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 Peckham and 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.
Sam Bivens has never had a hard time getting listeners to come back. In fact, many fans of the Denver Jazz Orchestra bandleader (and recent Westword profile subject; see "Turkish Delight," February 17) have followed him from his former home at Turk's Supper Club, a historic tavern on the northeast side that closed for business this summer, to his new gig at the VFW on 17th and Federal. Sam and his (very) big band perform there every Monday night at 8 p.m. (when you can always snatch a copy of the DJO's new CD, Sam Bivens and the Denver Jazz Orchestra). Swing on by.
Last week seemed to present a rare opportunity for Texans to make asses of themselves in front of national television audiences. I'm speaking, of course, of George Strait. Last week, Strait and Alan Jackson received the decoration for "Best Country Performance" at the Country Music Awards for their duet-performance of Larry Cordle's "Murder on Music Row," a scathing stab at Music City that calls the industry's decision makers to task. After receiving the award, Strait, who had taken some heat from industry types who felt he had betrayed them by endorsing Cordle's clearly venomous sentiments, told reporters he had recorded the album in jest, and that he wasn't even sure the songwriter -- whom he didn't mention by name -- had really meant his words to be taken all that seriously.
Those who recall "He Done It" -- Marty Jones's September 21 profile of a fiery, pissed-off Cordle -- know that he certainly did. Two days after Strait's comments to a confused press, Cordle seemed both thrilled with the song's win and dissapointed by Strait's immediate sellout, something he communicated in a follow-up conversation with Mr. Jones, which Backwash has channeled for you here:
"I am disappointed in George's remarks," Cordle says. "He had a chance to stand up there and say, 'Thank you all, I'm glad you liked this.' That's all he had to say and everybody would have got it." Strait's back-pedaling, he notes, "Sounded to me like, 'Okay that was a little joke. Now I hope it won't keep you from playing our records.'
"[The song] wasn't a joke to me then, and it's not a joke today either," he says. "I stand by it and I'm not ashamed by it."
Many of Strait's fans are also feeling let down by his reversal. Cordle says he's received numerous e-mails from longtime Strait fans "who were all very disappointed. I know that the wind really got knocked out of a lot of traditional country music fans' sails that night. They felt like they were cheated.
"It's over and I'm kind of glad," he adds. "And if I'm done in this town, if this is a swan song for me, fine. This is exactly how I wanted to go out of here -- standing up for something that I think is right."
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Cordle getting run out of town seems unlikely. During the CMA show, Brad Paisley and a few other country artists invited him to write songs with them, something he' s happy about. And to those who feel that his tune was aimed at them, Cordle's not making apologies. "We're simply saying, hey, you all need to be reminded of where this stuff comes from. And you need to do some of it sometimes."
Finally, it appears that good grace and good sense have returned to the Grizzly Rose Saloon and Dance Emporium following its purchase by Kathy and Bill Ripolla this spring. Case in point: This week's appearance by Merle Haggard on Wednesday, October 18. Unlike Strait, Haggard has clearly earned the country-legend title during the course of his four-decade-long career: He's been to jail, worked with his hands, had plenty of hits and some hardships, and along the way influenced every country artist to follow him. If you go, you may even elbow up to our own Denver Joe, who's known to challenge audience members at his weekly Cricket gigs to "Git the fuck out" if they don't like Merle Haggard. Which begs the question: Who doesn't like Merle Haggard?