Mnozil Brass, Jason Harrelson, my month…

It’s been another crazy and enlightening month at Trumpet Planet towers. I’ve played a varied list of gigs; moved house; seen some of the best live music in the world; and experienced a huge growth in perspective regarding my understanding the functioning of the trumpet, resulting in affirmation of my practise goals and new ideas for my plans for the future.

My playing gigs this month have included performing with Fiesta Resistànce (an authentic Cuban-style Salsa band) in Cardiff, Dorchester Chamber Orchestra, a wedding for Funkty Dumpty (website here), and a morning mass at Downside Abbey. For me it has been a nice balance of classical and commercial playing (including improvisation too).

Whilst at one of the gigs another trumpet player and I had a few hours to spend talking shop and it was a pleasure to meet someone who agrees philosophically about preferring smaller trumpet equipment and aiming for an efficient technique rather than the ‘large bore plus more air power’ style that seems to be as popular as ever. (Note that Vincent Bach Corp has just released a trumpet aimed at the commercial market which is a large bore horn. This coupled with my other gripes about their other recent instruments, about which I’ve heard nothing but bad reviews, reinforces my opinion that this company really doesn’t demonstrate any forward development since Vincent Bach himself was making trumpets.) Although this opinion does exist in some circles in the commercial enviroment (Roger Ingram’s XO 1600i trumpet is medium bore design) it’s unusual to me to meet a classical player with this view.

This same trumpet player hastened me to take a look at Jason Harrelson’s blog (link here), and I’ve found it immensely interesting.
Jason Harrelson is a custom trumpet maker based in Denver (USA). The tag line on his website says “where science meets sound”, and I think this is a good definition of what makes his approach different. Jason takes his vast knowledge of physics and applies it to instrument design with the aim of creating the best trumpets in the world. He quite rightly highlights how most, if not all, other brass instrument manufacturers are making instruments based upon 19th century technology and discusses at length the way that his products address these issues. His writing and talks (on his youtube channel) about efficiency and lost energy have been of particular interest to me and have sparked a lot of thoughts about why some trumpets just don’t sound as good as others. On top of this it has reinforced my thoughts about the way a trumpet player hears themself when performing. I have talked with my pupils quite a lot about how practicing exclusively in small rooms gives a false impression of the tone that you are making with your instrument and at the moment I believe that the only way you can really know how you sound is to learn to make recordings of yourself.
Harrelson Trumpets also make and sell parts so that you can upgrade the efficiency of your own trumpet too. This is something that I think I will look into in the future if it looks unlikely for me to be able to save up for a Harrelson trumpet of my own.

During the last month I have been to three awesome concerts! The first of the three was Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban jazz pianist. He presented a varied programme with long improvised tangents. The stage was set up with a keyboard, organ and synth; as well as a sofa, radio and fridge, as you’d expect. And this arrangement enabled him to set the narrative for a musical journey that included some music from his childhood (introduced by a recording of his mother playing on the radio), a beautifully emotional rendition of Bésame Mucho and skilfully executed rhythmic piece using a loop machine.

The second concert I attended this month was Hugh Masekela playing at the Bath International Music Festival. Before finding out about this concert I had heard of Hugh Masekela – I knew he was a South African trumpet player, but that was pretty much it. In my mind had a vague connection with him and Paul Simon, but from what I have learnt on wikipedia this connection it is quite weak (they toured together on Simon’s Graceland tour, and Masekela recorded on one of Simon’s tracks in 1984 titled Further to Fly). I found this concert to be fun, full of energy and very musically interesting. For me one sign of a good concert is when it sets off my creative mind, making me want to go home and compose, which is exactly what happened at this gig. Hugh sang, played flugelhorn and directed from the cowbell throughout the concert.

Thirdly, I went to see Mnozil Brass in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. This was a brilliant concert – it was musically outstanding, theatrically entertaining and comedically brave! On top of this the audience was packed full of brass players I have met and played with from all over the South-West of England and South Wales. Players from the BBC and NWO orchestras, teachers, professional players and old college friends. The thing that was the most outstanding for me was the variation in tonal style, timbre and dynamics throughout the concert. Stylistically the members of this ensemble demonstrated switching between authentic orchestral sound to Russian folk music and Spanish traditional music. There were also moments of jazz and beautiful soft melodic playing. This level of discipline and control is extremely rare and was an amazing experience to see. If you have not heard about or seen Mnozil brass then I would recommend spending an hour on YouTube watching clips from their DVDs.

Hopefully I will have more months like this one. For me it has been full of everything that being a freelance musician involves. Performing, learning and listening. Without any one of these three elements I feel that I am doing it wrong. It’s also pretty fun. 🙂

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