playing a meditative piece filled with sustained chords, floating harmonies, and a sound that slipped naturally from Bach to blues. Then Cleave Guyton (flute) and Noah Jackson (cello) joined Ibrahim for the chamber-jazz piece "Dream Time" from 2014's Mukashi.

It was in these solo and trio moments that listeners could best appreciate the 83-year-old Ibrahim's piano playing -- because otherwise, he didn't play much at all.

In Extremis: Colin Stetson’s interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 pushes it to the edge

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Colin Stetson

Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 is nearly an hour-long dive into anguish.

But rather than sounding angry, aggressive, or atonal, the three movements that comprise Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” are stunningly beautiful.

Symphony No. 3 is filled with dolor, but the modal framework, simple harmonies, and gentile repetition give the music a familiar and comforting feeling despite being inspired by stories and songs of mothers and children being separated by war.

On the album Sorrow -- A Reimagining of Górecki's Third Symphony, Ann Arbor native Colin Stetson tweaks the mega-popular work in a way that stays true to the composition’s raw emotional state while also diving deeper into its deep well of gorgeous despair. (You can hear Stetson and 11 other musicians in the Sorrow band, including Ann Arbor’s Justin Walter (EVI, synths), Dan Bennett (sax), and Andrew Bishop (sax), perform the piece at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, April 14.)

Real Cool Times: WCBN's "Local Music Show" has documented Michigan music for the past 20+ years

MUSIC INTERVIEW

WCBN Local Music Show logo

WCBN's Local Music Show's (LMS) is a staggering live performance archive of southeast Michigan music stretching back to 2003 -- and that's not even a complete archive of the program.

"It seems like no one really knows when it started, but I think it was at least the mid-'90s," says Shelley Salant, a longtime LMS host. Offering an eclectic mix of both recordings and in-studio performances by area musicians, the show has become something of an institution not only at its host station 88.3 FM but within southeast Michigan's music community itself.

"As One" opera explores a trans woman's journey to find her true voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

As One composer Laura Kaminsky. Photo by Rebecca Allan.

As One composer Laura Kaminsky says the work didn't follow a typical path for creating an opera. Photo by Rebecca Allan.

Those who don't closely follow the opera world may not think of the artform as a medium that addresses issues any less than a century old. But the 2014 opera As One, which will run April 6-7 at the Kerrytown Concert House, addresses one of the biggest social issues in our current public discourse: the experience and rights of transgender people.

A Welcome Return: Theo Katzman at the Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

Theo Katzman

Theo Katzman's show at The Blind Pig sold out weeks before the show date. When I say that people were excited to see Katzman's return to Ann Arbor, I mean it: The line at The Blind Pig was already snaking its way down the block 20 minutes before doors opened. 

Theo Katzman studied jazz at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s. Since then Katzman has toured with the band Ella Riot, created the trio Love Massive, and released his first album, Romance Without Finance, in 2011. Katzman is also a prominent member of the funk band Vulfpeck, which has toured with Darren Criss and played on The Late Show with Steven Colbert. In 2017, Katzman debuted his latest album, Heartbreak Hits

Katzman's no stranger to playing The Blind Pig and fans were happy to have him back. I spoke to one woman who said that she hasn't missed one of Katzman's shows since she got her license in 2012. Once, she saw Katzman play at The Blind Pig and then drove to Chicago the next day to see him again.