Set the Controls for the "Heart" of the Sum: Robert Spalding Newcomb's music adds form to freedom

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Robert Spalding Newcomb's Dance of the Heart

Robert Spalding Newcomb, Ken Kozora, and Erik Gottesman performing "Dance of the Heart" on March 13, 2018, at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.

In "The Heart Sutra," one of Buddhism's most famous texts, there's a line that's often translated as "form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form."

I don't know if this particular sutra informed Robert Spalding Newcomb's structured improvisation "Dance of the Heart," but this long-form piece revels in the sort of free-flowing ambiance that feels simultaneously disembodied and corporeal. The music is an ode to freedom and that freedom helps shape the music's form.

Newcomb is a polymath -- computer expert, software developer, yoga teacher, stringed-instrument virtuoso (guitar, sitar) -- who combines all his talents to create modern music that's rooted in ancient traditions. "Dance of the Heart" is a reflection of that unique skillset, combining electronic percussion, synths, and effects-laden guitar.

"Dance of the Heart" premiered March 13, 2018, at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti -- you can watch the high-quality video here -- with Newcomb (guitar, sitar, laptop), Ken Kozora (electronic and acoustic percussion, iPad, trumpet), and Erik Gottesman (analog synthesizers, bio-sensors with EEG/shortwave/Theremin-style gesture proximity and ribbon controllers). The trio is reuniting at Riverside Arts for another performance of "Dance of the Heart" on 

Newcomb explained the concept behind "Dance of the Heart" in an email interview:

Jimi Hendrix's Experience: Jas Obrecht's "Stone Free" goes deep into the guitar great's transformative 10 months in London

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jas Obrecht and Jimi Hendrix

The life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has been explored in numerous biographies and documentaries, so you could be forgiven for being skeptical as to why the world needs another book about the man widely considered to be the greatest guitarist of all time and a major influence on the sound of rock music. Jas Obrecht's new offering on the subject, however, takes a much closer look at a specific period in the life of Hendrix.

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966-June 1967 is a detailed, day by day look into the guitar great's arrival in England and his rapid rise from obscurity to fame. Obrecht's book puts into perspective just how quickly and completely Hendrix revolutionized pop music. The supporting cast is a who's who of British rock icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, and many others. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the author, who has written nearly 200 cover stories for Guitar Player and other music magazines as well as a number of books on blues and rock.

Obrecht will be reading from his new book on Thursday, February 14, 7 pm, at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Below is the conversation we had, slightly edited for flow.

Call Me: Telephon9 rings up dance-floor-friendly electro-pop

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Telephon9

Telephon9 is from the birthplace of techno, which the Detroit trio blends with pop/EDM and house to create upbeat music that's full of pulsating energy.

Founder Chris Call, Jair Alexander, and Adari “BaseMODE” Perkins count Black Eyed Peas, Daft Punk, Calvin Harris, and Outkast among their influences, and all the members contribute writing, production, and vocals to Telephon9's infectious sound: when their music starts, you’re ready to dance. 

Telephon9 will perform at AADL's downtown branch on Friday, February 8 at 7 pm in concert as a part of the library’s Black History Month programming. We spoke with the group about their journey from acting to music, the Ann Arbor music scene, their upcoming studio release, and more. 

Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire Flow Through "Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction" edited by Anne-Marie Oomen

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Anne-Marie Oomen and her book Elemental

Photo of Anne-Marie Oomen by Emily Mae Harpe

Can you fully know a place?

This might be a trick question. As a Michigan native, I have an intimate knowledge of the state, but there are still new things to learn about it. There are unexplored towns, myriad events, acres of forest, and miles of shoreline.

Plus, my understanding of Michigan comes from my perspective, which is one reason why I appreciated the original views and varied essays in the recently published Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction edited by Anne-Marie Oomen

Elemental contains 24 essays, each presenting a unique angle on the state. Some are deeply rooted in Michigan places and characteristics, and others more tenuously tied to the state. All relate to an element -- earth, water, wind, fire -- present in Michigan. Elemental is a 2019 Michigan Notable Book, a Library of Michigan award for books published in the previous year. 

Oomen, a writer with an essay included in Elemental, pens poetry, nonfiction, and plays. Her books include The Lake Michigan Mermaid with Linda Nemec Foster, Pulling Down the Barn, House of Fields, An American Map: Essays, Uncoded Woman, and Love, Sex and 4-H. She has also edited Looking Over My Shoulder: Reflections on the Twentieth Century. Her seven plays include Secrets of Luuce Talk Tavern. In addition to her writing, she is an instructor at the Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College and Interlochen College of Creative Arts. 

Oomen will speak with a panel of authors from Elemental at Literati Bookstore on Monday, February 11, at 7 pm. The panel will include Ari L. Mokdad, Alison Swan, Michael Steinberg, and Keith Taylor. All will read and discuss Michigan literature.

Here, Oomen answers questions about Elemental, Michigan, and her writing. 

Skyline grad and WCC student Sam Martin is on his way to making history

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sam Martin

You might not know Sam Martin at the moment, but at the rate he's going, you will soon.

This young poet and speaker has a bright future ahead of him and he’s only getting started. I first met the young star during an event at AADL last summer in which he was an attendee. He had an eager spirit and later I was introduced to his speaking videos on YouTube. Most notably, he has done two TEDx Talks through an opportunity at Ann Arbor’s own Skyline High School. Both of these videos have together racked up thousands of views.

These days, Martin attends Washtenaw Community College and is passionate about spoken-word poetry, entrepreneurship, and sharing his thoughts and views on the world at large. He also enjoys writing and performing poetry at Neutral Zone.

Martin and several other young adult performers from Neutral Zone will present a live showcase on February 5 at AADL entitled “I Am Making History” where they will discuss their current contributions to society and black culture for Black History Month. I had an opportunity to speak with Martin regarding his TEDx Talks, his favorite black cultural figure, his inspiration behind speeches, and more.

Relentless Forward Progress: Ellen Rowe's "Momentum" seeks to inspire women in jazz and beyond

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ellen Rowe and her album Momentum

University of Michigan's Ellen Rowe is the world's first female chair of a major university jazz department, and last year she was one of four faculty members to be honored as an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. Interim Dean Melody Racine said Rowe engaged in “concrete and repeated steps to build a sense of teamwork, mutual support, and collegiality within the department."

That desire to cross bridges and engage with people extends to Rowe's music, too, and is particularly evident on the pianist's new album, Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion.

Recorded at the U-M studio in the Duderstadt building, each of Momentum's eight compositions is dedicated to a woman or women who have influenced Rowe.

"What was fun was to pick women that really mattered to me and who had made a difference in my life from the time I was 8 or 9 up til now and write music for them," Rowe said in a video interview about Momentum

"Some of the readings I was doing about race and social justice, I just came across really incredible women that I had no idea about, who started NAACP chapters, they started schools, they started colleges, they had been at the forefronts of the civil rights marches, and yet we don't hear about them," she said. "Women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Amelia Boynton, Septima Clark, Mary McLeod Bethune, and I just thought, 'Where are these women?' We need to know about these women -- I need to know about these women. And certainly, young women -- and part of this project, of course, involves mentoring -- I want to be able to talk about these women when I go out and play this music."

Great Lakes Soundtrack: Sean Curtis Patrick and Benoît Pioulard team up for an LP that feels like destiny

MUSIC PREVIEW

Patrick & Piolard's Avocationals LP cover

Cover art by Sean Curtis Patrick’s father, Lynn Curtis Patrick: The Sinking of the Bradley, 1983. Created with graphite, charcoal, and collage.

Ann Arbor musician and video artist Sean Curtis Patrick is teaming up with Haslet, Michigan native Benoît Pioulard (née Thomas Meluch) for a concept album that these prolific ambient musicians were destined to create. Avocationals is about nine shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and Patrick posted a teaser video on Instagram:

Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s "Dying Well" looks at his wife's well-lived life and how she handled the end

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bill Kellerman and his book Dying Well

We are a society that doesn’t talk much about dying well -- heck, we don’t really like to talk about dying, period.

But Bill Wylie-Kellermann ponders both in a loving memoir about his wife, Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, which he will discuss at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Thursday, January 24 at 7 pm.

The love story began when Bill met Jeanie in 1982. Both were arrested and charged with conspiracy charges after protest actions at Williams International in Walled Lake, Michigan.

“We were both nonviolent community activists,” says Bill. “And we both were held at the Oakland County jail after the arrests. We had to go back and forth to court pretty regularly. We always tried to make sure we were handcuffed side by side in the van that took us to circuit court.”

Those close quarters eventually led to love and marriage as the couple continued their work in Detroit, where Bill was born and where he attended Cooley High School. Jeanie served as a journalist, filmmaker, and writer. Bill grew into roles as a writer, teacher, United Methodist minister, and community activist. They had children, settled into a meaningful life together.

But then in 1998, something happened.

Queer Eye for the "Gurl Groups and Boi Bands": Out Loud Chorus sings the hits

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Out Loud Chorus

You've got the girl groups, from The Supremes to En Vogue.

And you've got the boy bands, from The Temptations to The Backstreet Boys.

But for the Out Loud Chorus' annual winter concerts, you've got the “Gurl Groups and Boi Bands,” a program of music that plays to the ensemble's unique nature.

“We are unusual because a lot of gay and lesbian choirs are all men or all women,” says Out Loud Chorus board member Tim Hamann. “We have always been a mixed group, truly a community chorus.” 

During the January 18 and 19 performances, expect to hear music from Motown groups, '90s boy bands, Destiny’s Child, The Andrews Sisters, The King’s Singers, and more.

"'Gurl Groups and Boi Bands' will be set up like an episode of The Voice," says Hamann. “But we are calling it The Queer Voice. Then we will have skits peppered throughout the program.”

August Heat: Stephen Mack Jones' ex-detective solves crimes in multifaceted Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Stephen Mack Jones and his book Lives Laid Away

The Motor City is as much of a character as ex-police detective August Snow in Lives Laid Away, and author Stephen Mack Jones had many reasons for setting the story in Motown.

“Detroit is a very diverse city -- most people outside of Detroit don’t realize how diverse it is. They see only in terms of black and white. But … a variety of people from all over who wound up here," Jones says. "I wanted to create a character that was representative of the two largest minorities in Detroit: African-American and Mexican-American. These are two minority groups that have never really seen eye to eye. And for August, I wanted him to be the product of two cultures that have often clashed but feel no personal dichotomy. He feels he has the best of both worlds ... he has pride in both cultures. And he’s comfortable with himself. I wanted people to know that is achievable -- that you can be a product of two cultures, two peoples and be at peace with who you are.”