Coloring Time at the Aster Cafe, 12/31/11
The members of Coloring Time read like a who's who of hip hop and jazz in Minneapolis: founded by Joe Horton with core members including Graham O'Brien, Casey O'Brien, Peter Pisano, and Bobby Mulrennen, the lineup is more like a dream crew.
New Year's Eve found the power group assembled on the quiet strip of St. Anthony Main, with the aforementioned artists--as well as Alexei Moon Casselle, Chris Cunningham, Chris Keller (Kristoff Krane), and Michelle Kinney--cramming themselves onto the small stage at the Aster Café for a freestyle session that would usher in 2012 with less flair and more musical intelligence than most would expect on the biggest party night of the year.
While a large screen to the right of the stage played the original version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Casselle, Keller and Horton led the better part of the evening with freestyle raps, weaving between material and sometimes turning to the film for inspiration. The audience was greatly mixed as the capacity crowd seemed half fighting to carry on their own conversations and the other half seemed determined to hear the music--and one of the most poignant moments of the evening came at just a few moments to midnight, as Horton rapped over the boisterous crowd, commenting on those who were paying attention and those who weren't, and how it hardly mattered in the scope of the new year.
As is the chance with improv sets, there were high points and low points for Coloring Time's efforts on Saturday night. It seemed a difficult set to pull off--nine people collaborating on an unplanned effort with seemingly no preconceived plans is no easy feat to pull off, after all, and the high pressure of New Year's Eve means competing with a lot of different agendas on the part of showgoers.
All the same, Coloring Time's delivery was a whole success, and a special treat for those who were listening. Casselle's voice pulls up from deep inside him, envelops the whole room, and Horton's got the sort of unassuming intensity that makes you lean in closer to hear his raps. The play between their constant intellectual rhythm and the smooth, experimental jazz that wove the set together was like a study in music minds: you could see the wheels turning, hear the members communicating in the this-moment-only-comes-once sort of way that improv demands. If that's the kind of sonic forwardness and open collaborative efforts that Minneapolis artists are into, then it looks like 2012 might be the best year yet.