The self-titled Club Soda album gets going into some intense, hyper dance club version of a science fiction synthwave vibes right away with “Goblin Bitch.” Given the possibilities of modern production it’s difficult to say how much of this was produced with older technology but it has the tonal aesthetics of something that would have been made with cheap synths, drum machines and either Acid or some old sequencer and a CasioTone 101. Except that Elijah Jarocki brings a different set of aesthetics to the music than someone would have in the late 90s making use of childhood electronic instruments to create strange pop songs. “Heartbreak City” sounds like a trap song made by Captain Ahab. Ghosts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It” haunt the edges of “Rice Forever” before it goes lo-fi Dirty South early EBM. “Goyle/Soda Alienation ” warps the flow of rhythm in a way that draws you in and provides sonic flashback of one of those beats Aphex Twin buried on the deep web for adventurous and resourceful fans to find. In the end, though, with “You Almost Took Me To The Edge,” Club Soda finishes the album with a triumphant, synthpop banger with vocoder to seal the impression of gloriously abused aesthetics and technology to engage in layered stylistic time traveling to make an album that could have been made 40 years ago or yesterday. Being able to exist in that zone of timelessness for the duration of the album is truly a gift. Listen to Club Soda on Bandcamp where you can also order a copy of the physical media.
The relatively new Mission Ballroom hosted two living titans of jazz on August 14, 2019 when Herbie Hancock headlined with Kamasi Washington opening. Hancock has been an innovator in the genre and an influence on plenty of other styles of music going back to at the 1960s as a genre-bending genius whose contribution to other people’s music and his own band leading has expanded what jazz can be and sound like and look like. Washington has long established himself as a choice player in modern R&B, hip-hop, jazz and funk in his own right including turns on the last two Kendrick Lamar albums. Hancock the piano wizard, and Washington a brilliant sax player. The room proved itself apt for letting both musicians and their players shine through impeccable sound, something that isn’t the case with a lot of rooms of comparable size.
Washington’s band looked almost tranquil when it performed but if expressions speaks volumes and listening and trusting collective musical instincts is the telepathy of music this group took us through a soul stirring journey. Playing select songs from across Washington’s repertoire, the band’s flow of feeling and expression thereof through its creative chemistry demonstrated that this was a living music that invited you in for the experience of what went behind the writing of the songs beyond the clearly masterful arrangements that were open enough for collective orchestration. The raw power of the music was heartbreaking. You heard the sorrow, the pain, the struggle, the grace in the face of adversity and the urgency of wondering when things would finally be better in the world. Without many words excepting “Fists of Fury” and other pieces with lyrics the group conjured an elegantly yet passionately articulated sense of people hurting from a lifetime, generations, of oppression. The weight of it, of not being taken seriously as a human, not being valued for contributing to culture or society but being barred from doing so in so many ways. The disenfranchisement that cuts deep and affects your psyche. But Washington’s music also brought out the beauty of the underlying knowledge that things don’t have to remain this way if we have the will to cast it off even if that will take a daunting level of work and the willingness of people to change. The music offered no solutions, no solace while also not sitting deep in despair. It was a channeling of that soul crushing sadness into something that couldn’t help but affect you and bring you to tears.
Herbie Hancock seemed to be in high spirits when his own group took the stage and performed music from a broad spectrum of his career including choice cuts from his 1973 landmark Head Hunters, 1974’s Thrust and 1978’s Sunlight with a trip back to 1964 and “Cantaloupe Island.” Hancock told us he’d played Boulder and Denver many times and had a certain affection for the now defunct Tulagi’s in Boulder. When Hancock asked the crowd, “Are you ready for some weird stuff?” the band ably delivered with a psychedelic funk festooned with a maximalist improv groove on the core of the established songs like “Actual Proof” and “Chameleon.” When the group went into “Cantaloupe Island” it got a modern flavor.
Lionel Loueke played like a space alien visiting to play in this band and laying down some of the most out guitar licks anyone is likely to on anyone’s tour now. Hancock told us something like how he’s played with the top ten drummers but that Vinnie Colaiuta was in the top echelon of even those players and he lived up to those words. James Genus held down the low end with an elegant flow of bass on loan from Saturday Night Live. But perhaps surprising was Terrence Martin playing not only keyboards but impressive sax chops to boot. Having produced the most recent two Kendrick Lamar albums we came to find out he’ll be working with Hancock soon on the pianists next record. The sheer joy of Hancock’s playing and his humor and chemistry with the band was riveting and vital.
At the end of the set, following “Cantaloupe Island,” Hancock and company performed a bit of “Rockit” including his signature keytar, brought out earlier in the set, and for the closing jam Washington came out with members of his own band and it seemed like everyone was on the same page, sharing the same spirit and showcasing some of of the best of what has been produced in American culture over the last six decades and not a passing of the torch so much as an acknowledgment of one classic master for the talent of a relative newcomer and vice versa as people who have helped make our world seem more compassionate and not functionally drab.
Friday | August 9
What: The Alarm, Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel
When: Friday, 08.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: In the 1980s all three of these bands embodied the kind of highly melodic post-punk that articulated both the bleakness of an era and the hope that they and the rest of humanity would endure writing songs celebrating life and love and honoring the uncertainty, tentativeness and sometimes, yes, even gloominess that cast a pall over society with the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. Over thirty years hence we’re all in another period of doom hanging over the planet from, once again, the threat of nuclear war but also the collapse of our ecosystem and the rise of another wave of aggressive fascism throughout the world. Since these three bands have reconvened each has also been writing some of the best music of their careers and commenting on the times with songs that aren’t trying to capture past glory so much as writing music worthy of their legacy of not getting stuck in a rut. Modern English’s 2016 album Take Me to the Trees, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel’s 2017 record Dance Underwater and The Alarm’s 2019 offering Sigma reflect not just the strength of the respective band’s original creative vision but also their growth as artists valid in the modern era.
What: The Yellow Rake 15 year anniversary night 1 w/Simulators, Moon Pussy, Charly Fasano, Brian Polk and Karl Christian Krumpholz
When: Friday, 08.09, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: The Yellow Rake is a Denver-based literary and culture magazine that is celebrating a remarkable fifteen years in existence with performances from local bands Simulators and Moon Pussy and writers and artists Charly Fasano, Karl Christian Krumpholz and Yellow Rake founder Brian Polk. The celebration will run two nights beginning tonight at Mutiny Information Café.
What: Martin Atkins DJ sets and spoken word
When: Friday, 08.09, 9 p.m.
Why: Martin Atkins who has been a major figure in post-punk and industrial music going back four decades (i.e. Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Ministry, Public Image Limited) will do a DJ set tonight and perform some spoken word, possibly reading from his own body of work.
Saturday | August 10
What: This Will Destroy You w/Brin
When: Saturday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: This Will Destroy You is one of the better ambient post-rock bands. Mainly because its dynamics aren’t limited to the predictable builds and then inevitable catharsis like Sigur Ros without all the alien light and energy that imbues that band’s music. This Will Destroy You’s 2018 albums New Others Part One and Part Two finds the band further developing its textural elements giving its new set of soundscapes a depth of low end it didn’t lack but one that highlights the more ethereal melodies with a a evocative contrast in tone.
What: Rolling Stones: 2019 No Filter Tour
When: Friday, 08.10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Mile High Stadium
Why: Anyone not know who the Rolling Stones are? Use your search engine and learn about the iconic rock and roll band that fused a gritty, heavily blues influenced rock music and evolved it in various and fascinating ways for years with lyrics that often indulged in unusual, offbeat subjects and really a broad spectrum of human experience making their songs long term engaging and influential. Keith Richards’ autobiography Life is one of a handful of essential books written by a musician.
What: GYES: Arc Sol, Mainland Break, Slugger
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: This edition of Get Your Ears Swoll brings to Northwest Aurora, Colorado experimental rock bands with a psychedelic loose edges.
What: The Yellow Rake 15th Anniversary Night 2: SPELLS, Black Dots, Muscle Beach and Joy Subtraction
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Why: The second night of The Yellow Rake’s celebration of fifteen years of existence takes place at the Hi-Dive with some of Denver’s best punk and post-hardcore bands.
What: Glasss Fest Day 1
When: Friday, 08.10, 12 p.m.
Why: This two day event spanning roughly twelve hours each day brings together some of the most interesting of underground bands that often do not get much play at the clubs or more commercial venues. Which makes it an event worth attending to catch a slice of what you’re missing out on if you only go to venues that don’t book experimental music. Most of this stuff isn’t particularly challenging unless your idea of genius is mainstream pop music that is bland but has the veneer of quality or if you’re mainly only into one genre of music not represented. It’s an eclectic booking in a way that needs to happen in Denver and elsewhere more often. Schedule below. All times p.m. as if you needed to be told.
12:30 – DJ Zombie
3 – Grrrl
3:30 Kah Li
4 – Nothing is Everything
4:30 – MYTHirst
5 – Adam Selene
5:30 – Bios+a+ic
6 – Elle Green
6:30 – Sliver
7 – Bianca Mikahn
7:30 – Denizens of the Deep
8 – House N Complex
8:30 – Pearls & Perils
9 – Princess Dewclaw
9:30 – Abeasity Jones
10 – R A R E B Y R D $
10:30 – Catdog
11 – Techno Allah
11:30 – Savage Bass Goat
Sunday | August 11
What: Glasss Fest Day 2
When: Sunday, 08.11, 12 p.m.
Why: See above for Glasss Fest.
1 – Sobremarcha/Hepster Pat DJ Sets
3 – Umbras Animus
4 – Galleries
5 – Disposal Notice
5:30 – Sumguy
6 – Bowshock
6:30 John Gross
7 – Venus305 / DCC
7:30 – Lady of Sorrows
8 – Pythian Whispers
8:30 – Dead Characters
9 – Soulless Maneater
10 – Joohsup
10:30 – $addy
11 – Hepster Pat DJ set
Tuesday | August 13
What: Quits, Multicult (MD), Sliver and Equine
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 12 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Basically a noise rock show except for Equine who is probably doing a noisy guitarscaping sort of set. And Sliver who are basically a grunge color-by-numbers act. At least when it comes to their Layne Staley wannabe singer/guitarist. But they’re pretty alright in spite of all of that. Multicult is a Baltimore-based noise rock band in the vein of Shellac and The Unsane. Quits is a Denver band with a similar aesthetic and one that doesn’t skimp on the raw emotional outbursts.
What: Pure Bathing Culture w/Plume Varia
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Pure Bathing Culture started with Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman who are also members of experimental folk band Vetiver. PBC is more in the realm of dream pop but with a more organic base with vibrant and sparkling guitar work amid lush synths as well as Versprille’s warm vocals. The group’s 2019 album Night Pass is its first since being dropped from Partisan Records. And rather than a darker than usual album to reflect the process of the experience, Night Pass sounds like a band that kept going its previous creative trajectory of introspective, upbeat yet downtempo pop songs. Opening the show is Plume Varia who share a similar sensibility but whose sound palette is a little more dusky and with singer Cheri Cobbs’ vocals soulful and deeply evocative.
What: Matt Weston (Albany), Ryan Mcryhew and Ryan Seward
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7:30 p.m.
Why: This will be something of an experimental improvisational show including locals Ryan Mcryhew better known for his work as modular synth and beats composer Entrance and avant-garde percussionist Ryan Seward. Both will join Matt Weston whose own left field percussion and electronics has brought him into collaborative spheres with the likes of Roger Miller (of Mission of Burma), Jim O’Rourke, drone legend Kevin Drumm, free jazz saxophone player Charles Gayle and Jack Wright, another master sax improviser.
Wednesday | August 14
What: Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington
When: Wednesday, 08.14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Herbie Hancock probably needs no introduction as one of the most important artists in modern jazz as a composer, pianist and band leader. He played in Miles Davis Quarter, he was a pioneer of jazz fusion and funk, he has composed soundtracks, he had a 1983 pop hit with “Rockit” which fused jazz and hip-hop. His accomplishments are, frankly, to massive to list. Also on this bill is Kamasi Washington whose own role as a master saxophonist (he’s played on records by Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, St. Vincent and others, no big deal), composer, band leader and producer parallels Hancock’s own. As a live performer Washington orchestrates the show with a subtle mastery that feels relaxed and informal due to the songwriting and the years of work already put in but which feels like watching a grandmaster at work. So go early to catch Washington and stay for one of the few living legends of jazz demonstrate his own musical magic.
Bernard Fowler is a singer and musician who grew up in New York City who has been a touring member of the Rolling Stones since 1989 when he was asked to come on board as a singer for the Steel Wheels tour. In fact, Fowler will join the Stones on stage at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, August 10 for the No Filter Tour . But by the time Fowler became involved with the Stones, he had already been hired to do backing vocals on Mick Jagger’s first solo album, 1985’s She’s the Boss through the auspices of his friend and professional associate musician and producer Bill Laswell. Prior to that Fowler had worked with Laswell on the 1982 Material album One Down as well as various other of Laswell’s projects including the 1985 Compact Disc by Public Image Limited and, later, avant-garde composer Philip Glass’s 1986 record Songs from Liquid Days. Fowler’s power, versatility and taste has made Fowler an in demand talent in music for decades and his discography also includes performances on records and live with artists as diverse and respected as Herbie Hancock, Yoko Ono, Sly & Robbie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, James Blood Ulmer, Alice cooper and Bootsy Collins. Fowler has been around.
In 2019 the singer released a project that has been in the works for a few years now as an idea that had to become a reality and that is the album Inside Out comprised of Rolling Stones covers. But it isn’t merely a covers album. Fowler went through the Stones’ catalog and selected songs whose words struck deep and resonated with issues of racism, political corruption and class that were in the forefront of public consciousness at the time of their writing and the ways in which those cultural issues are very much at the heart of political discourse today not just in the United States but in the world generally. That approach to finding the songs with the appropriate words went hand in hand with doing the music in an almost entirely different style in the form of jazz and the spoken word and jazz fusion that was embodied by the East Harlem, New York City collective, The Last Poets. But unlike one of the other progenitors of hip-hop, Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets’ music wasn’t as widely accessible.
“Gil Scott-Heron, lucky for him, he was one of the spoken word artists that actually got played on the radio,” says Fowler. “So I heard him on the radio like everybody else did. But The Last Poets was a different story. The Last Poets was not something we heard on the radio. People learned about The Last Poets by word of mouth and the music played on the street. My older brother brought those records home. So we played The Last Poets at my house.”
Fowler was just slightly to young to have seen The Last Poets when he was coming up but in later years he met and hung out with Jalaluddin Nuriddin, one of the founders of the group before he passed away in June 2018. The collective still operates today with a 2019 album Transcending Toxic Times produced by Philadelphia-based bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma. For connoisseurs of rap, The Last Poets are some of the founding fathers of the art form starting as spoken word poetry with a backdrop of percussion until 1973’s Hustler’s Convention where other instruments were added and gave the group’s music a more jazz and funk vibe. But the whole time, The Last Poets wrote sharply observant songs about life in the inner city in ways that hadn’t quite been articulated in the arts the same way up to that time.
“The things they were talking about were the things we were going through in the black community,” says Fowler. “Things are rough now but it was even rougher back then. And they talked about those things—poverty, corrupt government and children being hungry. It is also part of what influenced me to do this record. I just wanted to do something different. Someone wrote a comment about it being a vanity project. A vanity project? What’s so vain about doing something different? When I saw that the first thing that came to my head was ‘Fuck you, you don’t even know what you’re talking about.’ It’s like telling an artist known for abstract painting to not do portraits. Don’t paint portraits because we only want to see you doing abstract painting. People just want to put you in a box and if you step outside that box, oh, it’s a vanity project. This record is important for a lot of reasons, I think. It’s important because it mirrors the time we’re living in now and more important than that it shows how strong a songwriters that the [glimmer] twins are.”
Give Inside Out a listen and discover the real impact of the words written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Fowler stayed away from most of the big hits and chose songs that maybe some fans glossed over but whose lyrics struck Fowler deeply. In the liner notes of the album Fowler writes “Could it be that the Stones are actually some black guys disguised as English gentlemen?” And why so?
“Because the lyrics could have been written by a black cat from the inner city of New York,” offers Fowler. “Those lyrics were that strong. Obviously to be able to write and relate the way that they wrote they had to be going through something similar where they were. We didn’t have the internet back then so I’m sure they had an idea what was happening here but didn’t see it first hand. When you think about it, they did go through some shit. That’s where Exile On Main St. came From.”
Perhaps the only radio friendly song Fowler chose for Inside Out is “Sympathy For the Devil,” which is an oddity in radio play due to its length alone. It’s also the only song for which Fowler used the original chord changes and played by keyboardist Mike Garson. Otherwise the songs are rhythm driven and performed by some ace players in the jazz world including Ray Parker Jr. who many people really only remember for the 1984 hit song “Ghostbusters,” a song he also wrote and produced. Parker Jr., though, has had a storied career worth delving into including writing with Marvin Gaye, session work with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Luc Ponty, Tina Turner and Herbie Hancock, to name a few. Parker Jr.’s guitar chops and creativity have graced numerous records including Inside Out and brought the jazz sensibility Fowler was looking to create in homage to The Last Poets’ style. So he also brought in other Midwestern jazz musicians like George Evans, Vince Wilburn Jr. and Darryl Jones – the latter two of which performed with Miles Davis – as well as jazz horn players like Keyon Harrold and Tim Ries. The result is an interpretation of Rolling Stones songs unlike any you’ve ever heard and which highlight the heft of the poetic clarity and heft of the lyrics of The Glimmer Twins. What do the Rolling Stones think of the album?
“They love the record,” says Fowler.
Catch Fowler on the road now with The Rolling Stones but keep an eye out for live performances of tracks from Inside Out when Fowler takes that music on the road to perform live beyond his home town of New York City.