Music of the Imagination

The soundscapes and shattered songs of Bryan Hooten and Ombak’s Framing the Void

As a contributing member of the music community, both in the local arena and elsewhere, I WILL TELL YOU music reviewers can be frustrating. The reasons for said frustration are many and don’t particularly have to do with this article. But amidst the frustration that has amounted over the years, I have had a chance to decide what I want in a review and what I don’t. I want context – both the context that the music and reviewer exist in. If a reviewer wants to throw around a few metaphors and give his two cents, hey, I don’t mind, but give me some context will ya?!?. Anyhow that’s what I’m going to try to do here – as best I can. Keep in mind, this has neither the scope or budget of a documentary film or biographical work.

If you are totally unfamiliar with Ombak, let me introduce them. The band is lead by VCU professor, busy local instrumentalist, composer and arranger and burgeoning RVANews intellectual star Bryan Hooten. He is joined by guitar wizard Trey Pollard, trap set magician Brian Jones, and the busiest bassist in Richmond, Cameron Ralston. For close to a year they have anchored down the Wednesdays at Cous Cous that Fight the Big Bull is not playing (or Fight the Big Bull has weathered the Wednesdays the Ombak leaves available – whichever way you choose to look at it). They are a formidable set of minds and limbs, and when you rally them all at once they can make quite a glorious noise.

Let it be known, I have known Bryan for many years. He has been involved in every single music project that I have conceived whilst in Richmond. I write this as an admirer of his compositions, his arrangements, his visceral trombone voice, and the rigourous process through which he achieves all of these things. A brief perusal of his works for RVANews will inform you of his musical outlook, and as much as those words are soaked in a mind that thoroughly searches for its answers, the notes he chooses, their placement and duration, are chosen with equal or greater calculation.

Bryan enjoys: 20th Century Classical music (think Ligeti), Jazz (think Tim Berne, Beats (think The Meters), Math Metal (think Behold…the Arctopus), Salsa (think Bobby Valentin) and he might even like the White Stripes. The artistic process isn’t a mystery… you like a bunch of shit, you mess with it, your shit kinda sounds like the shit you messed with – depending on how clever you are and how history tells your story, you are either a genius or a soulless replicator or somewhere in between. That said Ombak sounds, depending on the song, something like this…

1. Tim Berne mixed with a tad of Ligeti, some nice Bobby Valentin clave tricks, funky Meters bass and Behold the Arctopi’s love of angular line.
2. Ligeti’s shattered soundscapes with limber Tim Berne melodies, Zigaboo beats and behold…the arctopus guerrila bass stylings.
3. Bobby Valentin bass with Tm Berne improvising over Ligeti backgrounds with some metal tinged/Meters guitar stylings.
4. Funky Meters grooves descending into an improvisation seen through Tim Berne-tinged glasses and soaked in Ligeti’s harmonic voice.

I wish I could go on.

History will decide where Bryan’s cannon falls, but regardless of what Father Time decides, I say give it a spin on the ol’ Hi-Fi. Framing the Void is a glorious representation of those caves of steel that we call Bryan Hooten’s mind. The album will make you move, but then maybe stop and think, but then move again… it can get complicated all that moving and thinking and exploring Bryan’s mental caves, but when you’re done, you’re satisfied… and smarter.

Ombak will be celebrating the release of Framing the Void on April 29th 9:30 pm at Cous Cous (900 W. Franklin St.).

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Matthew E. White

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