Best Music Video Director 2010 | Eric Heights | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Although Eric Heights hangs his hat in L.A. these days, his heart is still very much in the Mile High City, judging from the videos he's produced for so many Denver artists. From his most recent work with Spoke in Wordz and ManeRok to past clips for Ichiban, 3 the Hardway, The Pirate Signal and Deca, Heights has used his artistic vision to help us really see these artists, elevating the scene in the process. His distinctive, high-contrast style helps bring the music to life. And it's not just musicians he's working with, either. Even with all the other projects he's been juggling, he found the time to create a well-shot and -produced promo video for Guerilla Garden Studios. Thanks to Heights, Denver is looking good.

The Fresh Breath Committee lives up to its early promise by delivering an engaging album imbued with a classic feel and brimming with fluid grooves and compelling beats. Featuring a stable of stellar MCs who could easily turn heads on their own, the Fresh Breath crew manages to shine individually without stepping all over one another. Lyrically, the Committee has substance; whether they're grappling with matters of the heart or simply reflecting on life, the wordplay is always thoughtful. And the hooks, propped up by the soul-kissed pipes of Crystal Goldenberg, make the platter even more memorable. While there were a number of outstanding local hip-hop releases over the past year, CPR's excellent production, eye-grabbing artwork and overall continuity made it the clear winner.

The Foot: Great band with a lousy name that doesn't come close to describing the music — unless, of course, it's some sort of subtle reference to an ass-kicking or something. Because then the name makes complete sense. Fortunately, these guys put far more thought, time and effort into their music than their handle, and it shows. Primary Colors, the band's latest effort, available for free download right now, is an utterly delightful listen. These three University of Denver grads clearly have some chops, which is immediately evident from listening to the tasty guitar work and drum fills on the album. And that's to say nothing of the melodies, which are tuneful, and the harmonies, which are superb.

Always a fine band with an exciting live show, Action Packed Thrill Ride became can't-miss by smoothing some of the rough edges and leaning away from country and toward rock and roll. Now the band's shows are as much fun as its name. The group recorded a new EP, Best I've Felt, and offered it for free as a download and at its shows. There's a warm, inclusive feel to the new stuff, and we're confident the band's full-length followup to the very good A Looseleaf Script will be its best yet.

Cassandra Kotnik

Since the state's smoking ban was introduced several years ago, longtime coffeehouse Paris on the Platte and the adjoining Paris Wine Bar were among the only places where people could legally smoke in the city. Near the end of 2009, though, owner Faye Maguire made the tough decision to go smoke-free. But she did more than clear the air; she procured a cabaret license for the wine bar, took down a wall, built a stage, added a sound system — and started booking a weekly stream of live music and DJs. These days, Paris is smokin' — in a good way.

Mark Payler

There's a reason that Dazzle keeps winning awards, a reason that Downbeat magazine rates this spot as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world: Dazzle keeps getting it right. Seven days a week, you can count on the club to bring in stellar talent, whether it's a high-caliber national act along the lines of Tom Harrell, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Charlie Hunter or Joey DeFrancesco, or one of the city's finest offerings, pulling from the likes of Ron Miles, Fred Hess, Jeff Jenkins, René Marie or the jazz supergroup Convergence. Combine the talent with two comfortable listening rooms, a Colorado-centric bar and some damn fine food (including a great happy-hour menu), and you've got a dazzling jazz club that's definitely world-class.

Nathaniel Rateliff has been an undeniable presence on the local scene for years, from fronting the critically lauded Born in the Flood to, more recently, serving as the driving creative force of the Wheel. With Flood, Rateliff's expressive vocals added a layer of distinction to already stirring indie-rock compositions. When he's on his own, though, his captivating voice — which has stilled more than a few boisterous crowds — showcases the subtler nuances of his songwriting. On the heels of successful stints at last fall's CMJ New Music Marathon in New York City and March's SXSW in Austin, which generated positive notices from Brooklyn Vegan and Vanity Fair, Rateliff has truckloads of momentum going into the release of In Memory of Loss, his Rounder Records debut due out this spring. Finally, Rateliff seems poised to get the national recognition he so richly deserves.

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