By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
Two weeks ago, an item in this column mentioned that Mike "Big Mike" Colin plays bass with the excellent hip-hop and free-jazz collective, Ratiocination, a band with almost enough players to line a dugout at the World Series. Now, it appears, Colin can scratch Ratio duties off an already overfull dance card.
On Wednesday, October 4, the band played its farewell show at the Lion's Lair to a house that was, according to co-founder and MC Chip Brokaw, both "full and sad."
"We played almost all of our songs -- and there are a lot of them," he says. "And everyone had a good time. So it was more fun than it was depressing. But after the show at least twenty different individuals came up to me and asked me to reconsider [the breakup]. I wish it were up to me, because I would reconsider."
Brokaw sounds a bit like a boy who's been dumped by a girl he still likes, a metaphor that often applies to band breakups but that seems all the more fitting in this case. In July of 1999, Brokaw started Ratiocination, his first band, with Amy Fisher, a local vocalist who had performed both solo and in folk ensembles. Though Fisher was new to rapping, she shared Brokaw's love for words.
"She just came over one night with a big bag of poetry on paper," Brokaw says. "We started sharing ideas and collaborating, and then just putting it to music, laying down songs. Before we knew it, people were pushing us to play live, even though we didn't think we were ready at the time."
That was in July of 1999, when the pair's sole accompaniment was a drum machine manned by Brokaw's roommate. Sometime between then and now, the band added five more members (bassist Colin, guitarist Tom Murray, drummer Kris P., tuba player Brucke Peckhamand saxophonist Devin McNulty); played more than thirty shows at warehouses, art spaces and clubs around town; picked up a nomination for Best Eclectic Act in this year's Westword Music Awards; and recorded a CD, That's Right. And then broke up just before its planned release in late October.
According to Brokaw, Fisher (who could not be contacted by phone) decided to leave the band to pursue other projects in which her skills as a songwriter can be put to fuller use; Ratiocination, he says, employed a very democratic songwriting process wherein each player wrote his or her own part. While the method was undoubtedly responsible for the band's vibrant, pushing style, it's easy to see how burgeoning tunesmiths might feel their individual talents were quelled by the roar of the crowd.
"Amy is an amazingly talented person, and I have no doubt that she will go far," Brokaw says. "I don't believe anyone in this band held her back, but she felt she needed to leave, and she's probably doing the right thing. She has the power and the ability to generate music that means something, and she's decided to go for it."
Brokaw, meanwhile, has decided to move to Portland, Oregon, where he may be joined by other members of the 'nation later. Before that, however, he and his former bandmates will release That's Right in Denver, through Colin's Oblio Music Web site (oblio.com) and independently in stores around town. It's worth checking out, and not just for souvenir value. Ratiocination, it seems, came and went too quickly, before its members could really harness the power suggested by its experiments. That's too bad, because it means the number of limit-pushing local acts is diminished as more Winger cover bands get ready to take to local stages.
If you are one of those people who thinks that what's filling the air on the commercial radio stations in Denver is about as interesting as reading pamphlets about your insurance plan, you might want to know about a new Internet radio station beaming out of an office in LoDo. MPARadio (via mpar.org) is the online audio extension of the Music Patrons Association of the Rockies, a local nonprofit group that was also responsible for a series of live performances from local artists in Borders Books & Music shows this summer, among other things (Backwash, June 15).
The station, which began streaming via TuneTo.com earlier this month, plays signed and unsigned artists from the eight states in the Rocky Mountain region, with an emphasis on Colorado acts. The service is free (though the player requires a somewhat system-slowing seventy megabytes of file space) and it features many of the local artists MPAR has worked to place in Borders stores both locally and nationwide. Unfortunately, although MPARadio is a nice alternative to what's available on the physical dial these days, the station would benefit greatly from a little programming direction: As it is, the only common denominator between the artists is geography. Smooth jazz (i.e., Yanni-type stuff) is sandwiched between singer/songwriter types, mainstream rock, dance pop and contemporary blues. The lack of any stylistic similarities or format rigidity is refreshing for a while -- we all know commercial radio could benefit from embracing more than one genre at a time. But Internet audiences, like actual radio audiences, will be inclined to switch the channel (or the browser, as the case may be) rather than suffer through songs they hate. And in a climate where Internet radio is gaining steam and stations by the day, it might be hard to get them to come back.