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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Horns A-Many: Hip Pocket at Billy's 4/25

Bands with horn sections used to be all the rage from local guys Newt & the Salamanders to national touring act Roomful of Blues and every manner of crazy ska/reggae band in between ( bop Harvey, Daddy Long Legs). Although those days seem long ago, newer bands like JJ Grey & MOFRO carry at least two horns. But the bottom line is that when the economy goes raspberries the horns are the first to go. But for Phil Marsh's local horn-enriched 10 piece band Hip Pocket the lack of competition has its advantages. "Not having those bands around is good for us in a way," says Marsh during a break from his end-of-semester chores as adjunct professor of jazz guitar at Grand Valley State University. "There are a couple of reasons why there aren't too many around anymore. For instance, if you have more than one horn in a band you need a horn arrangement. And while it may seem basic it needs to be legible so the players can actually read it. Some people don't like to the put time into that. The arrangement has to include the rhythm section as well. Everybody has to be on the same page, making sure particular solos are a certain length every time. The more complex the arrangement the more critical it is for a good rhythm section be on board." Hip Pocket strives for the crisp brass & reeds of Tower of Power, the soul of Earth, Wind & Fire, the funk of James Brown, Motown, and the Dave Matthews jazzy sound. Dave Matthews, you say? "Dave Matthews is music unto itself and stylistically his own in that you know who it is right away when you hear it," explains Marsh. "We fatten up the voicings for the horns on those songs. From the rhythmic standpoint Dave Matthews is challenging and that's what we like about them," says Marsh noting that the HP set includes DMB songs Stay (Wasting Time) and Too Much plus some of his earlier work. "Certain jam bands could use an arrangement or two but it takes a lot of discipline. I feel you lose a certain necessary edge in not having an arrangement and that the sound gets dull night after night because it's not the same. They start to play a lot of 'fill' as a result." The Hip Pocket must be doing something right; they stay busy year round with fund-raising event shows (Gilda's Club) and corporate gigs (GR Hoops event pictured), both of which affords HP the luxury of repeat customers year after year. "Corporate gigs can be lucrative. We're there to create a specific vibe and to exhibit a certain amount of professionalism," notes Marsh. "They will compensate us well to make the whole thing successful and we're definitely into that."

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