Ombak has big shoes to fill. Taking over Fight the Big Bull’s Wednesday night spot at Cous Cous this summer, Ombak, led by trombonist Bryan Hooten, is the sort of band that people are nervous to go see. It is the sort of band that could be labeled “avant garde,” or “experimental,” or some other […]
Ombak has big shoes to fill. Taking over Fight the Big Bull’s Wednesday night spot at Cous Cous this summer, Ombak, led by trombonist Bryan Hooten, is the sort of band that people are nervous to go see. It is the sort of band that could be labeled “avant garde,” or “experimental,” or some other scary term that the average listener might find daunting. What the band delivered last night, however, is best described by Hooten’s goal for the group. Hooten says he attempts to “incorporate accessible elements from the pop song form, and allude to what people expect to hear in a bar or club.” He simplifies all the complexities of what Ombak accomplishes by saying he only wants to “get the listener to slow down.”
The incredible level of musicianship in the group could only lead to something unpredictably quirky and charming. Cous Cous regulars will certainly recognize Hooten and bassist Cameron Ralston from Fight the Big Bull itself, and drummer Brian Jones and guitarist Trey Pollard are no strangers to the venue either. They combine to bring heavy metal beats, neo-soul dance grooves, and stylish improvisation to the masses. It is no secret that Richmond prizes musicians who can really shred on their instruments, and Ombak offers this in addition to skillfully written compositions with infinite variety and versatility.
The band is far better suited to the ambience of this dark, bustling venue than a place like The Camel where they last performed. They have a way of participating with the environment and reacting to Cous Cous’s clinking glasses and mellow conversation, which allow them to reach an entirely different level with the music. Of course, Hooten quickly adjusted to working with a different group than he has grown accustomed to in this venue. “I was used to playing here with Fight the Big Bull, so I was expecting a huge sound,” Hooten laughed. “With a smaller band though, you can really hear each individual part, so each part is really important. Now I’m wearing two hats, one being the composer, and the other as the improviser. I get to relax a lot more in Fight the Big Bull because it’s not as much my baby.”
Ombak’s music, and in Hooten’s opinion, all music “really is about space. Vertically, it manifests itself in melody and harmony, and horizontally, it manifests itself as rhythm, which is generally the part with which I’m more interested.” An Ombak tune often starts with a raucous metal lick and then winds down into something beautiful and sparse. Then all of a sudden, everything can reverse back to a loud, tight-knit groove. Says Hooten, “If a listener can appreciate the beauty of silence, or of one long, sustained note, they can appreciate any permutation of it because everything is built from that. [Concerning accessibility], ultimately, there’s nothing to figure out.” The group explores every permutation possible without losing sight of that one note or moment of silence.
Brian Jones lights a fire under the group, pushing everyone forward and playing the drums “like a composer. Tonight especially, he knew exactly what each piece needed and gave it,” noted Hooten. Of his other band mates he also commented, “Cameron has an incredible sense of when to take flight with you. He forces you to commit to what you’re doing. Trey, on the other hand, has the ability to synthesize all the elements of the tune and improvise in the spirit of the way I write.” But improvisation is only half of it. The compositions themselves layer time signatures and polyrhythmic ostinatos, or combine bluesy guitar with a dark, heavy bass line and erratic percussion. The music is constantly evolving, morphing into something new, but never leaving a section before completing it.
Sure, it is the same music from not so long ago at The Camel, but at Cous Cous, this ain’t your mama’s Ombak. The band has taken on something a little more raw and raunchy than The Camel show displayed, completely letting go and letting the music do all the work- much to the pleasure of concert goers and bar patrons alike. The show left music fans wondering when they would be able to listen to what Ombak offers from the comfort of their own homes. Although Hooten says a record is on the horizon, he continues, “I try not to be too goal oriented for the distant future. Hopefully after the summer we’ll get into the studio depending on people’s individual schedules.”
By Lindsey Prather