Music Showcase, Take Three

Nominated in Latin/Tejano

Jazzy saxophonist Laura Newman wears a lot of musical hats. A.O.A., which also includes bassist Dave Randon, keyboardist Bill Unrau, drummer Michael Berry and vocalist Crystal Collins, who, Newman says, "sings her ass off," began as a fusion band but has recently moved along a surprising tangent. "We're influenced by anything groove-oriented. It's more rhythm-and-jazz than anything else. There's even some hip-hop in there." This sound will dominate the group's fourth CD, which the musicians will begin recording October 1. In addition, Newman promises "a couple of original arrangements--by which I mean, we don't just cover a tune, but demolish it. We've completely regrooved 'Fire' by Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor's 'You've Got a Friend'--I think those will really turn heads." A.O.A. takes on another character when Newman and her assistants play corporate events and weddings: "We do kind of a Motown thing--and we make incredible money doing it." More satisfying from a creative standpoint are her regular Sunday and Monday appearances at El Chapultepec, where she makes unadulterated jazz in the company of Ellyn Rucker, Mark Simon and Paul Romaine. The combo, which is known by insiders as Chapultergeist, will get the CD treatment early in 1998, and the same players are set to support Rucker on a solo album. This kind of variety might make many musicians feel schizophrenic, but not Newman. "To be able to do originals with A.O.A. and to work with some of the best straightahead players in town is just a dream."

Nominated in Jazz/Swing
10 p.m. McCormick's Fish House & Bar

The experience of opening up a show by the Roots, a hip-hop group that also happens to put on fine live shows, made a strong impression on Reese (Maurice Smith), who with partner Dap (Robert Woolfolk II) makes up the Denver rap outfit nGoMa: "They're definitely the shit, man. They've been a big influence." To that end, nGoMa is in the midst of adding a keyboardist, an acoustic bass player and a drummer to the turntables and DATs that have provided the background music for the group thus far. Reese stresses, "We want to keep the emphasis on the beats and the bass. That will make us more flexible for shows. We can stop, expand and get crowd participation going." Collage Mindstate, nGoMa's extremely promising inaugural CD, is now being sold beyond Colorado's borders, but from an artistic standpoint, Dap and Reese have already moved beyond it. They've come up with a load of new material that reflects their fascination with danceability. But Reese insists that the sound's bigger bottom end will not overshadow the words. "The beats may be a little harder, but the lyrics are also a little deeper. We're learning about life and the business, and our new songs reflect that. It's not a radical change, but just growth. I don't think anybody will be totally shocked by it. Instead, they'll be like, 'Wow, look where they're headed now.'"

Nominated in Hip-Hop/Funk
6:15 p.m. Blake Street Baseball Club

Tim Franklin, who sings and plays trumpet and guitar for Old Bull's Needle, says, "Music is so cliquey right now. You've got your pop-punk, you've got your ska and so on, and there's like one good band out of each of those scenes, and the rest of them suck." Old Bull's Needle (Franklin, lead guitarist/vocalist Russell Fahnestock, bassist/ vocalist Mike Molnar and just plain Kevin on drums) avoids being typecast in this way by merging a couple of compatible inspirations. "Everybody knows that Russ's solos are heavily influenced by Iron Maiden, and we all love metal. But even though we're as quick as a speed-metal band, we're not metal, because we love punk, too. We grew up on punk. So I guess you'd say our big influences are HYsker DY and Slayer." Of late, the boys in the band have been peddling their unholy aural brew to unsuspecting folks without Colorado licenses. "We just got back from touring Texas with the La Donnas. And we're probably going on a three-and-a-half week tour up the coast in about a month or so." The purpose of this last sojourn is to secure some record label interest; the band is eager to issue a six-song EP, but they hope to receive some fiduciary aid in doing so. But Franklin vows not to soften Old Bull's Needle in order to court favor. "We try to keep it fast, but with some integrity. Yeah--fast with integrity ought to be our motto."

Nominated in Hard Rock/Industrial
9:30 p.m. Skybox at Jackson's Sports Rock

When vocalist Jake Schroeder left the 17th Avenue All Stars four years ago to form Opie Gone Bad, he had what he thought was a fairly firm notion of what he wanted the new group to become. "I wasn't really happy doing the a cappella thing, and I had a strong background in rhythm and blues--I love Otis Redding and people like that. So my original intention was to create a modern band with the old Stax/Volt sound." Thus, Opie began as a sprawling, nine-piece ensemble. This goal changed after the musicians spent a not-entirely-satisfying year in Austin. "That was 1995, and when I came back, I didn't even know if I wanted to do music anymore. But then I just decided to go for it, but on a reduced scale. And that's how we wound up with this alternative-funk thing." Since moving down a more college-music-oriented path, Schroeder and his slimmed-down Opie (bassist Kirwan Brown, guitarist Randy Chavez and drummer Dean Oldencott) have become such a consistent live draw that Denver-based Celsius Records, part of a company that's released discs by Willie Nelson and Tim Weisberg, inked them to a deal. Opie Gone Bad, the CD that grew out of this union, has become a local favorite, and Celsius is working hard to win the disc greater exposure. Schroeder has no complaints about the firm's efforts. "As a musician, you're supposed to keep the label in an adversarial role in your head, but I'm having a really hard time doing that with these guys. They're well-funded, and they've been really smart about the way they've done business. This is not a situation where everybody's a slacker and nothing's getting done." Regional and then national touring is on Opie's calendar, but Schroeder doesn't want anyone to think that he has no allegiance to Colorado. "I was bartending at the Wynkoop when Big Head Todd was on Letterman for the first time, and everyone was so proud. It was like watching a rocket launch or a sporting event that everybody cared about. Everybody was really hoping that they'd do well, and they have. I hope that's the same kind of thing that happens for us."

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