Best Fusion of Hip-Hop and Jazz on Disc 2007 | True by Design | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
There's a natural affinity between jazz and hip-hop; the genres each champion improvisation, be it instrumental or verbal, as well as the joy of grooves and the pleasures of cool. So, too, does Future Jazz Project, which brings these sounds together in a way that's all too rare these days. On their new recording, keyboardists Greg Harris and Greg Raymond, drummer/DJ Dameion Hines and bassist Casey Sidwell fashion a musical backdrop that deserves to be heard in the foreground. Meanwhile, MC Big House and vocalist Selina Albright contribute two very different yet wholly compatible flavors: forceful rhyming and soulful crooning. On "Stress" and other standouts, these ingredients cohere to form a new kind of jazz fusion -- one that's far more vivid and exciting than most music grouped under this heading. That's intelligent Design.
Local roots-music fans know all about KC Groves. A longtime Lyons resident, she's one-fourth of Uncle Earl, a combo that's played lots of gigs and festivals in these parts and contributed a song to the 2005 Colorado Bluegrass Music Society compilation. Now, however, the outfit is taking a giant step toward national prominence with Waterloo, Tennessee, a new disc on Rounder Records produced by none other than founding Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones. On the surface, and below it, this seems like an odd combination. But Jones has played music inspired by folk and acoustic traditions before (spun Led Zeppelin III lately?), and he's smart enough to let Groves and cohorts Kristin Andreassen, Rayna Gellert and Abigail Washburn be themselves. The CD's sound is pure, clear and uncluttered, whether the band is ripping through rave-ups like "Wish I Had My Time Again" or getting dark on the deeply felt dirge "My Epitaph." At moments like these, it's hard to imagination a more compatible couple than KC and Mr. Jones.
Over the years, a number of DIY spots have appeared -- Pancho's Villa, the Junkyard, Garageland, the Hipster Youth Halfway House -- and all have inevitably burned out after short but fiery existences. The latest to carry the torch is Blast-o-Mat, a garage turned totally sweet venue. Attracting city kids on road bikes and punkers in pegged jeans, Blast is an underground enclave, away from the overhyped and overdone bar scene, a community haven for misfits and rockers. But its location in the industrial refuse of a small working-class neighborhood can make it difficult for the uninitiated to find -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Blast-o-Mat experience hinges on the frenetic passion of its select patrons and can be succinctly summed up with the quaint axiom spray-painted in capital letters on the wall behind the tiny stage: "ROCK LIKE THE FUCK."
Rhinoceropolis has an anything-goes spirit, with a variety of artists and artistic mediums occupying its unassuming space on Brighton Boulevard. At least once a month, 'Nopolis hosts local art shows and promotes them with the same fervor as it does the musical acts that pass through its doors. Whatever you're looking for, you're guaranteed to see -- or hear -- something way outside the mainstream any time you visit. Noise artists, psych folk, avant-garde rock and anything else that is just too weird to fit into the universe of more conventionally minded folk finds a home at Rhinoceropolis.
In this era of MySpace bulletins, e-mail and text messages, making fliers would seem to be a lost art, an archaic means of promotion. Hardly anyone goes to the effort of making handbills anymore, and those who do are rewarded for their efforts by watching their handiwork being crumpled and tossed into the garbage (or worse, onto the ground) almost as soon as they're handed out. Fact is, these days folks are oversaturated and overstimulated, and it takes a lot to grab their attention, and few artists take the time to produce something worth hanging on to. Yerkish is the notable exception; the band has created some of the most elaborate and eye-catching posters we've seen in recent years. As an obvious nod to its name (Yerkish is a language that allows humans to communicate with their simian counterparts), each design features some variation of a monkey. We really go ape for them.
Guerilla Garden ain't no bunch of tag-bangers. The crew is Denver's unofficial graffiti-advocacy organization, and its members are some of the city's top graffers, including Jher, Jolt, Voice, Crims, Koze and Emit. Since forming in 2005, they've worked with several programs that promote graffiti as an artistic endeavor -- not a facet of thug life -- and have become a conduit for underground muralists to break into art galleries. If one of these guys (or their followers) deigns to hit your garage, it's because you're paying them cash money to do so.
The Magnet Mafia not only has a cool name -- who wouldn't want to join that family? -- but it's also serious about underground art. Dead serious. The Mafiosi create art on -- wait for it -- magnets, then stick them up around town. Find one, take it home and throw it up on the fridge. Plus, the mobsters will teach you to make your own moveable art. How inspired.
"Denver Monoliths," the enormous abstract sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum's outrageous Frederic C. Hamilton Building, looks like the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons. The primitive forms of Beverly Pepper's charcoal-gray concrete sculpture provide a mighty contrast to the futuristic zigzags of Daniel Libeskind's shimmering silver building. An interesting fact in Pepper's bio is her age: The international art-world hipster is in her eighties! That's yet another reason her piece is one of the best things to see in this otherwise Real World kind of town.
Every project built with city money must set aside 1 percent for public art. In the case of the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building, the city-funded piece is Tatsuo Miyajima's "ENGI," located in the El Pomar Grand Atrium. It's a conceptual installation made up of eighty LED displays embedded into the diagonal walls of the vertiginous space. "ENGI" conveys different perspectives on the passage of time by having the numbers one through nine flash on the screens at different rates. The resulting LEDs look like twinkling sequins, providing the perfect final touch for the spartanly detailed atrium.
Aurora, like Denver, has a 1-percent-for-art program, and among the city's most recent commissions is David Mazza's "Kawil," which is situated on the lawn of the Aurora Fire Department's station #5. "Kawil" is done in the young artist's signature neo-modernist style, with angled steel rods forming an abstract composition. The piece is named for the Mayan god of lightning and fire, and the shape and color fire-engine red -- definitely fit the moniker. "Kawil" may be in Aurora, but it would be among the best even in the middle of downtown Denver.

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