Sticks and ’Bones

Bonerama’s rock/brass puts trombone center stage

Before you start questioning the source of the band name here, I offer one word to clarify: Trombone. The brass family instrument is usually found in Big Band Jazz, Dixieland Jazz, Ska and occasionally in other genres as a token or backing sound. But how often have you heard music where the trombone is the main instrument? This larger horn, usually characterized by a telescopic slide used to vary pitch, has long been content to lurk in the shadows, to ably back its horn brethren, the trumpet and saxophone. New Orleans based Bonerama is changing that, playing tunes as a six-piece rock/brass band featuring three trombonists at its core. The two founding members, Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, both came up playing as part of Harry Connick Jr.’s big band. “We were eight years or so into the Harry thing,” says Mullins, “when he started doing more TV and movies and we found ourselves at home a lot more. We thought, you know, we should do something featuring the trombone. Craig had seen a band in New York City that was doing this trombone thing with Afro-Cuban music and we thought we should do that but with the New Orleans’ sound. So, we packed up that van and that’s what we did. You don’t see the trombone in rock bands, maybe you see it here and there as a member of a section, but you never see it as the lead instrument. That’s what we wanted to do.” The Big Easy was more than hospitable. There is a rich history of brass band social clubs that often play street parades as part of funerals when the casket is transferred from church to cemetery. The city also has a rich history of musicians fusing brass sounds with rock, funk and every other kind of music under the sun. Mullins and Klein added another trombonist, Greg Hicks, and filled out the band with a more rock ‘n’ roll-ish lineup consisting of electric guitar, drums and electric bass. The band plays a mix of brass band, rock and funk, offering excellent covers of staples like The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” and The Beatles “Helter Skelter.” “I personally grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans,” Mullins says, “but Craig was a lot more in touch with the social club, brass band side of things in New Orleans. That’s where the balance in the band comes from, each of us kind of adding what we know best to the mix. But New Orleans is definitely a special place for this kind of music. Sitting on the ground that Louis Armstrong once walked on is definitely something special for a horn player.” The band has five recorded pieces to its credit dating to 2001’s Live at The Old Point and including 2008’s You’re Not Alone EP with OK Go. The music definitely draws its core sound from the three trombones, but the rock instrumentation that backs the horns is refreshing, inventive and intriguing. The sound is an amalgamation of trombone notes, rock steady rhythm and a permeating improvisational feel. Let there be no doubts, this band jams and they jam in a way that is refreshing and like nothing else you’ve heard. This is a show for which you’ll want to strap on your very finest pair of dancing shoes. Bonerama plays The Holland Center 1200 Club, 1200 Douglas St., Saturday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30. Visit omahaperformingarts.org.

posted at 10:45 am
on Thursday, January 20th, 2011

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