The Lique’s hip-hop for jazz heads at The Temporary
IF YOU GO …
What: The Lique
Where: The Temporary at Willits, Basalt
When: Sunday, Feb. 18, 8 p.m.
How much: $9/advance; $14/day-of
The hottest band in Las Vegas is making its first trip through the Rocky Mountains and making its Colorado debut this weekend in Basalt.
The Lique (pronounced “leak”) is a jazz-powered hip-hop act, or a rap-driven jazz ensemble, depending on your perspective.
The band will play the Temporary at Willits in Basalt on Sunday, its first show in Colorado followed by three more stops in Denver, Avon and Ridgway and shows around Utah and New Mexico.
“This is part of a whole new wave,” front man Rasar Amani said in a phone interview from Las Vegas during a recent tour break. “We’re very excited about that.”
With traditional jazz instrumentals and Amani’s rhymes, The Lique can play to a rowdy party crowd — their song “Batman” is a natural singalong anthem — or in a more subdued sit-down club with laid-back grooves like “Billie’s Holiday.” The band also makes room for improvisation.
“It’s mostly jazz cats in the band, so improvisation is really big for us,” Amani said. “We have a show, but we make something that’s unique for every event.”
They’ve only been around for three years, but they’ve quickly established a reputation as the best local band in Las Vegas (named as such by the weeklies Vegas Seven and Las Vegas Weekly).
It began, Amani recalled, with guitarist Sean Carbone drafting fellow jazz players at UNLV — bassist Nick Schmitt, keyboardist Jason Corpuz, drummer Jeremy Klewicki — and recruiting Amani from Sacramento to craft a soulful, Tribe Called Quest-inspired hip-hop sound with live instrumentation and all original songs.
“He wanted a jazz-based hip-hop band,” Amani recalled. “So it always came back to that. It’s been an interesting journey, because obviously jazz is not the most popular genre.”
However, just as The Lique was starting to build an audience in Vegas, records like Chance the Rapper’s Donnie Trumpet collaboration “Surf” and Kendrick Lamar’s Kamasi Washington-scored “To Pimp a Butterfly” brought a heavy dose of contemporary jazz into popular hip-hop. They gave young listeners a frame of reference for The Lique and helped boost the upstart band as it released its debut album, “Democracy Manifest,” in 2016.
“‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ opened a whole new generation to deep jazz,” Amani said. “So it’s a very interesting time to come up.”
The band has an activist streak and a hopeful heart, exemplified in the new single “I Am,” which pleas for unity in our divided national moment and is punctuated with the rallying cry “I am love/ I am peace/I am joy/ That can never be destroyed.” But Amani is unafraid to be funny or satirical — even the band’s name is a pun, after all — and he most often gilds his messages in an upbeat and entertaining package.
“I think that’s how we’re able to survive as a band and as individuals existing in a time like this, when things are so serious,” he said. “You either laugh or cry.”
The band has recently begun posting a “Wiki-Liques” video series of one-minute originals on social media, where Amani raps a wrap-up of the week’s news over MPC beats and live bass. It’s a viral-ready sort of stunt that also serves as a showcase for his clever and quick-witted rhymes.
“We’re not worried about views or shares or likes,” he said. “Whether it takes off or it doesn’t, we’re like, ‘Why not? We like making stuff. We like hanging out. Why not know what’s going on.’ It’s also one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.”
As The Lique makes its first inroads in Colorado, the band is preparing for a busy summer on the festival circuit, which could prove to be a national breakthrough. Amani said The Lique isn’t expecting mainstream pop success, but he sees the possibility of a future where they grow a loyal following for their live shows in the Phish/Grateful Dead tradition.
“I’m not expecting to be the next Bruno Mars or anything like that,” Amani said. “But I’m not against it. … We may never get big radio or anything like that, but we will always find our tribe.”
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