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.”

Days of Creation – New Nick Behnan Single Pays Tribute to Detroit’s Musical Legacy

Nick Behnan and Kendrick Hardaway celebrate the eclectic sounds of Detroit on “Days of Creation.”

Nick Behnan knows what’s good for the musical soul.

The Detroit singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist seamlessly fuses soulful, funky and rocky grooves into his latest single, “Days of Creation,” which pays homage to the Motor City’s musical legacy.

“That was the first thing I wanted to do in that song, and if you notice at the end, there’s a shout-out to Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Parliament. I definitely wanted to keep it as a tribute to Motown,” Behnan said.

“Regardless of what anyone says about this city, I honestly think it has the most timeless and the most iconic music ever. There might be a few exceptions, but I think it would be tough to beat Detroit as a whole when it comes to everything that’s come out of this city.”

Available today via all streaming platforms, “Days of Creation” features funky bass, rhythmic electric guitar, pulsating drums and vintage organ wrapped in 3.5 minutes of groovy sonic bliss. It also spotlights the smooth soulful vocals of Detroit R&B singer-songwriter and longtime Behnan collaborator Kendrick Hardaway.

Throughout the track, Hardaway beautifully sings, “What happened to the good days of creation/Will they ever come back/C’mon give me that funk baby, c’mon give me that soul/Cuz I need some inspiration, real Motown flow/C’mon give me that funk baby, c’mon give me that soul/I don’t want no imitation, straight rock and roll.”

Besides paying tribute to Motown and Detroit’s musical legacy, the track also references the absence of soul and funk from today’s popular music. These days, mainstream artists are less likely to blend several genres into one track – think back to Michael Jackson’s 1984 hit single, “Thriller.”

“New music doesn’t quite have the same soul like Bob Seger says in his song. There are great bands out there, and not to take anything away from them, but on the whole as far as pop music’s concerned, I think it’s lacking in soul,” said Behnan, who plays all the instruments on “Days of Creation.”

Continue reading “Days of Creation – New Nick Behnan Single Pays Tribute to Detroit’s Musical Legacy”

‘The Desmond Jones Show’ – Grand Rapids Quintet Drops New Truman-Inspired ‘Major Burbank’ Video

For Desmond Jones, authenticity reigns tried and true.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of John Nowak (drums, vocals, guitar), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals, drums), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), George Falk (sax, vocals) and Taylor Watson (bass) embraces their holistic selves on “Major Burbank,” a new glistening, groovy video out today. It’s the first new studio material Desmond Jones has released since their Hello, Helou album last July.

The 10-minute slow, transformative jam pays tribute to Jim Carrey’s legendary performance in the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, “The Truman Show.” As an authentic ode to Carrey, “Major Burbank” majestically combines sparkling guitars, velvety bass, dancy drums and sensuous sax as Berkowitz smoothly sings, “So come back in to/The old world you knew/And although it’s not true/We’re all here for you.”

“With a flawless Jim Carrey performance and the layered philosophical themes present throughout the movie, ‘The Truman Show,’ makes for an excellent flick. We here at Desmond Jones aim to not only remind the listener of these important themes and encourage them to think further and pull back the curtain, but to also gain financially from the film’s popularity as well,” said Berkowitz, who wrote the track.

“We’re really excited to get this song and video out for everyone to enjoy and boogie to. We also encourage anyone who knows Jim Carrey to pass this song along to him because we think he’d dig it.”

Filmed this past winter at Plymouth Rock Recording Company, the “Major Burbank” video beautifully depicts Desmond Jones wearing fun, glitzy outfits and colorful, glam-inspired makeup on a dark, smoky soundstage while vibrant spotlights glow behind them.

Videographers Nick Small, Ryan “Toby” Hyland and Wayne Small eloquently capture the band’s magical instrumentation and rich improvisation from several innovative camera angles.

“That’s one of our newer songs, and the only recording we have is the video we took at Plymouth Rock. We did probably three full live takes, and I think we took the second one. They filmed each one, and when we chose the take we liked most, they put it to film and mixed and mastered it afterward,” Nowak said.

Continue reading “‘The Desmond Jones Show’ – Grand Rapids Quintet Drops New Truman-Inspired ‘Major Burbank’ Video”

Double Groove – Ma Baker Hosts 2-Set Blind Pig Show Saturday with Scüter, Sleezy Hamilton

Ma Baker blends elements of rock, funk, jazz and disco into their groove-filled sets. Photo courtesy of Ma Baker

For Ma Baker, Saturday’s Blind Pig headlining set will bring double the jams and twice the grooves.

The Ypsilanti jam fusion quartet will host their first two-set show at Ann Arbor’s legendary rock club with EDM artists-DJs Scüter and Sleezy Hamilton against an enchanting backdrop of live visuals and electronic vibrations.

“It will be the first of its kind in terms of a local show equipped with three interactive screens for live visuals controlled in real-time by visual artist Mark Samano and Scüter,” said Jordan Smith, Ma Baker’s guitarist and keyboardist. “Our goal as a group has always been to get to the level where our shows feature two sets. Our intent is to create a conversation between the band and the audience.”

Ma Baker also will feature different genres during each set – the first will spotlight funk while the second will capture a psychedelic-experimental feel. It’s the ideal setting to reimagine an EDM scene in Tree Town while sharing a mix of originals, new tunes and covers intertwined with improvisation.

“We chose to pair ourselves with two DJs to differentiate this show from the typical three groove-jam band bill the way we normally play at The Pig. All of us in the band love electronic music and rock and roll equally, and we wanted a night to really surround ourselves with more electronic vibrations and interactive visuals more akin to the ‘Movement’ or Detroit techno scene,” Smith said.

In 2012, Smith discovered a shared love of EDM and rock with a collective of community college students in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Together, they rented a storage unit two miles from school to jam, improvise and store gear while having deep philosophical discussions late into the night.

Those initial sessions led to forming Bearfoot with 10 rotating members who would perform based on availability with zero premeditated music. By Devil’s Night 2015, only four of the 10 members showed up and a new creative chemistry emerged. Six months later, the band’s original lineup played their first show on Earth Day at Ypsilanti’s Corner Brewery.

As a quartet, Bearfoot became Ma Baker (after the 1977 Boney M. disco track) and now includes Guy Williams (guitar), Jared Weimer (drums), Dylan Risinger (bass) and Smith in their latest formation.

Continue reading “Double Groove – Ma Baker Hosts 2-Set Blind Pig Show Saturday with Scüter, Sleezy Hamilton”

‘Prime Mover’ – My Journeys with Rush’s Neil Peart

Neil Peart performs with Rush at a 2010 Rogers Bayfest in Sarnia, Ontario.

Editor’s Note – Brian Stratton reflects on his lifelong love of Rush and Neil Peart’s untimely passing.

By Brian Stratton

From the point of ignition
To the final drive
The point of the journey
Is not to arrive
Anything can happen

– Prime Mover

I never got to meet Neil Peart, though I did see him many times. Nonetheless, I feel like I know him through his lyrics, and consider him a companion of sorts. It was his lyrics that first appealed to me when my brother played some Rush music for me. The science fiction and fantasy themes were ripe for my young imagination. Over time, I grew to appreciate other themes in his lyrics, about human nature, loss, triumph and all the events that make a life worth living.

As most people know, Peart enjoyed journeying on his motorcycle between tour dates, or on his own time. It gave him time to explore, think and write about life. In fact, I feel that the overriding theme of all his lyrics, whether fantastic or realistic, is about one’s journey through life. Indeed, “anything can happen” in life and often does.

On that note, here are some moments where Peart’s lyrics, Rush’s music and my life all intersected.

Rush’s Alex Lifeson at Rogers Bayfest in 2010

Drawn like moths, we drift into the city

– Subdivisions

I’ve always been drawn to Detroit. For me, it was the big city where my dad worked at Channel 4 and anytime I got to go there when I was growing up was exciting. Probably none more so than the time in 1990 when my family attended Channel 4’s holiday party and then went to Trappers Alley in Greek Town to do some shopping. While wandering around the many levels of the mall, I found a Harmony House store, and in it Rush’s “Caress of Steel” CD. At the time, I was reading Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” so it was no surprise that I was attracted to the cover art with the necromancer on it.

When it was time to go home, we found that our car had been stolen. More tragically for my teenage self, my copy of “Fellowship of the Ring” was in the car at the time. At least I had “Caress of Steel,” with its songs about wizards and mythical fountains, to console me. However, all ended well, and our car was found a few weeks later, complete with my book! Not one to hold a grudge, I still love Detroit and look forward to going there to this day.

When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth

– Dreamline

Sometimes it’s the small stops on a larger journey that make the trip complete. At the end of summer in 1991, we were on a family trip to Colorado to visit my brother during his first year at the Air Force Academy. It was my first time out west, and I finally got to see mountains! It was awe-inspiring and profoundly moving for me.

Now, the trip happened to coincide with the release of “Roll the Bones.” This was the first new album that the band had put out since I became a fan, so getting it was a big deal for me. My parents said we could stop and get the CD on the way home from the airport. I remember landing back in Michigan and how vividly green everything was in comparison to the reds and browns of Colorado. A quick stop to Harmony House (again!) in Novi was the perfecting ending to a great vacation.

Continue reading “‘Prime Mover’ – My Journeys with Rush’s Neil Peart”

Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark

Judy Banker, center, will celebrate the release of her latest album, “Buffalo Motel,” at The Ark Thursday. Photo by Robin Scully

With “Buffalo Motel,” Judy Banker creates a welcoming extended stay throughout album’s dozen heartfelt, transformative tracks.

The Americana singer-songwriter shares an expansive, layered and atmospheric sound that transcends her traditional acoustic country and folk roots. Driving drum and bass tracks, hook-driven instrumental intros and breaks, and innovative arrangements push Banker toward a countrified indie rock territory that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Kalispell, Mont.

Out Thursday, “Buffalo Motel” allows Banker to flex her raw, gritty songwriting muscle and weather a series of intense emotions through different relationships and life events. She poetically chronicles love’s rise and decline at several points in time throughout her third album’s intimate tales.

“There’s something about this being the beginning of a new year and new decade that adds a sense of importance to it all. This album turned out bigger and better than I could have imagined. I think it feels that way for the members of the project – the band and David Roof and Ben Sayler as producers and creative directors,” said Banker, who took creative inspiration from Beck, The National and Sharon Van Etten while recording her latest album.

“We didn’t know where all of our experimentation in the pre-production sessions was going to take the music. There were so many moving parts and different ways we approached recording each of the songs. ”

Banker collaborated with a roster of talented Michigan musicians on “Buffalo Motel” to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. Tony Pace (electric guitar, dobro), John Sperendi (electric and upright bass), Brian Williams (drums), Alan Pagliere (pedal steel) and Roof (multi-instrumentalist, Rooftop Recording engineer) added new elements to realize the potential of each song. They spent most of last year steeped in fireplace bourbon sessions while creating “Buffalo Motel’s” exquisite, multi-genre tracks.

“I hope that the sound of the album, this collection of songs and how they are presented, excites people and engages them. The playing on it blows me away – this band is over-the-top talented,” Banker said. “They pushed themselves and tried new approaches on this album to bring out the heart of each song. I hope people can feel that, and it moves them.”

Continue reading “Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark”

Right at Home – Nick Behnan Releases New Rock, Hip-Hop Single to Celebrate Motor City

Nick Behnan combines rock, hip-hop, funk and R&B on his latest solo single, “Right at Home.”

As an accomplished songwriter, guitarist and producer, Nick Behnan magically fuses the infectious sounds of the Motor City.

He solders raw urban elements of rock, hip-hop, funk and R&B together on his latest single, “Right at Home,” which dropped today via all streaming platforms.

The three-minute track blends pounding drums and roaring guitars with stuck-in-your-head verses and flavorful rhymes from soul vocalist Kendrick Hardaway and rapper Saint Diggidy – “The bass drum kickin’ and the guitar screamin’/I feel right at home/Nobody talkin’ about what’s the meanin’.”

“The song is inspired by those times when you feel right at home,” said Behnan, who opted to remain in Detroit for his music career. “You’re with the right group of people, you eat the right meal, you listen to the right album, you’ve got the right bottle of whiskey, and everybody feels comfortable in their own skin.”

Behnan invited Hardaway and Saint Diggidy to add a strong hip-hop, funk and R&B feel to the rock-based track, which initially started as a stripped-down demo on SoundCloud. Hardaway and Saint Diggidy added their own verses to elevate and enrich the multi-genre track.

“I wanted to bring more of an old-school feel like Rick Rubin did for the Beastie Boys and bring more of that Run-DMC-approach to their voice,” Behnan said. “It mixes the urban funk sounds with rock because those are both embedded in my ear. I like music that has both of those vibes in there.”

Continue reading “Right at Home – Nick Behnan Releases New Rock, Hip-Hop Single to Celebrate Motor City”

‘Still Creatures’ – Desmond Jones Gets Philosophical on Funky New Single from Upcoming ‘Hello, Helou’ Album

Desmond Jones has released “Still Creatures,” a funky new single from their upcoming “Hello, Helou” album.

With their infectious new single, “Still Creatures,” Desmond Jones keeps the bigger picture of life in perspective.

The Grand Rapids funk-rock-jazz fusion quintet abandons daily trivial nonsense to live a more purposeful existence.

“When I wrote that song, that feeling was weighing heavy on me. There is so much that goes on every day in our lives, some of it important, and some of it only seems important,” said Isaac Berkowitz, Desmond Jones guitarist, drummer and vocalist.

“There’s a lot of trivial nonsense that we let get in the way of living happy and meaningful lives. When that nonsense piles up on us, it can be hard to see through it to what really matters. Some people like to look at the stars and feel small as a way to get perspective, and in the same sense, I think remembering the idea that we are all animals, or that we are all ‘still creatures’ on this planet just trying to survive, can give us that same perspective and peace of mind.”

Together, Berkowitz and his Desmond Jones bandmates – Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), George Falk (saxophone, vocals), John Loria (guitar, vocals) and John Nowak (drums, guitar, vocals) – beautifully capture this personal philosophy in lighthearted, funkified way.

Still Creatures single artwork

On “Still Creatures,” a fun, groovy wah-wah guitar riff opens the four-minute track and mimics the sound of a chicken while jazzy alto and baritone sax solos and rhythmic bass and drums bring a smooth, melodic feel.

“Even though it’s a new release, it’s something we’ve been working on for over a year in our live shows, and we’ve had it recorded for a while,” said Nowak, who formed Desmond Jones with his bandmates in 2012 at Michigan State University. “When we first started playing that song and Isaac showed it to us, we actually were just calling it, ‘Chicken Fingies,’ for a long time. At some point, Isaac said, ‘Actually, it’s called Still Creatures.’”

Continue reading “‘Still Creatures’ – Desmond Jones Gets Philosophical on Funky New Single from Upcoming ‘Hello, Helou’ Album”

Float On – Honey Monsoon Release Atmospheric New Single ‘Cloud’ from Forthcoming ‘Opal Soul’ Album

Honey Monsoon has released a new single, “Cloud,” from their forthcoming album, “Opal Soul,” due out March 22.

With a vibrant new single and lineup, Honey Monsoon is floating in a new musical stratosphere.

Earlier this week, the metro Detroit jazz-fusion quintet dropped their latest single, “Cloud,” a five-and-a-half-minute peaceful sonic journey filled with funky guitars, bright synths, gentle cymbal crashes and slow grooves.

“It’s a dynamic love song about being in an amazing state, realizing that you’re there, being present and preserving that,” said Ana Gomulka, Honey Monsoon’s vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist. “It’s a complex song where I put myself in a character role and follow a floaty, vibey path that’s immediate and accessible.”

That uplifting musical path soars to the sky-high auditory intersection of jazz, disco, rock, funk, soul and R&B – think Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, George Benson, Sade and Toro y Moi combining their signature styles into an atmospheric sound.

Honey Monsoon will release a new video soon for “Cloud” that features footage from some of their local favorite spots in Detroit, including the Fisher Building and the Renaissance Center. Additional footage was shot at a local church in Ypsilanti.

Cloud single artwork

“Cloud” is the first single from Honey Monsoon’s forthcoming album, “Opal Soul,” a follow-up to their 2017 jazzy, soulful debut, “Rose Gold,” due out March 22. It also features a fresh lineup with new members Sam Naples (guitar, vocals) and Binho “Alex” Manenti (bass, keys) along with Taylor Greenshields (drums), Leo Willer (paintbrushes) and Gomulka.

“We’ve been in the studio collaborating with so many incredible people in the area on horns, keys, strings and vibraphone,” said Gomulka, who started writing songs for “Opal Soul” in September. “We’ve been in the trenches putting together this eclectic production for ‘Opal Soul.’”

Produced, engineered and mixed by Greenshields and Naples at Fundamental Sound Co., “Opal Soul” will feature eight tracks and include former member Andrea Holther-Cruz on two to three songs written with the previous band’s lineup.

“Opal Soul” also will feature a more diverse sound that draws influences from pop, rock, Latin, funk, Afrobeat and world music. For “Rose Gold,” Honey Monsoon intertwined jazzy, soulful sonic textures against a rock-infused backdrop with bright vocals and saxophone solos.

“‘Opal Soul’ is based on a concept of reflection, and I was inspired by that while writing for this album,” Gomulka said. “It highlights the reflection and soulfulness that we put into the creative process.”

Honey Monsoon will celebrate the album’s release with a special show March 22 at The Loving Touch in Ferndale with Kesswa, White Bee and Sara Marie Barron.

“We’re excited to share our new organic sound, feel out the space and celebrate the moment with everyone,” Naples said.

Show Details:

Honey Monsoon “Opal Soul” Release Party with special guests Kesswa, White Bee and Sara Marie Barron

Friday, March 22

The Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale

Doors: 7 p.m.

Tickets: $10

Third Flight – Chirp Nests with Stormy Chromer, Biomassive for New Year’s Eve Show at The Blind Pig

Brian Long, Jay Frydenlund, Ken Ball and John Gorine of Chirp

This is the second installment of a three-part series profiling Michigan bands for a New Year’s Eve show at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.

Chirp fans will flock to The Blind Pig Monday night for a top-flight New Year’s Eve show with Stormy Chromer and Biomassive.

The Ann Arbor progressive rock, funk and jazz fusion quartet will share new tunes and covers as they close out 2018.

https://strattonsetlist.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/Stormy-Chromer-NYE.png”> New Year’s Eve show poster[/captio
“We’re definitely going to try to change it up from the norm. I think for a lot of people coming out that night it will be new. We always like to bust out new covers for special events and holidays, so you can definitely expect some of that,” said Jay Frydenlund, Chirp guitarist and vocalist.

“I think there will be some fun interaction amongst the bands and sit-ins. It will be different from your normal Chirp/Stormy Chromer/Biomassive show.”

This is the third year Chirp has teamed up with Stormy Chromer, a homegrown progressive jam band, for a New Year’s Eve show in Tree Town. It’s the second consecutive year for the event at The Blind Pig, 208 S. First St.

“Stormy Chromer brought us into the fold. We just wanted to go down in the hometown because the last couple of years have been so fun,” Frydenlund said. “Stormy Chromer has always been one of our favorite groups to play and collaborate with. We’re happy they invited us back to do it again.”

While Chirp and Stormy Chromer have a long history of playing together, it’s the first time Chirp will share the stage with Biomassive, an electronic rock band from Traverse City. Biomassive will blend the organic feel of real-time music with deep, intelligent beats of their ground-shaking, sub-bass mechanics.

“I’ve heard good things about Biomassive,” said Frydenlund, who grew up in Ann Arbor and started playing guitar in college. “I’ve listened to their stuff online, so I’m definitely excited.”

Continue reading “Third Flight – Chirp Nests with Stormy Chromer, Biomassive for New Year’s Eve Show at The Blind Pig”