Making Musical Connections: Beethoven to Bonerama

Today’s entry in the Musical Connections series will be a lot more obvious than in the first entry. That’s impressive, because the link between Dies Irae and Juelz Santana was not at all subtle.

First, we have one of Beethoven’s lesser known works, a trombone quartet entitled Drei Equali. In musical terms, ‘equali’ was a piece of music for a homogenous group of instruments.

There you have the faculty of the Southeast Trombone Symposium performing Drei Equali. Musically, it’s a fairly simple piece from the performer’s point of view. There aren’t any demanding rhythms. The performers do have to take great care when addressing dynamics and intonation, and there are some upper register demands on the first part, especially if that trombonist is using a tenor trombone and not an alto. But, it’s not nearly as technically demanding as some of the other famous trombone quartet literature.

These musical characteristics allow the listener to sit back and soak in the gorgeous harmonies, and simple-but-effective counterpoint. Drei Equali is a beautiful piece of music, one that really displays the trombone timbre at its best. Beethoven composed this piece in 1812, for a performance at the Linz Cathedral, which looks like a beautiful place to take in a trombone performance.

New Orleans-based musicians Bonerama (comprised of the Harry Connick, Jr. Big Band trombone section, and some friends) have a decidedly different take on Beethoven’s work. For roughly the first 40 seconds, we’re led to believe that we are going to hear a fairly traditional interpretation. And then, well, I’ll let you take a listen.

Drums join us first, followed by some brilliant work on the sousaphone by Matt Perrine. The bass line he lays down is infectious, though not at all Beethoven-esque. And at first listen, you might think that Bonerama has abandoned Beethoven entirely. But then, at about 2:05…

And again at 3:13…

And finally at 4:46…

This is a brilliant merger of old trombone literature and the new school. Bonerama is paying homage to the roots of their instrument while pushing it forward at the same time. How many other bands could so seamlessly blend Nawlins brass band, funk, rock and Romantic-era music?