At the Crossroads: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet bridges the East and West on its debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

Around the Worlds Quartet: Mike List, Igor Houwat, Dr. Henrik Karapetyan, and Dave Sharp.

The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet is like Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge: a sturdy gateway between the East and West.

The group -- Sharp (bass), Dr. Henrik Karapetyan (violin), Igor Houwat (oud), and Mike List (percussion) -- transports listeners through Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Indian, and American music with reliable strength on its new album, Delta.

Sharp is a busy bandleader who heads up Klezmephonic (klezmer), RAKA (African fusion), and various sizes of world music and jazz groups, from duos to the Secret 7. The Worlds Quartet came together through a chance meeting when Sharp sat in with Wisaal, a Mediterranean fusion group out of Lansing. 

“I subbed on bass with Wisaal for a small number of gigs, where I met Mike List and Igor Houwat and really connected with their Arabic fusion sound,” Sharp said. “Igor also played a few shows with Dave Sharp’s Secret 7 and recorded oud tracks for the second DSS7 release, Worlds. Igor, Mike, and I played a few dates as a trio, and one night we invited [Klezmephonic co-leader] Henrik to sit in with us. Once that happened, we all had a “Wow!” moment and decided to assemble as a quartet.”

Michigan favorites Steppin’ In It celebrate 20 years at The Ark

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Steppin' In It

Photo by JDC Photography.

Years ago in Lansing, a group of guys got together and formed a roots-music band that combined vintage sounds and modern sensibilities. Called Steppin’ In It, the band built up a devoted audience and critical respect in Michigan and beyond as its sound and its songs deepened and matured.

Now, the band itself has become somewhat vintage: Steppin’ In It is marking its 20th anniversary and doing a short concert tour to celebrate, including a May 20 date at The Ark. 

In recent years, the band’s core members have established very successful individual careers. In particular, lead singer/guitarist Joshua Davis has become well known as a solo act, notably placing third in NBC’s singing competition The Voice and becoming the first contestant to sing an original composition on the show. Bassist Dominic John Davis, meanwhile, has worked extensively with rocker Jack White, among others. In fact, the members have become so busy individually that they no longer perform together as Steppin’ In It very often, so the current tour is highly anticipated by their still-loyal fan base.

Joshua Davis and Dominic John Davis recently answered a few questions from Pulp via email.

Liner Notes: Track by track through Ann Arbor Guitar Trio's debut album, "Tides"

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Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

Three's company: Evan Veasey, Adam Kahana, and Alex Anest are the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio. Photo by Pink Moon Photography.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio (A2G3), enjoys the puzzle of arranging for three axes. No rhythmic accompaniment. No additional instruments. Just 18 amplified strings.

"There are so many tunes that I want to arrange for this group," he said. "I could quit everything and just arrange for guitar trios and probably be a pretty happy person doing it." 

The challenges, he said, are "figuring out how to blend and also how to get voices to stand out. I realize that those are opposite challenges but they both come up."

Adam Kahana and Evan Veasey are Anest's partners in Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, whose debut album, Tides, is out May 17, which is also the day the group plays Kerrytown Concert House.

Get Away With She: Nellie McKay wants to escape from it all

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Nellie McKay

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Nellie McKay often seems like she’s at a loss for words.

During our phone conversation to promote the pianist-singer-songwriter’s show at The Ark on May 13, her answers were often preceded by a swarm of ums, uhs, I means, and various other utterances. And when McKay did get to the answers, it wasn’t necessarily in response to my questions, instead offering long vignettes about politics and the stark realities of being a full-time musician. 

On stage, McKay has a similarly discursive way of speaking, mixing funny anecdotes, political pleas, and stammering self-effacement.

But once McKay strikes a piano key, everything flows. Words stream from her gorgeous voice with confidence and warmth. The quirkiness that defines her conversations gives way to sass and power, and listeners get invited into her world -- which is not of this era.

Pluto-cracy: Dr. Alan Stern & Dr. David Grinspoon's "Chasing New Horizons"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon

They chased new horizons with New Horizons: Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon. Photo by Henry Throop.

When the NASA spacecraft New Horizons did a Pluto driveby at 32,000 MPH on July 14, 2015, it was the first close-up view we had of our solar system’s most distant planet.

And yes, it's a full-blown planet, despite what you may have heard on Aug. 24, 2006, when Pluto was reclassified by astronomers as a “dwarf planet.”

Please do not try to tell planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern otherwise.

“What the astronomers did was really a travesty; planetary scientists don’t buy that b.s.,” said Stern, whose new book, Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, recounts the spacecraft mission he led, which provided unprecedented photos and information about the Milky Way's tiny trouper. (He will be at AADL’s downtown branch on Thursday, May 10, at 7 pm.)

“We know what planets are, and if you go to planetary science meetings, Pluto is called a planet every single day,” Stern said. “Don’t follow what the astronomers do any more than if I tried to classify black holes as a non-expert. But the journalists who lapped it up in 2006, if that would have happened in the ‘90s, there would have never been a mission.”

Neighborhood Theatre Group's original comedy "Can I Help You?" romps through customer service

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Neighborhood Theatre Group's cast for Can I Help You?

Anyone who has worked in the customer service industry can agree that it’s a tough business. Everyone has a story about that one customer who is too outrageous to be believed, which may not be so funny in the moment but is hilarious when recounted later. 

When a situation is difficult, you need comedy to help get you through, and Ypsilanti’s Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG) is closing its third season with Can I Help You?, a play that will help you laugh your way out of troubles.

“I've worked in customer service for over 15 years," said NTG cofounder and director Kristin Danko, "and I've been wanting to do a show about the service industry for a while. A sketch comedy show seemed like the perfect outlet.” 

Story of a Lifetime: Irene Butter shares her tale so people will never forget

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Irene Butter and her book Shores Beyond Shores

Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.

"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."

And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. (Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)

Annual Bloom: A guide to the 2018 Water Hill Music Fest

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Water Hill Music Fest is the crocus flower of Ann Arbor street parties.

Whether the weather is warm or chilly, sunny or drizzly, crocuses emerge every spring. So does this neighborhood-centric celebration of creativity, which bursts to life annually the first Sunday in May.

More than 75 bands will perform between 2-6 pm on Sunday, May 6, on their own lawns, their neighbors' backyards, and porches across the Water Hill neighborhood -- which was only dubbed that name when the music festival began in 2012. (The Water Hill area is now an established part of mapping programs and a useful tool for real-estate agents).

Most of the music at Water Hill meets at the folk/roots/blues/country/Americana axis, but everything from jazz and punk rock to children's bands and DJs will take part. And it's all free.

João Luiz & Danilo Brito strip down Brazilian choro to its essence

MUSIC PREVIEW

Joao Luiz & Danilo Brito by Sascha von Oertzen

João Luiz and Danilo Brito by Sascha von Oertzen

When Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito played Kerrytown Concert House on April 1, 2017, he brought a traditional choro quartet with him: 7-string guitar, guitar, cavaquinho, and percussion.

For his April 29 show this year at Kerrytown, Brito is down to the essentials, pairing with guitarist João Luiz, one half of the Brasil Guitar Duo and an equal to the mandolinist in terms of choro adoration and acumen. The setlist will draw from compositions by Jacob do Bandolim, Orlando Silveira, Edurado Souto, and Pixinguinha as well as Brito and Luiz.

So, what is choro?

Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

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Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.