Every Wednesday night, Tulagi, one of Boulder's most venerable rock clubs, gets a new look. Seventies-era furniture supplements its usual decor, as do tapestries and murals enhanced by black lights. The audience is different, too: A visitor might see anyone from Shaggy-bearded hippies to the latest fashion victims of gangsta rap grooving to the pulsing hip-hop rhythms of a sample-happy DJ and the improvisational blues-and-jazz riffing of a dozen or so musicians.
Welcome to the Vibes Ahead Lounge, featuring Sol Jazz Massive, Boulder's premier acid-jazz ensemble.
SJM isn't so much a band as an idea conceived by brothers Hardy and Lucas Kalisher, co-founders of Sol Productions. The two love hip-hop and jazz, and last February they decided to recruit musicians for the Massive project who shared these passions.
"Hardy and I went out and actively collected musicians," Lucas recalls. "We searched out young, talented jazz musicians who were playing in places that really didn't have an audience. The idea was to put these jazz musicians with their peers and have an audience that was really into what they were playing."
To say the least, they succeeded. As tenor saxophonist Ben Hadwen notes, Sol Jazz Massive now consists of "about twenty musicians who are all geared toward improvisation. There's typically a core of several musicians like myself and DJ Dijon. Then we have a rotating lineup of musicians who are either specially invited or just decide to sit in."
The resulting sound, DJ Dijon believes, becomes a form of dance-floor jazz. "That means the fusion of jazz, funk, Latin jazz, R&B, soul and hip-hop, all with the emphasis on keeping it funky and danceable. It's a club thing as opposed to a lounge thing."
Although some purists feel this emphasis on beats slights the jazz component of acid jazz, Dijon, a devoted amateur jazz historian, disagrees. "The first people to do acid jazz were Miles Davis and John Coltrane," he insists. "As far as putting dance beats to jazz, they were doing exactly the same thing we're trying to do--minus the hip-hop beats, of course.
"In the privacy of their own circle, guys like Davis and Coltrane were playing what could be classified as acid jazz," he continues. "But they didn't feel like there was an audience for it at that time, so no one ever heard it."
Other Massive inspirations include old-school rap, jazz fusion and disco. ("Personally, I live and breathe Michael Jackson," SJM founder Lucas jokes.) That may sound like an unwieldy mix, but not to a large number of Boulderites. Sol Jazz Massive regularly packed the first home of Vibes Ahead Lounge, Boulder's smallish West End Tavern, and positive word of mouth made recruiting bandmates unnecessary. "The original group of players we got knew other musicians," Lucas remarks, "and people were also just showing up to sit in."
Before long, even performers in town for tours found their way to the Lounge. "We had the bass player from G. Love & Special Sauce the last time they were in town," Hardy boasts. "We had three upright bass players that night, and this one guy definitely stood out. So I went up and asked him if he wanted to come back next week, and he was like, `Well, I'm just touring with G. Love.'" Others to join SJM include members of George Clinton's P-Funk All Stars, the Charlie Hunter Trio, Jazzmatazz (featuring Guru) and the Soulsonics.
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The move from the West End Tavern to Tulagi hasn't diminished the concept's appeal; crowds of more than 500 have been showing up regularly. Lucas is pleased but not surprised. "The cool thing about acid jazz is that it has a really large crossover market," he says. "You can't typically narrow it down to one crowd. Because the music is dance-based, it's more popular. Jazz has a tendency to be more heady and only appeal to certain people, while acid jazz appeals first on the dancing level with a primitive, tribal beat, and then on the headiness of jazz."
Jazzers accustomed to toiling in obscurity also are benefiting from Sol Jazz Massive's user-friendliness. "From a musician's point of view, doing jazz can be very sterile compared to acid jazz," Hadwen admits. "It's great to be able to make jazz more accessible to the audience and at the same time not have to compromise my playing."
Area club owners are just as high on acid jazz. Venues in Denver and Vail already spotlight the style, with Steamboat soon to follow. And beginning January 27, Vibes Ahead Lounge supplements its Tulagi gig with Saturday night stands at the Underworld in Breckenridge. Nonetheless, Hardy is cautious about predicting that the Sol Jazz Massive message will take the nation by storm. "The biggest following for acid jazz is in Europe and Japan," Hardy maintains. "But if we can take this to a level where it could actually sell a little, we'd like to educate people about jazz. And that's what we're really doing."
Sol Jazz Massive. 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Tulagi, 1129 13th Street, Boulder, $4, 546-6470.