Something more than minimalism from Tigue, a reborn Isthmus Jazz Festival, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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FRIDAY JUNE 1
Rooftop Cinema: No Maps On My Taps. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 9:30 pm
The word “heartwarming” is thrown around a lot, but it should be reserved for movies like George T. Nierenberg’s 1979 documentary No Maps On My Taps. With music by jazz legend Lionel Hampton supporting mesmerizing tap-dancers Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green, and Howard “Sandman” Sims, I find it difficult to watch this Milestone Films restoration of the definitive American tap-dancing documentary without smiling, laughing, and tapping my foot.
No Maps On My Taps follows the three African-American tap dancers, who were trained by successful legends like Bill Robinson and saw themselves as the heirs to a great American tradition, in the 1970s, long after the art form’s heyday. The documentary contextualizes tap dance as yet another African-American cultural innovation that was taken over in the popular sphere by powerful white people (like the Robinson-influenced Fred Astaire) and that subsequently went out of style, leaving professionals like the three depicted in the movie without much work and with lingering resentment for a national culture that in some sense has left them behind. This exasperation comes to a head as the three dancers argue with a man who books the Apollo theater for not putting on enough tap-dance, as the booker claims that rock music is the thing now.
Even with the crushing sadness of cultural entropy constantly on the horizon, the amazing tap-dancing performances make this a great feel-good documentary almost in spite of itself. In addition to the enchanting depictions of the art form, the historical narrative and empathetic depiction of three performers at the end of the metaphorical cultural rope—still fighting their good fight, getting gigs and wowing crowds—makes it a wonderful start to this summer’s MMoCA Rooftop Cinema Series. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to write a calendar entry for an upcoming local tap-dance show after No Maps On My Taps revives interest in the art form yet again, as it did decades ago when it was heralded as ushering in another era of interest in tap. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Isthmus Jazz Festival. Multiple venues, through June 10
The Isthmus Jazz Festival (mostly organized by the staff of the Wisconsin Union Theater, now with help from the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium) has needed a fresh approach for a while now. At last year’s fest I watched Milwaukee’s Kevin Hayden Band play a great set to a largely indifferent and chatty crowd at the Rathskeller. As good as the actual music was, the atmosphere felt very out of sync with the wide range of musicians and audiences around Madison who seem newly energized about jazz these days. But there are always compelling local and touring performers in the mix, so it’s exciting to see the event throw out the mold and totally reinvent itself this year. Previously comprising a weekend of shows at the Terrace and Union Theater, the fest now expands to 10 days of performances, talks, and film screenings at venues around the city, including spots that have given the local jazz scene a jolt, like North Street Cabaret and Arts + Literature Laboratory.
There’s still music on the Terrace, including a June 2 lineup headlined by Chicago guitarist Joel Paterson and his whimsical throwback group The Modern Sounds. Madison-based saxophonist/flautist Hanah Jon Taylor will debut a new suite called “Songs For The Emerging Man” in a June 3 performance at the Madison Opera Center, with an ensemble including percussionist Dushun Mosley and multi-faceted MC Laduma Nguyuza (of Dumate and Fringe Character). The Cabaret will host acts including Milwaukee vocalist Lem Banks on June 3 and Madison Latin-jazz ensemble Acoplados on June 6. Out-of-town standouts in the lineup include Chicago bassist/composer Matt Ulery, who brings his Loom Ensemble to the Brink Lounge on June 7.
The parts that aren’t performances are just as interesting. UW-Madison Information School professor Ethelene Whitmire will delve into the stories of African-American jazz musicians who’ve gone to live abroad in a June 3 talk at the Urban League of Greater Madison, followed by a screening of the 1982 documentary Jazz In Exile. WORT-FM jazz DJ Gary Alderman will present a program of rare jazz films on June 7 at the Sequoya Library. Attendees will have two chances to learn more about the history of jazz in Wisconsin, thanks to a June 5 lecture from drummer and UW-Madison adjunct professor Matt Endres and a June 6 launch event for trombonist and Ripon College professor Kurt Dietrich’s book Wisconsin Riffs: Jazz Profiles From The Heartland. Some events are free and some ticketed, so be sure to browse the full schedule. There are many points of entry here, whether you’re looking to gain deeper historical context about jazz or just learn more about the jazz musicians working in your own backyard. —Scott Gordon
Mokoomba. North Street Cabaret, 8 p.m.
A six-piece band hailing from the town of Victoria Falls in northwestern Zimbabwe, Mokoomba formed in 2007 and has since explored a variety of ways to mix musical idioms of the Tonga ethnic group with musical traditions from cross southern Africa, in addition to more far-flung elements like ska and rock. That spirit of fusion is pretty easy to hear in the slick production and ambitious arrangements of Mokoomba’s 2012 debut album, Rising Tide, whose references range from hip-hop on opening track “Njoka” to sinuous Middle Eastern or Flamenco-like melodies on “Yombe.” The band made a deliberate shift with 2017’s Luyando, which relies more heavily on acoustic instrumentation and overall feels more direct and incisive, even if the stylistic reach is still just as heady on songs like the slow-burning “Kumukanda” and the rapid-fire “Vimbe.” But on either record, the same foundations are at work, especially Mathias Muzaza’s charismatic lead vocals, the group’s harmonically layered call-and response vocals, and the ability to lay down immersive grooves as they reach across musical idioms. This intimate North Street Cabaret show comes ahead of Mokoomba’s performance at the June 3 Pursuit of Happiness Session at McPike Park. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY JUNE 5
Tigue, Carbon Bangle, Erik Kramer. Mickey’s, Tavern, 10:30 p.m. (free)
Brooklyn-based experimental percussion trio Tigue have found a lot of different ways to mess with the line between rhythm and melody. The three long tracks on Tigue’s latest release, the new Strange Paradise, are ruminative and quiet explorations of sound, which settle into grooves that slowly alter as percussive elements fall in and out. Their 2015 release Peaks more often leads into explosions of precise noise. The opening track, “Crane” is all snares, cymbals, cowbell, bass drum, and steady clicks, revealing a surprising tapestry of textures and moods all drawn from hitting various objects with sticks. Later in the album, a synthesizer is added, mostly playing droning chords over which the percussionists develop hooks and patterns, flipping the script on songwriting that typically has the drumkit laying down the background.
While Tigue describe their music as “minimalist,” their songs usually contain multiple layers and distinguishable movements, and they’re fond of starting from simplicity and working up into a rhythmic explosion. A poppier highlight of Peaks is “Mouth,” on which the synths, supported by clear, ringing bells, beat out a rhythm that’s both percussive and melodic, and the drum-set takes on its traditional rhythm-setting role again, even as its various surprising emphases and fills provide the centerpiece of the track. Madisonian experimental musicians Carbon Bangle and Erik Kramer open. —Reid Kurkerewicz