REVIEW: The Houston Patton Quartet at the Blue Llama

The Blue Llama is one of the most iconic jazz venues in Ann Arbor, bringing in top-tier performers from all around the world. Hosting the Friday late-night performance on March 29th was Detroit saxophonist Houston Patton and his Quartet.

Patton’s quartet features Detroit musicians Liam Charron (piano), Dylan Sherman (bass), and Stephen Oduro (drums), a powerhouse group led with sensitivity, joy and momentum.  This young quartet performs with a level of experience beyond their years, showcasing remarkable agility, technicality, and charisma. Their set featured the quartet members’ original music, with songs written by Patton and Charron.

I appreciate young musicians’ priority for creating and performing new music—especially their own. The jazz canon is filled with great Standards that are well to learn, but to create innovation and excitement lies within what’s new, and currently being created. Patton’s style emulates that of a modern musician with a deep understanding of the canon, and what to do to improve it.

Patton played a variety of his own tunes (as I am writing this the names are escaping me), which ignited an electric energy in the room. I adored each of the different tunes that were picked, each with fleshed-out and thoughtful contemporary musical ideas. The band was locked in and present with one another, playing with sensitivity to Patton’s choices and leadership.

Patton’s playing is close to that of a firecracker—colorful, unexpected, and wildly exciting. Patton’s beaming personality made for a strong bandleader and comfortable host. He has an ease with the audience, allowing joy to effortlessly resonate through the intimate Blue Llama lounge.

The one tune that was not that of Patton’s was the great Detroit saxophonist, Kenny Garrett’s “Wooden Steps”. It’s evident of Patton’s deep appreciation and emulation of Kenny Garrett in his playing. The percussive quality Garrett brings to the saxophone, coupled with his bright tone are traits that Patton has incorporated into many facets of his performance. “Wooden Steps” was performed with incredible spunk and vivacity, making it one of my favorite tunes from the set.

Patton’s Quartet ignites a beacon of inspiration for young players and illuminates limitless possibilities for the next generation of jazz.



March 30th, 11pm. Photo thanks to The Blue Llama.

REVIEW: Ashnikko at the Fillmore Detroit

If you’re on TikTok, chances are you’ve heard one of Ashnikko’s songs at least once. A queen of Internet virality, Ashnikko has a repertoire of music that is brash, unapologetic, and laced with “fantasy and chaos.” Unsurprisingly, I simply had to see her perform her haunted alt-pop rap live on stage, and check that she was real.

So of course, I went to see Ashnikko at the Fillmore in Detroit this Thursday. 19-year-old YouTube songwriter Chloe Moriondo opened, playing a cute and catchy set that set up the main concert perfectly.

Ashnikko’s characteristic long electric blue locks (which are, apparently, all real) were the first thing I was shocked to witness live and in front of my eyes. Next, her down-to-a-science evil laugh—how does one contain so much childish glee and dark undertone into a single giggle?

My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the entrancing Harajuku and Halloween-y graphics as stage backgrounds that were equally quirky in aesthetic as her music.

As for the crowd surrounding me, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people with colorful hair in the same room together. Even I came dressed in my fishnets and funkiest jewelry, knowing it was the perfect chance to do so: the weirdest was welcome, and even expected. Ashnikko’s style and music scream of protest against the norm, in many forms: the heteropatriarchy, fashion, sexual norms, “manners,” and the music industry. I was reminded, standing in the buzzing crowd, that music is oftentimes much more than just music. It has the ability to be a movement, a feeling, or a way to bring vastly different people together through something shared.

When Ashnikko’s most popular songs started playing, there were few people in the audience who weren’t singing or bopping along. Being at a concert collectively screaming to angry breakup beats like “Deal With It” and “L8r Boi” (inspired by Avril Lavingne’s 2002 “Sk8r Boi”) and slinky queer anthems like “Slumber Party” was cathartic, if nothing else. I left feeling energized, confident, and little bit different than before.

REVIEW: Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo

From its “glowing reviews” and advertisements, the Detroit Zoo promised that its annual, 29 day ‘Wild Lights’ show would be nothing short of 5 million LED lights worth of pure holiday exuberance. After attending this past Saturday, I can partially attest to that – the experience of strolling through large-scale LED animal sculptures and holiday-themed decor, supplemented by several regularly operating animal exhibitions, was wholly conducive to the family-oriented ambience the Zoo stresses with most of its events. The Wild Lights show boasted a meticulously illuminated total of 280 sculptures, 230 of which were animal-shaped, positioned for prime group photo opportunities throughout the front half of the zoo.

Upon entering, visitors were greeted with trees brightened by monochrome string lights and an equally eye-catching wildlife sequence played continuously on a large screen. Though blatantly drawing upon your typical holiday motifs, like the giant walk-in holiday ornament and bright green Christmas tree displays, the Zoo also had a couple of outlier light displays. These included a lavender-colored spiderweb, its stiffly perching spider that resembled a taco shell holder, and other refreshing oddities like a sneaky ‘polar bear’ ready to attack a beehive. Though initially underwhelmed by the filler trees’ clashing, garish colors, I was eventually won over by more dynamic displays like the little hummingbird whose wings seemed to flap up and down through an alternating light trick, and branches that seemed to rain light on passerby.

Outside of their Wild Lights event, the Detroit Zoo prides itself upon the 140 pieces that constitute its Fine Art Collection that “…showcase humanity’s relationship to animals and inspire a passion and interest in the natural world”. This and the other artworks I was able to view during the event emphasized the Detroit Zoo’s nationally prominent focus on conservation efforts, animal welfare, and the release/reestablishment of endangered species. Even so, I found it ironic that the statement ‘All Animals Are Important’ was displayed in the North American River Otter Exhibit, within steps of a hot dog stand.

Personally, the most visually stunning bodies of work I encountered were the softly lit, geometric sculptures positioned around the perimeter of other LED lit sculptures. Visitors are invited to gently spin the works, and as they do so, the piece’s inner light seems to shift and refract off of each intricately carved, triangular panel. Each hanging sculpture was similar in overall structure to the next but unique in their repetitive, fractal-like carved patterns; I thought this was the most elegant presentation at the Wild Lights Event.

If you’d like to brighten up your day (or night), make sure to go experience this marvelous walk-through light show, preferably with a warm group of people you find tolerable to maximize the aesthetic photo-taking opportunities. Unless they sell out beforehand, you’ll be able to buy tickets online until January 5, 2020 for the multiple showtimes they have available.


REVIEW: The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon was a wonderful production, put on by Broadway in Detroit at the Fisher Theatre. It is undeniable that the stage was almost glowing throughout the entire show. The bright lights and set decor were a defining part of the experience, giving it the livelihood that such a musical, with compelling identities and enthusiastic characters, deserves. The vibrant colors of the costumes further complemented these strong production aspects, while also playing well into building the separate identities of the characters. The animated performances of the cast were obviously doing the heavy-lifting. Between the identifiable characters, the strong choreography, or the catchy, witty tunes, the cast managed to bring life to the entire show.
For people who are unfamiliar with the show, here it is: two 19-year-old mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Young, are sent out to Uganda for their first two year mission, and it’s not what they expected. Price had hoped to be sent to Orlando Florida, and follower Young just wanted to be Price’s sidekick – but instead he ends up converting many Ugandans on his own terms. Through their adventures with religion, culture, and interaction, the show expresses satire, and sometimes even deeper emotion.
My favorite parts of the show would have to be the songs “Baptize Me” and “Joseph Smith, American Moses” and the choreography. In the former, Elder Young goes through the process of baptizing Nabulungi, which is full of sexual implications. I think I loved this one because Young is such a charismatic character – he brings many laughs to the show, while also forcing the audience to empathize with him because of his low self-esteem. In the latter, the villagers put on a show for the Mormon missionaries, which is entertaining thanks to the juxtaposition between the Ugandans and the Americans reaction. The choreography is a major part of the show, paying tribute to all different genres and parts of musical history. Such complexity and variety from song to song is refreshing, fun, and completely classic. I guess it’d be foolish to expect anything but hyper-theatricality, even if it is a show focused on Mormons in Uganda.
The only issue I had with the show was, well, the show. I knew that it was somewhat controversial, but generally hailed as a brilliant production. However, as I sat through the first act, it took me some time to warm up to the jokes and feel comfortable with them. This is not because I don’t like or am not used to comedy – I love it. And beyond that, find it to be an extremely effective means, specifically when battling confusing identities, ones that are often stereotyped or oppressed. Comedy is awesome. But for some reason, the portrayal of the Ugandans, an imperative part of the show, was not cutting it for me. And despite having thought and read about the story, I still cannot put my finger on what exactly turned me off. It could be due to the current climate our world is in – one where outlandish, seemingly ridiculous ideas that appeared and functioned as jokes are finding their footing in societies that are supposed to be increasingly “progressive” and “forward-moving.” It could be a variety of reasons, objective or subjective. I’m toying with ideas here, still trying to understand why I didn’t love my matinee musical experience quite as much as I hoped that I would. Instead I’ve been left as a slightly confused google-searcher and review-hunter.
However, I saw that by the second act, as a whole, the Ugandans were more humanized and credible. They knew that everything Young was spewing to them, about kissing frogs to cure AIDS and yatta yatta, was metaphors. And by the end of the show, we’re on a positive note again, just as hopeful as Elder Price was at the beginning when he hoped to be sent to Orlando, acknowledging the importance of religion and beliefs to many people, no matter their differences. All in all, I’d say The Book of Mormon is a put-together production worth seeing, and one worth taking a more critical look at, too.

REVIEW: Detroitography talk + exhibit

Alex Hill, the founder of Detroitography, spoke to a packed room inside the South Thayer Building about putting an emphasis on the human side of statistics and big data.

Although not a native of Detroit, Alex has been able to fuse his background in medical anthropology with his current work at the Wayne State Pediatric Research Center and love of statistics to create a number of incredible maps of Detroit.

Where's the nearest Starbucks?
Where’s the nearest Starbucks?

All of the maps are created using open source data to make them accessible to everyone. The aim, as Alex explained, is to present data in a way that shows the actual implications and makes it relevant to people.

When bringing up the Detroit bankruptcy–the largest municipal bankruptcy in history at 17 billion dollars–Alex addressed how the water shutoff was a fatal flaw in looking at data. While the city saw that they could save over 100 million dollars by confronting delinquent accounts, no one thought to consider the fact that the majority of delinquent accounts were owned by people that could not pay them off.


The rest of Alex’s sleek red, white and black presentation addressed the overarching question: how do we relate data not just to other data, but to people?

There is a risk of drowning in big data, as he explained, and it is up to us to figure out how the data relates to human beings. One of the biggest flaws about statistics is the belief that algorithms are completely objective. This is completely false–someone had to write the code for that algorithm, and they chose all the variables. Nothing is completely unbiased.


Numbers don’t motivate, but the connection to the people that correspond to those numbers. One map of the MidCassTown Corridor was a collection of responses from residents of that very corridor. Some residents called it the Cass Corridor, and some called it Midtown. Mapping the data showed the Midtown-naming residents to be in the more affluent, modernized areas. As one individual stated: “They [white people] call it Midtown.”

Detroitography is an interesting concept, there’s no doubt about that. Will it be effective? Will mapping data about Detroit have a positive impact on policy decisions for the city, or will it turn out to be simply another aesthetically pleasing project related to the Motor City?

PREVIEW: Detroitography talk + exhibit

What is Detroitography?

It is a combination of the city of Detroit & cartography/geography–an organization that curates a collection of maps focused on Detroit and its extensive history.

This exhibition of traveling maps will set down at the South Thayer Building, starting with a talk by founder Alex Hill.

Here you can get a preview of the types of wonderful maps you’ll be able to see.

When: November 1st at 12:30

(The Detroitography exhibition runs Nov 1 – Dec 15)

Where: 202 S. Thayer Building 

Price: FREE!