May 31, 2012
Dosey Doe Coffee House presents the Brave Combo.
Trying to describe these 2 time Grammy Award Winners requires a pretty extensive vocabulary. For the past three decades this quintet has perfected a world music mix that includes cha cha, polka, salsa, rock, meringue, blues cumbia, conjuto, classical, and more. They are America’s Premier Dance Band a rocking, rollicking,...
Dosey Doe Coffee House presents the Brave Combo.
Trying to describe these 2 time Grammy Award Winners requires a pretty extensive vocabulary. For the past three decades this quintet has perfected a world music mix that includes cha cha, polka, salsa, rock, meringue, blues cumbia, conjuto, classical, and more. They are America’s Premier Dance Band a rocking, rollicking, global journey. Come Party and get an education!!
Brave Combo. Rarely, if ever, has a band name been more apropos, not only at the group's inception, but even more so more than 29 years after the fact. At first glance, back in 1979, the Denton, Texas, based outfit was, in shorthand, pegged as a New Wave polka band, a courageous if not almost oxymoronic endeavor during that particular rebirth of the cool. Yet it clicked and launched a stunning run that has now catapulted it into the new century.
Over the last 30 years, Brave Combo has collected a dizzying array of descriptive musical pegs, boldly going where few bands have gone before, and even fewer could (or would) dare to venture. Succeeding in its first mission, Brave Combo is America's premier contemporary polka band, and a Grammy winning one at that. In the same breath, to name some but hardly all of the colors found on Brave Combo's musical palette, one can describe them as a groundbreaking world music act, a hot jazz quintet, a rollicking rock'n'roll bar band, a Tex-Mex conjunto, a sizzling blues band, a saucy cocktail combo, a deadly serious novelty act, a Latin orchestra, and one of America's dance bands par excellence.
It's all in a night's music for Brave Combo, often in a synergistic fashion that includes everything from klezmer surf rock to rocking cha cha to what The Washington Post calls "mosh pit polka," as well as to the hokey pokey and the chicken dance. And zydeco, acid rock, Muzak, bubblegum, cumbia, classical, and the twist, to still not exhaust the list. This plethoric multitude of musical styles and flavors is frequently mixed, matched, and melded, into delicious, new concoctions by an imaginative team of musical gourmet master chefs.
"We're just trying to be a brave combo," is how bandleader Carl Finch explains what Billboard calls the band's "world-wise, unclassifiable music." The prime directive is to "break down people's perceptions about what's cool to like in music. Our deal is to shake up people's ideas about what they label hip, or right or wrong." In the process Brave Combo also shakes listeners' hips and tail feathers, sparks delight, provokes imaginations, rocks all night long, and elicits more than a few chuckles.
Olympic Ice Dancers, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow have skated to their music during numerous competitions and Brave Combo has been frequent guests on such public broadcasting shows as The Lonesome Pine Special, Fresh Air, All Things Considered, The Next Big Thing and A Prairie Home Companion, whose host Garrison Keillor calls them "entertainers who just won't take no for an answer."
The Brave Combo that has accomplished all that and more is a five-piece veritable orchestra that originated and is still based in Denton, TX. Keyboardist, guitarist, accordionist, and singer Carl Finch founded the band in 1979, releasing their first records on the band's own Four Dots Records. He has also produced artists like Little Jack Melody And His Young Turks, Trout Fishing In America, Santiago Jimenez Jr., and Mingo Saldivar, compiled the Rhino Records collection Legends of the Accordion, and released on Four Dots the debut album by Sara Hickman, Equal Scary People, that helped win her a major label record deal.
Alongside Finch for most of Brave Combo's 30 years has been multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Barnes, who joined in 1983. Barnes is known for his lively and imaginative stage wear, as well as playing an array of reeds and woodwinds, harmonica, pennywhistle, guitars, you name it, sometimes in multiple, simultaneous combinations. Rounding out the current line-up are trumpet and flugelhorn player Danny O'Brien, drummer Arjuna Contreras and Ross Schodek on bass guitar.
The band's musical agility and diversity has no doubt helped it win "Pop/Rock Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" honors three years in a row in the annual Critics Poll for the jazz bible Downbeat. And yes, Brave Combo remains a band, despite all the achievements, whose music all but begs wider airing, even if they have succeeded in winning over the various, finicky, disparate factions of the polka world, garnered consistently high praise in the music press, and picked up new fans every time they’ve played.
Does this mean Brave Combo is a cult band? Well, if it is, it’s one with converts and outposts across North America and south of the border, as well as around the world. And like any self-respecting cult, there is an underlying international agenda behind the music, as The Chicago Tribune divined when it dubbed Brave Combo a "party band with a purpose." And yes, there is a purpose. "Peace through polka" may sound like a quip, but the way Brave Combo can erase musical prejudices and seduce people to like music they thought they wouldn't or didn't, does serve a higher calling. "I do think the acceptance of polka and other dance rhythms can help bring about world peace. If the people of the world can start dancing together, they can learn to respect each other's cultures, too," concludes Finch. "That kind of understanding will give us all a better chance to survive."