From Hip-Hop to Folk-Pop: Nadim Azzam showcases his hybrid sound on a new EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nadim Azzam band

Nadim Azzam has a lot on his plate. He’s launching a new "music-based, local-focused media company," writing new songs, and doing social media and marketing as part of his day job.

But he’s recently carved out some time to record a five-song EP with the band he’s been fronting in recent years. Even as his new music is adding more electronic elements, he wanted to honor and preserve the sound he’s become known for -- a smooth, seamless combination of acoustic pop and hip-hop.

Azzam makes the blend work perfectly, with a typical song offering up a catchy guitar hook and traditionally structured lyrics that slide directly into a rap break and then back again. He’ll showcase the sound -- and in particular, the songs on the new EP -- at a Blind Pig show on March 15. (CDs will be available at the show; the EP hits streaming services in April.)

Korde Arrington Tuttle and The National's Bryce Dessner examine photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work through song in "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely.

By the time the singers, musicians, and iconoclastic images of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe take the stage at Ann Arbor's Power Center on Friday, March 15, everything should be in place for the premiere of a new UMS-commissioned work examining the late photographer's work and legacy through song.

But just a little over a week ago, composer Bryce Dessner admitted some tweaks were still being made.

"With these types of new works, the music and the staging and the piece is always evolving," he said. "The ink is still drying, so we can kind of feel that, which I think is exciting. There are some last-minute changes I'm making to the score. By the time it gets to Ann Arbor, it will have settled more."

"It" is Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a re-examining of Mapplethorpe's work 29 years after the famous obscenity trial over a retrospective of his photographs in Cincinnati -- and 30 years after the artist died of AIDS -- made a lasting impression on a teenage Dessner.

Produced by Thomas Kriegsman at ArKtype, with music by Dessner, libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, and direction by Kaneza Schaal, the show also features Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth with soloists Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson.

Dessner has a Wiki entry full of impressive composing credits; he's performed with new music giants, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Lang; and he plays guitar in Grammy-winning indie rock band The National, which also plays Hill Auditorium on June 25 in support of its latest record, I Am Easy to Find

I caught up with the prolific musician by phone on the eve of Triptych's music premier at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.

Ypsilanti poet Rob Halpern's "Weak Link" connects the personal and the political

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Halpern and his book Weak Link

Cover image: Dee Dee Kramer from Corrugated Love Poem 16: Being Seen (2013)

Ypsilanti writer and Eastern Michigan University professor Rob Halpern considers the relationship between the personal body and political violence in his new book, Weak Link. Through several forms ranging from poetry to numerical essay, Weak Link examines physicality, art, politics, and war, among other topics, and also is self-referential. 

How the writing is working and what it is doing are explicitly addressed and questioned within the text itself. How do we understand and connect with that which we haven’t experienced? How do we go beyond ourselves and situations while still recognizing where we are and what is? What can poetry be and do? These questions and many more populate the collection. 

The text expresses a desire to make connections between the public and the personal, between socio-political issues and the self who is interacting with them. At times reading like a stream of consciousness and at others like a well-plotted argument, Weak Link simultaneously consists of a thought experiment, aspirational view of poetry, and penetrating depiction of reality. 

Halpern expands on his writing and Weak Link in this Pulp Q&A. He will read from Weak Link on Friday, March 8, at 7 pm at Literati Bookstore. 

Come Together: Ann Arbor Concert Band and the men's choral society Measure for Measure join together for a concert

MUSIC PREVIEW

Ann Arbor Concert Band practicing

When we think of Ann Arbor traditions, the usual suspects pop up: Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor Art Fair, Top of the Park, Hash Bash, U-M football.

Maybe the Ann Arbor Concert Band isn’t as high profile as the institutions listed above, but it has been carving out its own tradition by bringing affordable, high-quality classical music concerts to the community for the past 40 years.

The men’s choral society Measure for Measure has also long established itself, singing together since 1998.

These two musical institutions are coming together March 10 at Hill Auditorium to present a concert dubbed “Festive Winds and Voices.”

Huron High student reflects on what Claudia Rankin's "Citizen: An American Lyric" means to her for Big Read Ann Arbor

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Ciatta Tucker and the Neutral Zone's Big Read

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book ... [and] aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor is sponsoring a series of Big Read events focusing on Claudia Rankin's "Citizen: An American Lyric." Huron High School junior Ciatta Tucker wrote about what the book means to her.

As a child, I loved reading books whether it was chapter books, graphic novels, comics, poetry, etc. I went to the local library so frequently that I became familiar and was on a first-name basis with the staff and other workers there. I was labeled as a gifted reader and at one point checked out more than 20 books at once.

Rhythm and the Blues: Kristianna explores heartbreak stories on "Too Late to Be Sorry"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Kristianna

Kristianna didn't mean to write a concept record about relationships. The Ypsilanti native wrote the five songs on Too Late to Be Sorry over five years "and once I came up with the concept, I placed them carefully in order to tell the story," she said.

The slow-jam R&B tunes are bookended by two voicemails, which tie together the tale.

"The album concept is all about communication, or the lack of, using telecommunication, and is meant to be heard in the track order," said Kristianna. "So the intro is the girl calling this guy letting him know her feelings through these songs, then you hear voicemails throughout the project back and forth from the female and the male perspective. The outro is him calling back after he listened to the mixtape that was made for him, leaving the listener ready for part two."

Vern Smith’s novel "The Green Ghetto" aims to be an urban Western set in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Vern Smith, The Green Ghetto

“Overnight I found my love affair with Detroit slipping away. My worldview changed," said author Vern Smith, speaking of his experience in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Smith said, “Detroit was my second hometown. I started sneaking over the border when I was 11 and found my culture there.  Can’t tell you how many live shows I’ve seen there because it was so easy to access pre-9/11. Then it changed so abruptly and [the two cities] were being kept apart.”

Smith’s novel The Green Ghetto takes place a year after the New York attacks, which was about the same time the former journalist and broadcaster started working on short stories.

Joe Bauer's "Robots vs. Aliens" is a multimedia art project, concept album, and mailed mystery tale

MUSIC VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Robots vs. Aliens

It may sound like a movie title ripe for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 show, but Robots vs. Aliens is the name of a new multimedia art project by Joe Bauer, an Ann Arbor-based musician and co-founder of the North Coast Modular Collective

Produced under Bauer's stage name, Verzerren, Robots vs. Aliens is comprised of a concept album featuring modular synthesizers, illustrations, mailed letters and postcards, and performances at Riverside Arts Center in conjunction with the new exhibition Towards/Past the Future, which explores "technology, society, and identity through the lens of science fiction."

Set 100 years into the future, Robots vs. Aliens tells the story of humans and cyborgs living together, but their equilibrium is disrupted when peaceful dispatches from extraterrestrials are misinterpreted. The robots revolt, aliens invade, at the Earth is devastated. But the remaining humans have a chance at redemption when intercepted messages are sent back in time in hopes that people will read them and make different choices to induce an alternative future. This is where the postcards and letters by Bauer and artist Aaron Graff come into play: participants will receive these documents in the mail over a two-week period with the object of piecing together the story and solving the mystery of how humanity can save itself.

I asked Bauer some questions over email about the inspirations and ideas behind Robots vs. Aliens, which you can also listen to below.

Theatre Nova’s Playwrights Festival lets the audience help writers find their voice 

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michigan Playwrights Festival 2019

Playwrights begin with an idea. They imagine a setting, develop a cast of characters, and write a script. But that’s just the beginning. A director and actors will breathe life into the writer’s words. Only then can a writer get a feel for whether his or her play hits its mark.

That’s where the semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova provides an important service to playwrights and a great opportunity for theatergoers to see an original play in its infancy.

“Playwrights tell us how valuable it is to hear their play read out loud by professional actors in front of an audience,” said Diane Hill, producing artistic director of Theatre Nova, in an email interview. “They can see if what they thought was funny actually receives laughs or if what they thought might be a poignant moment falls flat. They also listen to the audience discussion that follows the reading concerning its positives and negatives which can sometimes lead to script alterations.”

Five new plays by Michigan playwrights will be presented March 6-10 in staged readings at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.