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The Brass Band

September 23, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

Perhaps it's those endless hours of practice. Maybe all that huffing and puffing draws precious oxygen from the brain, causing brass players to turn out just a little different from the rest of us.

The five funny fellows who call themselves the Brass Band are different, all right. Just ask those who attended the San Francisco group's performance at La Mirada Civic Theatre on Saturday.

Different? How else would you describe a group whose members dress in traditional turn-of-the-century band jackets, tight leopardskin pants, World War I flight goggles and fur-lined boots? What other way to characterize a collection of musicians who repeatedly wade out into the hall to move patrons from seat to seat in order to better balance the color scheme?

The hilarity rarely let up on Saturday, even when the group turned to "serious" music. A stunning arrangement of Ravel's "Bolero," for instance, found tuba player Fritz Vandervol climbing over chairs toward the stage, while a patron he'd drafted into service cleared the way. Similarly, another "volunteer" was pressed into duty, frantically turning pages for Vandervol during a suite from Bizet's "Carmen." These guys can play, whether in a rip-roaring "Orange Blossom Special," a clap-along Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody or a crisply attacked "Zampa" overture. But no one came for that. The playing wasn't the thing--the zaniness was.

In the first half, the quintet--"Buford" on baritone horn, "The Captain" on trombone, "Jimby" and Loois Tooloose on trumpets, plus Vandervol--paid tribute to TV detective shows by swaggering around the stage in mobster fashion, packing their instruments like submachine guns, then managed to depict every South-of-the-Border stereotype--from Carmen Miranda to Zorro to a Taco Bell vendor--whilst churning through "Malaguena."

Such silliness, naturally, is not for every taste. Some folks have claimed that the relatively legit Canadian Brass goes too far in blending brass music and light entertainment.

The Brass Band, however, makes no pretense of playing it even remotely straight. The group seems to share the same vaudeville-street entertainer roots as the juggling Flying Karamazov Brothers.

Clearly, these people know who they are, and what they're doing: slapstick comedians who happen to make very good music. Once they had proved themselves in the Bizet and Ravel selections, the players quickly dispensed with their chairs, which they regarded as part of the trappings of High Art, by casually handing them out to the audience, along with anything else they could find backstage--boxes, a human skeleton, a six-foot inflated dinosaur, even one of the members of the group.

The Brass Band will never be confused with the Juilliard String Quartet.

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