When Louis Armstrong was asked to define jazz, he said, "Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know." Like all good four-letter words, "jazz" rolls fluidly off the tongue with poise, passion and sizzle -- and when Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal takes over the University of Denver's Newman Center stage tonight, expect things to heat up -- quickly. The thirty-year-old dance company's roots run deep in the heart of the blue note, but when artistic director Louis Robitaille took over six seasons ago, he tossed convention aside. "Now there is a lot of modern diversity," he says, "but we still respect the strong jazz background of the company." A presentation of Trey McIntyre's Blue Until June will be followed by Crystal Pite's Short Work: 24 and Mia Michaels's spicy No Strings Attached. It's a trio sure to make traditionalists' hearts skip. "There is a conservative ballet at the start," explains Robitaille, "then something more theatrical, and finishing with an explosion of real modern dancing."
Jazz redefines itself with each new step, and this avant-garde group pledges to create distinctive color and tone in every stride. "Every time I watch people come out of the show, they have a big smile," says Robitaille. "Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal is everything but obscure."
What to do in Denver
The program begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 East Iliff Avenue. Tickets are $30 to $75 and available through Ticketmaster outlets. For information, call 303-871-7720 or visit www.du.edu/newmancenter. --Kity Ironton
Hemophiliac gushes up a bloody mess
To help raise funds during a financial dry spell in 2002, reed phenom John Zorn, New York's hyperactive poster boy for the avant-garde, enlisted Japanese percussionist Ikue Mori (Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot) and vocalist Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More) for a series of harsh experimental recordings under the collective name Hemophiliac. "We did it to document something we'd been doing for years," Patton says by phone from San Francisco. "A limited-edition thing -- 2,000 or so."
Sonically ferocious and funny, the rare two-disc set combines drum machines, electronics, brutal alto sax and effects-peppered vocals that range from wordless scatting to operatic wailing. Not exactly an easy-listening experience, it pays tribute to some of the world's overlooked oddities -- at least judging from songs with titles like "Stretch Marks," "Dizzy Spells," "The Black Radish" and "Chlorophyll Enemas."
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Hemophiliac is on the road now, but the trio isn't too worried about re-creating its music in a live setting.
"We don't even know what we're gonna do yet," Patton says of tonight's show at the Boulder Theater. "We get up there on stage and make a horrible racket. It's completely improvised. And people are usually quite confused. It's gonna be challenging, provocative, seductive and hideous all at the same time.
"If you can't figure it out, then that's your problem," he adds defensively. "We just put the stuff out there, and it's up to the rest of the world to make sense of it or ignore it or enjoy it, hate it -- whatever."
The free-for-all begins at 8 p.m.; tickets, $29.50 to $38.50, are available at the Boulder Theater box office, 2032 14th Street. Call 303-786-7030. -- John La Briola