by Joey Ciucci Cameron Ralston is the foundation of Richmond’s avant-garde scene. While drummer Brian Jones may be the patriarch and champion of the city’s movement towards a freer, more cohesive, more aware sound, Ralston–who plays bass for Ombak, Fight the Big Bull, Glows in the Dark, Boots of Leather, and Ilad–has emerged as a […]
by Joey Ciucci
Cameron Ralston is the foundation of Richmond’s avant-garde scene. While drummer Brian Jones may be the patriarch and champion of the city’s movement towards a freer, more cohesive, more aware sound, Ralston–who plays bass for Ombak, Fight the Big Bull, Glows in the Dark, Boots of Leather, and Ilad–has emerged as a pivotal player. Equally adept on upright and electric, and comfortable in any genre, Ralston provides a massive, fierce bass presence. On Ombak’s first release, Framing the Void, Ralston and Jones spin a riveting example of a uniquely locked in rhythm section, nestling a gritty, low-fi vibe inside trombonist and Ombak leader Bryan Hooten’s complex tunes.
“As Rome Burns” is characteristic Ombak. Ralston plays funky, cyclical bass lines, Jones drums in concentrated, splashy, theatrical bursts, Hooten and guitarist Trey Pollard combine to create an ethereal, melted melody. Hooten and Pollard almost always play unison melodies or simple counterpoints. The trombone/guitar pairing is unique. It’s like a twisted game of jazz skeet–as Hooten tosses wobbly, spherical notes to the sky, Pollard guns them down with alacrity. They’re playing the same melody, kind of, but the result is far more engaging than standard layering.
The third tune, “Lacuna”, highlights Hooten’s compositional abilities and habit of atypical note selection. Pollard plays a memorable opening riff (for all Ombak’s weirdness, their songs will stick with you, especially the opening track, “Aware”), Hooten layers an unexpected head and expands it during a short solo. A hip, modern turnaround is followed by about seventy seconds of near silence, cymbal screeches, droning guitar effects, a few honks of the trombone. Jones emerges with a brush drum solo and gives a simple, perfect cue back to the head. It’s a six and a half minute song, and the whole band plays for about two minutes of it–evidence of Hooten’s ability to envision how he wants his songs to unfold.
“September 18” is an up-tempo shuffle. Pollard takes a great solo on the album, but it’s a real pleasure to see this tune live, when he can really cut loose and display his epic chops and bizarre sense of harmony.
“Espial” features Hooten’s distinctive use of multiphonics, allowing him to harmonize with himself, creating a haunting, memorable opening to the tune.
Listeners should be aware that many of these tunes have morphed considerably during Ombak’s bi-monthly gig at the Richmond restaurant and night-life hotspot Cous Cous. One of the hallmarks of a true artist is the ability and desire to constantly alter the means used to communicate with bandmates and the audience. Hooten leads this group by being unpredictable. Besides affording the rhythm section latitude with feel and tempo of each song on any given night, he’s not afraid to take dramatic license—segueing all the songs of a set into one block of music, utilizing electronics and amplification with his trombone, collaborating with rattan DJ to provide relevant soundscapes, having the band shake maracas behind Jones’ solos. The tunes on Framing the Void are just that–a frame–and Ombak has consistently reworked the shape of each. Study and listen to this album, consider the texture of Ombak’s style and intensity. See them live to test your hypothesis.
Track listing: Aware; As Rome Burns; Lacuna; September 18; Listen to the World; Odalisque; Framing the Void; Espial.
Personnel: Bryan Hooten: trombone, compositions; Trey Pollard: guitar; Cameron Ralston: bass; Brian Jones: drums.
Ombak performs every other Wednesday at Cous Cous at 9:30pm. The Framing the Void CD release party will take place on April 29 at Cous Cous. Recorded at Minimum Wage Studios, it is the band’s debut album. There is no cover charge for the event. Bryan Hooten has written essays on “music’s relationship with negative space” for RVANews.com. Read Part I and Part II of the series.