Get H.I.P. with Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble at Kerrytown Concert House

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Kahil

Kahil El'Zabar pounds out consciousness-raising rhythms.

After graduating college and spending a year abroad in Ghana, Kahil El'Zabar came home to Chicago excited to tell his dad what he wanted to do with his life.

"I’m gonna play in a badass band," El'Zabar recalled telling him. "No bass, no piano, no guitar, no chromatic chordal instrument to set the tonic sensibility of the music."

His new vision called for a tonal center set by the "various rhythmic impulses" and "harmonic syntax of the music," African influences, and "urban contemporary expression" from his own experience.

"And he says, 'Man, it sounds hip, boy. But you’ll never make a living.'"

A Family Affair: "I'll Be Seeing You" at U-M’s Arthur Miller Theatre

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I'll Be Seeing You

Actor John DeMerell plays Charles, father of I'll Be Seeing You playwright David Kiley.

Because nearly 900 letters were exchanged between soldier-journalist Charles Kiley and his fiancee, Billee Gray, during World War II, Ann Arbor’s David Kiley has an amazing window into not only his parents’ courtship, and their lives as young adults, but also what it was like to live in that era, both on the front lines and at home.

For this reason, he collaborated with his sister (Anne Kiley) and brother-in-law (Thomas Pellechia) to edit their 2015 book, Writing the War: Chronicles of a World War II Correspondent. But because Kiley -- director of communication at U-M’s Ross School of Business and publisher/editor-in-chief of the professional theater website EncoreMichigan.com -- is passionate about theater, he soon started thinking about how to adapt the material into a stage play.

The resulting show, I’ll Be Seeing You, will have its world premiere at U-M’s Arthur Miller Theatre this weekend, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. In the show, two actors play Charles and Billee as they write and read each other’s letters; plus, two radio singers perform music from that era, while a radio announcer -- played by Kiley, who’s also making his directing debut -- offers news from the front.

Strings Theory: Chris Eldridge and Julian Lage at The Ark

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Guitarists Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge have formidable track records in jazz and bluegrass, respectively. Lage has worked with Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline and more. Eldridge is widely known as a member of the innovative Punch Brothers.

So when Lage and Eldridge play as a duo -- on their new album Mount Royal, their 2015 gem Avalon and their 2013 five-track EP Close to Picture -- there’s a whole universe of music open to them, a wide range of shared tastes and enthusiasms.

Playing rare Martin acoustic guitars from 1937 (Eldridge) and 1939 (Lage), they survey the varied lineage of acoustic music and Americana while pursuing their own contemporary aesthetic. The music is improvisational, lyrical, whimsical, textural, and highly virtuosic. While Eldridge sang on much of Avalon, Mount Royal is mainly instrumental, though there are two vocal covers of bluegrass classics and even a reading of one of Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs. We caught up with them shortly before their February 27 gig at The Ark.

The "Plague" Year: Hate Unbound celebrates album debut at Ypsi's Maidstone Theatre

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Hate Unbound

Hate Unbound offers a boundless hatred of boundraries.

There’s a whole mess of influences on Hate Unbound’s debut album, Plague, which came out on the Finnish label Inverse Records. Reviewers have mentioned brutal bands (Lamb of God, Gojira, Hatebreed) along with thrashier groups (Exodus) and death metal pioneers (Death) -- but not enough have acknowledged Hate Unbound’s occasional laser-sharp deployment of twin-lead guitars, evoking classic Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.

“I actually wanted to be KK Downing when I grew up,” said guitarist Daryl Mitchell, naming the ax partner of Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest. (Hate Unbound's other guitarist, William Cundiff, is Mitchell's Tipton.)

But don’t mistake Hate Unbound’s love of twin leads fool you: This southeastern Michigan group, which includes bassist Sean Demura and drummer Franklin "Foot" Hannah, is primarily about pummeling you with riffs, not tickling you with harmonized solos.

You'll be able to have your chest caved in by said riffs when Hate Unbound celebrates the release of Plague at the Maidstone Theatre in Ypsilanti on Saturday, February 18. We talked to Mitchell and vocalist Art Giammara about the Plague year, song meanings, and whether too many influences is too many.

While reading our chat, stream all of Plague at Zero Tolerance Magazine.

No One Thing Without the Other: Dave Douglas Quintet at Kerrytown Concert House

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Dave Douglas

Hymns from him: Dave Douglas.

Trumpeter Dave Douglas prepared to play his mom’s funeral by arranging the hand-picked hymns and Bible verses she wrote down on a scrap of paper and gave to him.

“I didn’t do too much to them,” Douglas said, whose jazz can edge toward the avant-garde at times. “I thought these are pretty straight-ahead renditions of these hymns.”

Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy band -- with the New Orleans-type front line of trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, plus drums -- was the group he picked to play his mother’s chosen hymns at the funeral, with the sung verses handled by the church’s congregation.

“We got to the service and we go through the first chorus,” Douglas said, “and I turned around to hand it to the congregation and they’re all just looking at me like, ‘Whaaat?’ It was way over their heads. We had to totally adapt and have the [church’s] organ player come help out.”

He laughs about the event now, but that was a tumultuous period for Douglas.

Doh! High art and pop art merge in U-M’s head-spinning "Mr. Burns"

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Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Meditating on The Simpsons becomes a balm after a catastropic world event in Mr. Burns.

Shell-shocked people sit around a campfire discussing a favorite episode of TV series. They try to remember each detail to amuse each other and as a distraction from the problems all around them. The world has been thrown into darkness following a worldwide catastrophic event and stories are all that remain.

This is the premise of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, opening February 16 at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

“It’s a postmodern play, a pastiche of forms and thematically it goes to the heart of what it means to tell stories, why human beings tell stories,” said Daniel Cantor, the play’s director and head of performance for theater at the university’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance. “Why they need stories, why stories evolve and change across time but have different meanings for people in different contexts.”

Niceland and Forest Art House Are Using the Old Tiny Buddha Space for Pop-Up Art Events

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Niceland

Niceland popped-up a weekend of art, including this forest faun mask by Lavinia Hanachiuc. Photo by Patti Smith.

Art is everywhere in this town; you just need to know where to look. The Niceland art show, a pop-up exhibit that took place last weekend, is a perfect example of how tucked away spaces can be transformed into showrooms for painters and sculptors.

The Tiny Buddha Boutique was previously above Totoro at 213 S. State Street. But the shop, which specializes in yoga wear, recently moved to a new location inside Babo in the Nichols Arcade, though Tiny Buddha still has rights at the moment to use the old space.

"We wanted to take advantage of the space while it is available," said artist Helen Gotlib (sister of Tiny Buddha Boutique owner Risa Gotlib) to display works by local artists.

That led to the Niceland art show, which ran February 10-13. The show featured work from local artists Dylan Strzynski, Lavinia Hanachiuc, and Gotlib.

Penny Seats Theatre Company kicked off its 2017 season with the ebullient "Sing Happy!"

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Sing

They sure do look like happy singers.

When Lauren London started the Penny Seats Theatre Company in 2010, it was with the idea that Ann Arbor should be brimming with “high-quality, live theater that doesn’t break the bank.” That’s exactly what you’ll get if you see the new Kander and Ebb revue Sing Happy! -- Penny Seats' first show of its 2017 season -- playing in the Celtic Room of Conor O’Neill’s pub and restaurant on February 9, 14, 15, and 16.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of Kander and Ebb, they wrote the musicals Chicago and Cabaret, among many others. The four women who star in this revue are remarkably gifted, and the songs and arrangements that director Thalia Schramm chose are consistently beautiful, moving, and show-stoppers.

I’ve now seen Sing Happy! twice and recently asked producer Lauren London and director Thalia Schramm some questions about the production and the Penny Seats Theatre Company's upcoming season.

Shock Values: Duane gets political, goes electric as Jet Black Eel

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Duane

Duane is an all-American provocateur. Photo by Megan LaCroix.

If there's any doubt what Detroit musician and performance artist Duane Gholston is up to with his new look and sound, the snippet from a Don King speech that opens his recent single, "When the Eel Accepts Your Invitation" is a pretty solid clue.

"You got to try to imitate and emulate the white man, and then you can be successful," the notorious boxing promoter -- and Donald Trump supporter -- is heard saying, before a classic honky-tonk shuffle and meandering lap-steel lick ushers in Duane the Jet Black Eel, the 24-year-old's latest persona and "first truly conceptual project."

"It's a young queer person of color taking on the classic vision of America (when it was 'great,' according to some red hats, LOL)," Duane wrote in an email to Pulp. "A bunch of rock 'n' roll songs taking on both conservative and neoliberal politics, homophobia in the black community, and systematic racism in America."

Shine On: Timothy Monger's new album, "Amber Lantern," is full of illuminating moods

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Timothy

Timothy Monger's Lantern is a light that never goes out. / Photo by Doug Coombe.

Singer/songwriter Timothy Monger's career peaked in middle school.

Despite three albums during a decade-plus run with the acclaimed folk-rock band Great Lakes Myth Society and a solo career that has also produced three records, including the new Amber Lantern, Monger said the loudest cheers he's ever received was when his middle school band, All the Young Dudes, rocked his former elementary.

Perhaps Monger's fans will take that as a challenge and make some noise when he celebrates the release of Amber Lantern at The Ark on Wednesday, February 8 at 8 pm. (Caleb Dillon of Starling Electric will open.) The album is slightly more rock-oriented than his past works, but Monger also made a conscious decision to set aside his guitar at times and experiment with instruments outside his wheelhouse, such as an organ, a hurdy-gurdy, and a Pocket Piano synth, which he checked out from this library's Music Tools collection.

Monger, who grew up in Brighton and lives in Saline, recently answered questions about his new songs, crowdfunding rewards, never finishing Moby Dick, and the world's greatest elementary school rock concert.