Musicality and Brassy Mischief

04.04.12
Mnozil Brass
KCMETROPOLIS.org

By Kristin Shafel Omiccioli

The members of Mnozil Brass do not talk during their show. They don’t need to. Their non-stop pace, comedic timing, and astounding playing had the audience simultaneously in stitches and rapt with attention for the full two-hour show. Musical selections ranged from classical to pop to jazz, showing versatility in style and varied tastes. Tunes heard included Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet Theme,” “Amazing Grace,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” themes from popular films, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and much more.

Physicality and theatrics played an integral part in the show, and Mnozil hammed it up to the fullest effect. The gentlemen galloped on invisible horses to Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto, performed the famous zombie moves and moonwalked to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and dramatically teased each other from one end of the stage to another (and even from off-stage) to Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.

Of the concert’s many memorable moments, three bits stood out in particular to me. A parody of old westerns evolved into an elaborate fight scene between two band members—one playing the jilted lover and one the “other man.” Suddenly, the action slows to a crawl and the fight is carried out at a molasses pace. Trumpeter Roman Rindberger is punched and (assisted by his bandmates) spins head-over-heels in slow-motion… while playing a theme from the Kill Bill films. His tone was amazingly clear and strong for being upside-down and then flat on his back. Trombonist Zoltan Kiss dodges a “bullet” (mouthpiece) by leaning back, Matrix-style.

Each member of Mnozil has a distinct personality, and a notable scene featured the awkward, bashful character of trombonist Leonhard Paul. After much enticing to sit in a chair, he gingerly removed his socks and shoes. With a snap of his fingers, Paul’s fellow trombonists appeared, and placed their main slides between his toes and started blowing. Paul proceeded to supplement tuba player Wilfried Branstötter’s bass line with trombone harmonies, all played by moving his feet. Another finger snap and trumpeters Thomas Gansch and Robert Rother joined, having Paul play their valves with his hands while they supplied the air. Throughout the stunt, Paul remained stoic and steady. Have you ever seen a person play two trombones and two trumpets at the same time? The audience was enthralled.

Last, and definitely my favorite sketch was World Premiere. A sharp mockery of both classical traditions and ostensible compulsory seriousness of contemporary music, this piece had all the stuffy elements of a formal concert setting and humorously (and gloriously) ripped them apart. From the grave, self-important conductor, a tacet soloist, embellished extended techniques, strange vocal wailings, and overall nonsensical cacophony, World Premiere poked fun at convention in an absolutely brilliant way.

Not only are the men of Mnozil comedic actors, all seven are talented musicians as well. Each enjoyed solos throughout and together impressed with tight ensemble work, good intonation, strong breath support and sustains, clear-ringing tone, well-controlled dynamics, and timbral variation. Their ability to shift from whisper quiet to a thick wall of sound without being piercing was especially effective. And on top of all this, they are unexpectedly good vocalists to boot.

After three encores (including crowd-pleaser and mostly sung “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen) and as many standing ovations, the audience let out a collective deep sigh when the lights came up and the show finally ended. This crowd would have been happy for Mnozil to play all night.

If you ever have the chance to see the dynamic and widely appealing Mnozil Brass perform live, take it. And don’t blink—you might miss something hilarious.