A look under the hood and behind the curtain through the insane musical genius that is Mnozil Brass

by Bill Benzon

I don’t know just when it was, but let’s say it was half a dozen years ago. I’m on an email list for trumpet players and someone had sent a message suggesting we check out the Mnozil Brass. Strange name, I thought, but I found some clips on YouTube and have been entranced ever since.

They’re a brass septet from Austria, six trumpets, six trombones, and a tuba. Their repertoire is all over the place and their genius is unmistakable. They are superb musicians, but also arch conceptualists, skilled comedic performers, and questionable dancers. They put on a hell-of-a-show. And I do mean “put-on”, as much of what they do is deeply serious in a way that only inspired buffoonery can be.

Here’s a performance that was posted to YouTube in April of 2012. It’s just shy of four minutes long and goes through distinct phases. It’s called “Moldavia”, presumably after the old principality in Eastern Europe.

Watch the clip. Tell me what you hear, but also what you see. Both are important. It’s their interaction that is characteristic of Mnozil.

What I hear, of course, is brass playing, a lyrical trombone, ferocious trumpets, a tuba holding down the bottom. And then there’s the singing toward the end. What are they doing while singing? They’re not standing still like choir boys. They’re moving and gesticulating madly. Dominance it looks like to me, (male) dominance. You may have heard that in the music, though perhaps not identifying it as such; but now you can see it. They’re showing you what’s driving the music.

But that’s not how it starts. It starts with a rubato trombone solo. There’s a shot of the tuba player slouched in his seat reading some magazine; it’s black with a large white Playboy bunny logo on it. The implication is that he’s looking at pictures of naked women.

And so it goes. There’s lots of business going on. I could, but won’t, comment on it endlessly.

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