Ombak: On record and in collaboration

At RVAJazzfest, headlining band Ombak will combine with leader Bryan Hooten’s musical mentor Tim Berne. Take a step into Ombak’s world before the sparks fly at Jazzfest.

Ombak (pronounced “Ohm Bach”) is our headlining band for RVAJazzfest. The quartet led by Bryan Hooten will be performing a set in collaboration with Tim Berne that we absolutely cannot wait to hear. Our guest writer David Tenenholtz dug into Hooten’s mind. –Ed.

Ombak is trombonist/composer Bryan Hooten’s band featuring guitarist Trey Pollard, bassist Cameron Ralston, and drummer Brian Jones. At the start, the quartet played songs that were written 100% written by Hooten. They involved mixed meters and long, complicated forms. Often, the material was through-composed, meaning that no sections of the song repeated from its start to finish.

The 2009 self-released album Framing the Void documents that phase in the group’s development. However, much of this recording will have you nodding your head, and some of the down-tempo grooves have a swagger all their own. “Aware” has a unisonal funky riff, followed by improvisation passed around quickly. “Odalisque” displays some severe interplay between Hooten’s trombone (at times guttural and at others airy) and Pollard’s visceral, hornlike tone. “As Rome Burns” reflects an image of Nero fiddling while his city burned. Musically speaking, there is a unison line that goes on while the bass and drums unleash frenetic bursts of mayhem.

In our recent conversation discussing the elements of Ombak’s music, Hooten explained, “Most music is about rhythm first and foremost.” In a much older conversation, he said that he’s obsessed with music where an even pulse is somehow evident, but all the musical action shifts against it. After a little investigative reporting (i.e. typing “Bryan Hooten” into YouTube), I learned that he has been comfortable writing within this framework for some time. Just for fun, peep this clip of Hooten’s alma mater playing his arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.”

hootenipanemaBut seriously, back to Ombak.

With the collaborative minds making up this quartet, a push to get eclectic got the band focused on less composition, and more freedom and looseness. This led also to the inclusion of cover material such as Ornette Coleman’s staple “Lonely Woman” and “When Will the Blues Leave,” which is in a more straight-ahead swing style; a departure from the explosive rock influence heard throughout Framing the Void. A more recently penned tune, “Megatron Wants What’s In My Mind” has rhythmic cues, but otherwise a flexible structure based on spontaneity.

Set to play the RVAJazzfest event with saxophonist Tim Berne, the band is going to include their own material along with current originals by the guest artist. When we talked, Hooten related that much of Berne’s writing employs a flexible instrumentation of two, three, or four parts on any set of horns covering the pitch ranges. This allows for a great deal of adaptability.

To read more about Berne, check out this fascinating two-part interview on Ethan Iverson’s blog. Spoiler alert: Under a mentorship with saxophonist Julius Hemphill, Berne’s writing for his own bands was encouraged immediately. He thus has had a different career trajectory than the normal jazz player that starts mainly as a side-person, which shows not only his courage to do that, but also that he is “…a model of someone who’s just a natural artist and carves out space,” as Iverson puts it.

And just as Berne believed from the beginning to play his own music, Hooten is similar in mindset. No doubt there will be some chemistry in the experiments that will happen on The Camel’s stage on Saturday, February 6.

RVAJazzfest featuring Tim Berne & Ombak, Adam Larrabee Trio, and Trio of Justice takes place on Saturday, February 6, 2010, at 9pm at The Camel, 1621 W Broad St., Richmond VA. Click here to purchase tickets.

Visit Ombak on the web at

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David Tenenholtz

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