They take the stage to perform at least once a week, but after they start, no member of the group has any idea what comes next. On Tuesdays at Three Links in Deep Ellum, the group CoLab -- Dallas’ only hip-hop improv group -- thrills audiences with its unique sound and style.
Take a dive into last week’s roller coaster of a performance: The band shifted from traditional hip-hop to jazz and then blues, all in a matter of minutes. Like an improv show, CoLab's magic is that nobody knows where the music will take them.
Singer Ashley Falgout recalls a recent performance where she started off singing a “heartfelt, tearjerker-type song” only for the song to evolve into a rap-infused ballad eight bars later. For the audience, that means an exciting, one-of-a-kind performance.
“We’re always trying out new material on stage, so we have a lot of freedom to dip in and out of styles," says founder Izk Davies. Other groups freestyle, but what sets CoLab apart is its ability to traverse multiple musical terrains in a single performance. And just like a comedian might, this hip-hop group uses its audience for inspiration.
“Sometimes people are really energetic and we feed off that, other times the audience is a little more chill,” Falgout says. “Music is a type of therapy for us and the audience, and improvisation seems to be the catalyst for that therapy.”
The collaboration consists of several vocalists and instrumentalists. And while they’ve flourished together, they’ve also found success apart. CoLab gives its artists a place to explore.
Falgout has been with CoLab for nearly 10 years and compares the experience to “painting, but with things you can’t see.”
“It’s given us a space to hone all our crafts in a live setting,” she says.
That experience has paid dividends for her, who released her debut solo EP Falgoo in early 2018. The five-track album finds the singer showing off her chops with soulful, gritty gospel and blues tunes. Falgoo wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Falgout’s work with CoLab. Dead Flowers frontman Corey Howe produced the album after meeting Falgout through Evan Johnson, the bassist for both Dead Flowers and CoLab.
“It evolved really naturally,” she says of Falgoo. “The songs were already there, it was just a matter of getting together to crank out the details and hit record.”
Keyboardist Jamie Ringhorn has also found success as a CoLab player and soloist. Ringhorn has performed professionally since his freshman year of high school, and has experience gigging as a solo act and as a member of a 20-piece jazz big band. He currently tours with the band Prophets and Outlaws, yet his gigs with CoLab give him experiences no other show can.
“Pretty much all of us are a part of other projects that can take up a lot of our time, but there is something special about coming together to jam out with songs that we don't get to play any other time” he says. “It's very artistically fulfilling, and much like a group therapy to me.”
Davies appreciates how the band has allowed everyone to explore so much musical terrain -- from blues to hip hop, jazz, rock and soul.
“CoLab is a place where we can think outside the genre box of our other bands and create new styles,” he says.
The band is always looking to play more, and they want to produce the first-ever CoLab album. But Ringhorn has even bigger hopes for what CoLab can bring to Dallas at large.
“My hope is that we continue to grow this amazing Dallas culture and energy through our music and style,” he says. “The Dallas sound is so hard to define but easily recognizable, and I hope more people can come to see our interpretation of this musical phenomenon.”
Whatever the future holds, Falgout is just happy to be along for the ride.
“We’re a big family, and that’s the main reason why you see us all evolving in our own ways,” she says. “CoLab is a home.”
CoLab plays every Tuesday night at Three Links Deep Ellum, located on 2704 Elm Street. Doors open at 9 p.m. and entry is free. threelinksdeepellum.com.