Heroic Tale – Blank Tape Tax Honors Change Agents on Anti-Trump Anthem ‘Hey Donnie’

Blank Tape Tax combines pithy hardcore punk and bebop jazz elements throughout their anti-Trump anthem, “Hey Donnie.” Artwork – Mikaila Downing

For Blank Tape Tax, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King serve as the true heroes of our time.

The Detroit experimental group seeks inspiration from the two activists as they push the boundaries for equality and change in a polarizing post-Trump world. Today, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King continually inspire a new generation of political and creative leaders speaking up about the nation’s growing social divide.

That new generation of leaders includes Blank Tape Tax drummer-vocalist Ben Yost and a rotating collective of members and collaborators, including Emily Parrish (vocals), JJ Stanbury (keys), Ja’Vahn “Jay VII” Peterson (production) and Greet Death’s Logan Gaval (guitar). Together, they poetically channel that political struggle on Blank Tape Tax’s latest single, “Hey Donnie,” via Kickpop Records.

“From my perspective, Bobbi Jean Three Legs was the leading voice in the fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. To this day, her eloquence and bravery makes me emotional to think about when it comes to the clear abuses that took place surrounding DAPL, not only in regard to the brutal treatment of protesters, but also to the sheer disregard on behalf of the American government toward indigenous people in general,” Yost said.

“Yolanda Renee King is the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and in 2018 spoke at the March for Our Lives, which I saw replayed on TV. I was inspired by her because of her poignancy and age. She was very young, and her message was very succinct. Seeing so many young people stepping up to the plate, so to speak, at that time in my life made me want to make music that reflected the emotions I felt seeing all of this happen.”

Along with Yost, Blank Tape Tax wraps that intense emotional spirit in pithy hardcore punk and bebop jazz elements throughout the 44-second, anti-Trump anthem, “Hey Donnie.” Enraged drums, roaring sax, buzzy electric guitars and fierce bass sonically protest the opposition as Parrish defiantly sings, “Hey Donnie, I want to know.”

“I’m not sure ‘Hey Donnie’ comes close to serving as a fitting anthem. They should have sent a poet. But sometimes just trying can mean the whole world, and we may not have gotten it perfect with this song, but maybe someone will come along and do it better. That’s what I learned from Bobbi Jean Three Legs, to try your best, even if you’re not a Malcolm X, MLK, Bob Dylan or Woodie Guthrie,” said Yost, who initially wrote the track in 2017, but believes it takes on new relevance in 2021.

“The meaning of the track has not changed; we won’t back down. That being said, I’m not a great political activist. I’m just an average musician. Real activists are people like Nakia Wallace here in Detroit. I just write songs.”

Continue reading “Heroic Tale – Blank Tape Tax Honors Change Agents on Anti-Trump Anthem ‘Hey Donnie’”

A Man for All Seasons – Steve Somers Jazzes Up WCC’s Winter Semester Music Classes

Steve Somers performs at Grove Studios in Ypsilanti. Photo by Kyla McGrath and mural by Joanna Farben

For Steve Somers, jazz weathers all seasons, especially winter.

The Ypsilanti guitarist-composer will share his longtime love of jazz, guitar and music through virtual winter semester courses for aspiring musicians at Washtenaw Community College (WCC).

Starting Jan. 11, Somers will teach Creative Jazz and Improvisation I & II (MUS 105-106) and Beginning and Intermediate Guitar (MUS 133-134) to 20 students per class.

All classes will include a combination of online class meetings with individual consultation and assistance with varying recording projects as well as virtual recitals. Students can now enroll for these online winter classes through WCC’s website.

“The jazz and improvisation classes allow students to work on different songs each semester and learn about jazz and improvisation concepts. They submit solos and parts online, which I mix in my studio at Alley Records to create an audio recording,” Somers said.

“The guitar classes combine both beginning and intermediate students in one class. Beginners work on basic chords and strumming patterns while the intermediate students work on melodies, solo concepts and more advanced bar chords.”

Somers also will bring in Ann Arbor hip-hop artist and Grove Studios marketing head Max Preissner, aka Max Price, to offer a social media class for music students through WCC. Management for Working Artists (MUS 285) will help musicians learn how to promote their own music through social media.

“Many of the students are interested in eventually writing their own music, and Max will help them learn more about how to market it and utilize social media,” Somers said.

As another course offering, Somers will offer a virtual non-credit Community Jazz Orchestra class through WCC that starts Feb. 24. For those seeking financial assistance, WCC’s Emeritus Scholarships provide free tuition for Washtenaw County residents age 65 and older who enroll in non-credit and credit courses, including music.

Outside of the Community Jazz Orchestra, Somers will teach a virtual Ypsilanti Youth Jazz and Music Theory Class starting Jan. 9 for students ages 9 to 18. Adults are welcome to participate as mentors and learn more about jazz music and theory.

Continue reading “A Man for All Seasons – Steve Somers Jazzes Up WCC’s Winter Semester Music Classes”

Necessary Nourishment – The Stratton Playlist November 2020 Edition Refuels for Road Ahead

With November’s upcoming arrival, some soulful sonic nourishment is needed to weather and withstand the remainder of 2020.

Fortifying morsels of lo-fi folk, shiny indie pop, fiery classic rock, breezy dance, garage-filled indie rock, heartfelt acoustic ballads and groovy, emotive hip-hop strengthen the mind and spirit for the unknown road ahead.

The latest edition of The Stratton Playlist shares a satiating sonic respite before the chaotic journey resumes. Featured sonic companions include Grooblen, Au Gres, Michael Snyder-Barker and The Mighty Rhythm Bandits, The Kodaks with Jemmi Hazeman and Quells, Lily Talmers, Louis Picasso & The Gallery and more.

Interested in becoming part of The Stratton Playlist on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres welcome.

Jazzy Impressions – Blank Tape Tax Reinvigorates Minor Threat’s Punky ‘Filler’

Blank Tape Tax reinterprets Minor Threat’s “Filler” as a timeless, feverish tribute to modal jazz.

Blank Tape Tax eloquently unearths the jazzy side of hardcore punk.

The Detroit experimental sextet of Ben Yost (drums, vocals), Emily Parrish (vocals), Michael King (upright bass), William Marshall Bennett (piano), Mark Royzenblat (guitar) and Isaac Burgess (guitar) beautifully reinterprets Minor Threat’s “Filler” as a timeless, feverish tribute to modal jazz.

“I was practicing a lot of up-tempo swing and double-time swing, and I was listening to a lot of John Coltrane. The way I was going about practicing involved listening to a song in my mind. I’d hum along to the song, ‘Impressions,’ by Coltrane, and I would play and imagine the song, and every now and then, I would hum ‘Filler’ by Minor Threat. That’s how it started,” Yost said.

That coincidental fusion sparked the melodic, glistening frenzy of Blank Tape Tax’s refreshing rendition of “Filler,” out today via all streaming platforms. Frantic upright bass, thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, sleek piano and swirling electric guitars seamlessly blend two divergent genres into a magnetic, holistic sound.

Backed by lush, intelligent instrumentation throughout “Filler,” Parrish soulfully sings, “Your brain is clay/What’s going on? You picked up a bible/And now you’re gone/You call it religion/You’re full of shit/Filler.”

“I think there are similarities between certain types of hardcore, like 7 Seconds, Minor Threat and Better Than a Thousand, and modal jazz, like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, especially in up-tempo stuff. The pulse is really similar between the D-beat and up-tempo swing,” Yost said.

“I had written a piano score for it, and I gave it to William, and he read it down. If I write a song, then I’ll bring it to the band, and I’ll just say, ‘This is kind of how it goes.’ And then they’ll kind of just do their own thing, and whatever they come up with is awesome. I’m totally happy with it, and there’s not a whole lot of talking back and forth, like ‘Oh, you should do this,’ or ‘No, you should change that.’ Everyone already knows what to do, and it just falls into place. I’ve never had that in other bands.”

Along with his bandmates, Yost recorded “Filler,” originally a 1984 track written and recorded by Minor Threat, during a live performance for the Hazel Park-based podcast, “Broadcast from Cow Haus,” in March. While the podcast episode’s release has been pushed back, Tom Skill and Joshua Young, co-hosts of “Broadcast from Cow Haus” and members of Detroit ska band CbJ, encouraged Blank Tape Tax to put out the track.

“We did four songs, and there’s a video of all of it. They do their show in season blocks, and they are two episodes short of a season right now. They need to wait to get those two new episodes filmed before they can put everything out,” said Yost, whose band name comes from a levy that was placed on purchasing blank tapes.

Continue reading “Jazzy Impressions – Blank Tape Tax Reinvigorates Minor Threat’s Punky ‘Filler’”

Take Solace – The Stratton Playlist September/October 2020 Edition Provides Everyday Escape

While the world turns to chaos outside, it’s time to search for solace inside.

Throw work, school and virtual commitments aside for some long overdue relaxation. With headphones in hand, adjust the volume and press play to start a new musical journey into uncharted local and regional waters.

The latest edition of The Stratton Playlist serves as a refreshing sonic escape from politics, pandemics and people. Visit country-filled skies, fuzzy lo-fi jams, jazzy hip-hop points, psych rock bangers, vibrant piano pop anthems and other new terrain.

Featured artists include Shawn Butzin, Zilched, Speak Mahogany, VVISIONSS, LoraDale, The Soods, The DayNites, Blank Tape Tax, J.E. Sunde, Major Murphy, Speelburg and more.

Interested in becoming part of The Stratton Playlist on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres welcome.

In Full Flow – Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Captures Improvisational Spirit on New Live Album

The Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Live album features tracks recorded over four nights at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe.

With lush instrumentation and fearless improvisation, the Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble instantly captivates live audiences at intimate metro Detroit jazz hot spots.

The Ann Arbor jazz quartet melds spellbinding pieces of modern swing, funky soul and atmospheric world music right before an enthralled Dirty Dog Jazz Café crowd.

“That’s the heart of it and what I want people to experience at my shows. I want them to have a sense of knowing this is being created right now, and that they’re a part of it,” said Crozier, who plays bass, didgeridoo and thumb piano.

Crozier and bandmates Rafael Statin (sax, bass clarinet), Keaton Royer (piano, keys) and Rob Avsharian (drums) beautifully capture that magical live essence on their latest album, Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Live, which is now available on all streaming platforms.

Recorded live Feb. 6-9, 2019 at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms, the album features four jazzy Crozier classics combined with two new transformative tracks, “Leafar” and “Surrender.”

“I try to let the tracks develop with the band organically live and not over-direct it so they end up sounding fresher. When Rafael would start going off on something, the band could just follow and not have a particular set of instructions. It just really drew on the band’s ability to be spontaneous and organized in the moment,” Crozier said.

“You hear that in the little hookups rhythmically and the stuff the band does together. It’s just listening, which is what I always encourage in my group. It’s the heart of jazz. You’re playing what you’re playing, and you’re listening to make sure that you’re connecting and communicating with the rest of the band.”

Continue reading “In Full Flow – Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Captures Improvisational Spirit on New Live Album”

Fall That Jazz – Steve Somers Offers Virtual Music Classes through Washtenaw Community College

Longtime guitarist Steve Somers performs live in Ypsilanti. Photo courtesy of Steve Somers

Steve Somers plans to jazz up fall classes in Washtenaw County.

The longtime Ypsilanti guitarist-composer will offer fall semester jazz, guitar and music courses virtually for aspiring musicians through Washtenaw Community College (WCC). Starting Aug. 31, Somers will teach jazz combo and improvisation I & II (MUS 105-106) along with beginning and intermediate guitar (MUS 133-134) to 20 students per class.

All 16-week classes will include a combination of online class meetings with individual virtual consultation and assistance with various recording projects. Students can now enroll for fall classes through WCC’s website.

“The virtual classes will be offered with Zoom meetings, and we will do recording projects online where people submit their parts or solos, and then I will mix it all down here at the studio at Alley Records,” said Somers, who also leads the Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra Jazz Ensemble.

Somers also will host a non-credit jazz orchestra class virtually through WCC starting in October. The class will feature a mix of online meetings and performances for all ages.

As an influential musician, creative entrepreneur and community leader, Somers has taught jazz guitar classes at WCC for nearly 20 years and performed in jazz, classical, blues, R&B and rock solo and group projects since relocating to the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area in 1979.

Somers relocated to Michigan after touring nationally and internationally with a California-based band in 1970s. They hosted mini-residencies five to six nights a week at clubs and hotels as far east as Minnesota before disbanding a few years later.

After that, Somers started studying classical guitar with Nelson Amos at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar music performance in 1984. Two years later, he studied with world-renowned composer and conductor Anthony Iannaccone while earning a master’s degree in music theory and composition from EMU.

“When I was still an undergraduate, he accepted me, and we worked for a couple of years and made some good progress writing music for piano, guitar and other instruments. Then, he accepted me in the master’s program, and I wrote a piece for the chamber orchestra that’s still in the library there,” Somers said.

Continue reading “Fall That Jazz – Steve Somers Offers Virtual Music Classes through Washtenaw Community College”

Rise Up – Asklepius Shares Majestic, Curative Transformation on New ‘Relative to a Mood’ EP

Asklepius carries a soothing, restorative sound on “Relative to a Mood” as glistening elements of prog, post-rock, jazz, ambient, psychedelia and electronica revive the soul. Artwork – Joe Groppuso

Asklepius triumphantly rises to the occasion.

The Detroit experimental post-rock trio of Justin Groppuso-Cook (keys), Dave Alpern (bass) and Matt Smiley (drums) undergoes a majestic and curative transformation on their latest aspirational four-track EP, Relative to a Mood.

“Some of the songs that are on that album we’ve been playing for a really long time. Those songs themselves evolved over time, and then Dave jumped in, and the bass gave the music more heart and more life,” Groppuso-Cook said.

“When the songs started to evolve with Dave, and we started to write new stuff for fleshed-out, different ideas, I think that additional bass added this uplifting thing, and I think we just went with it. I don’t think there was this intentional way to make it like that, and I think in certain ways, it was weird for it to sound uplifting. The music we were writing at the time didn’t sound like that was the groove.”

Incidentally, Relative to a Mood carries a soothing, restorative groove as glistening elements of prog, post-rock, jazz, ambient, psychedelia and electronica spin into a silky, sonic cocoon. All four tracks invite increasing moments of euphoria, self-reflection, progression and enlightenment as listeners beautifully emerge from an inner sanctum.

Asklepius created their own inner sanctum last summer at Detroit’s High Bias Recordings with Chris Koltay. Groppuso-Cook, Alpern and Smiley spent several days recording different live takes for Relative to a Mood with loop pedals and later added layers of keys, guitar and tenor sax.

Jubilation to Ascension

Relative to a Mood slowly unfolds with the euphoric “Jubilation” as banging drumsticks, bright and lingering piano, proggy bass, glistening synths, steady drums, light cymbals and reassuring electric strums from guest guitarist Matt Romanski bring merriment and optimism. The track also eases the mind into a therapeutic seven-minute reverie.

“We just went into the studio and started with ‘Jubilation.’ We just ran through it 10 times to get the best take, and then we were like, ‘Let’s go to the next song,’ and then we would take a break for a couple minutes and listen to all the different takes and see which one was the best one,” Groppuso- Cook said.

Continue reading “Rise Up – Asklepius Shares Majestic, Curative Transformation on New ‘Relative to a Mood’ EP”

Desmond Jones Calls for Global Accountability, Change on New ‘George Floyd’ Single, Video

Desmond Jones emphatically speaks for countless voices lost to racial injustice.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), John Nowak (drums), Chris Bota (guitars) George Falk (sax) and Taylor Watson (bass) strongly calls for global accountability, peace and unity on their thought-provoking new single and video, “George Floyd.”

Out today, it serves as a growing rally cry from the band and protesters worldwide after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Desmond Jones has released “George Floyd” exclusively via Bandcamp and will donate half of the proceeds to the NAACP Grand Rapids and the other half to The Bail Project, a national organization that provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent.

“At the very least, I hope that it acts as a reminder of George Floyd’s story and the countless stories just like it that happen every day in this country without any repercussions. I hope that it makes people say his name and talk about why or how this could have happened,” said Berkowitz, who wrote the track.

Floyd, 46, died after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police offer, kneeled on his neck and back for more than eight minutes during an arrest. Two other officers further restrained Floyd while a third prevented onlookers from intervening. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder while Kiernan Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder as well as second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.

In response, Desmond Jones’ compelling “George Floyd” single features thoughtful, echoey electric guitars, soft drums and somber sax as Berkowitz seriously reflects, “I can’t breathe he said, the cycle of oppression/Leaves only one direction to be led/I can’t breathe he said, as we heard the pain of generations past and present pled.”

“I hope that it helps people understand that this behavior and complacency of that behavior is unacceptable in this country and on this planet. With the help of the amazing video Nathan Purchase made, I think this song can show how important these issues are to people and what a serious impact our voices can have when we come together to peacefully make the change that needs to happen,” Berkowitz said.

The impactful “George Floyd” video features raw, candid black and white photos of protesters peacefully marching in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Muskegon and Columbus, Ohio. Five local, independent photographers – Nathan Purchase, Nick Small, Adam Berta, James Saville and Ryan Broton – captured and compiled the historical images during last week’s protests.

“They were able to not only capture and convey the tension and the anger of the situation, but also the unifying demand for peace and unity. Each one of these photographers was able to capture a wider image of the state of our country currently. To see how all these different people from all over were coming together in the middle of a pandemic is a powerful thing to see,” Berkowitz said.

George Floyd” also serves as Desmond Jones’ second new single and video in less than two months. In April, the band released “Major Burbank” as an ode to Jim Carrey’s legendary performance in the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, “The Truman Show.” While “Major Burbank” celebrates a lighter side of Desmond Jones’ sound, “George Floyd” pushes the band musically and thematically toward a burgeoning political and social conscience.

“I know we are currently working on more songs that approach these political and social issues, which will be a big step forward for us lyrically and content-wise. However, besides more songs, we have been raising and donating money through livestreams and promoting our favorite local and national black artists, musicians and social leaders on social media,” Berkowitz said.

“We also have been directing people toward charities that are helping as well as local black-owned businesses to shop at. In a way, I think we’ve started to find our voice politically and don’t plan on quieting down. We are lucky enough to have a platform and right now we believe it’s right to use that to help fight against social injustice and shine a light on those who are doing all that they can to make a difference.”

Free Flow – Alluvial Fans Deposits Raw, Refined Musical Sediments on New ‘Earth to Astronaut’ Album

Alluvial Fans’ new album explores multi-genre peaks and valleys, atypical song structures and varied tempos. Album artwork – Antoine Langenieux-Villard

Detroit’s Alluvial Fans beautifully deposits raw and refined musical sediments on their solid new album, Earth to Astronaut.

Out now via all streaming platforms, Earth to Astronaut freely flows through indie rock mountains, art punk hills and garage jazz canyons to form a new fertile sound. Through these multi-genre peaks and valleys, atypical song structures and varied tempos, Alluvial Fans’ second album deeply explores the spaces between distorted, mosh-worthy cathartic freak-outs and quiet, sentimental and reflective moments.

“Sometimes your mind goes, and you find yourself jumping from place to place. And that’s sort of how my mind was working at the time and how it has been just kind of scattershot, and now I’m more aware of that. I wanted to represent that kind of fragmented or abstract thought in the lyrics, and in sum, I wanted to become more precise,” said Drew Bartosik, Alluvial Fans’ vocalist-guitarist.

“For the past two years, I’ve been practicing meditation and trying to become more self-aware and mindful of my thoughts and how I act in my environment. Things now are becoming more focused and cohesive for song ideas, and I wanted to highlight the vulnerability in that respect.”

Bartosik and his Alluvial Fans bandmates Gilad Granot (bass) and Ollie Elkus (drums) venture deep beneath the Earth to Astronaut surface to examine a juxtaposition of themes, including technology and nature, independence and interdependence, and reflection, solidarity, and devotion, over 10 expansive, metaphysical tracks.

From ‘Blowouts’ to ‘Droves’

Together, they weave an erratic, yet refreshing jazz-punk-garage-rock fusion on their latest single, “Blowout/Future Games,” which starts with light cymbal taps and delicate electric guitar and quickly erupts into a frantic musical cataclysm.

During the “Blowout” section, Bartosik eagerly shouts, “Yeah!/You never look me in the eyes these days/You’re so far gone/You’re so far” and memorably repeats, “Two for my friends/One for myself.” The first half also serves as a scintillating ode to the Detroit-Hamtramck indie rock scene.

Next, “Blowout” seamlessly segues to the mellow, thoughtful “Future Games” section with light drums, calm vocals and easygoing electric guitar strums. Bartosik quietly sings, “If the future’s playing games with me?/Who is the player playing games?/It’s just the future playing games with me/It’s just the future playing games.” Here, Alluvial Fans questions the uncertainty that lies ahead, especially in an unthinkable year like 2020.

Continue reading “Free Flow – Alluvial Fans Deposits Raw, Refined Musical Sediments on New ‘Earth to Astronaut’ Album”