'Brass Gods' wow Lehigh's Zoellner Arts Center with musical talent, humor

Mnozil Brass
The Morning Call

By Dave Howell

You might not have heard of them, but to horn players they are brass gods. The Mnozil Brass sold out Baker Hall in Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center on Sunday, with an audience of all ages and fans that came from many states, including California.

This was their “Happy Birthday” show, celebrating the unit’s 20th anniversary. The seven Mnozils are three trumpets, three trombones (with one doubling on bass trumpet) and a tuba player. There was not a note out of place in a 2 1/2-half hour show with intermission. Unless they had it planned.

For the Mnozils are also comedians, mostly silent, since they are based in Vienna and German is their native language. It is hard to pull off humor that can be equally enjoyed by children and adults, but they did it effortlessly between their musical numbers.

Seven brasses can produce a powerful sound, as they showed on the crime jazz of Henry Mancini’s “Streets of San Francisco” and “Birdland,” on what might be the best version ever done of Joe Zawinul’s classic. They can also be refined and melodic, as on “Moon River.” Much of the program featured their own compositions, which stood up perfectly alongside pop, jazz, and classics by Bach and Strauss.

They also sang a smooth a cappella version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” in English, and contributed their vocals to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The latter is one of their signature pieces, and won them a standing ovation.

Another of their favorites is Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy.” This had Leonhard Paul twisting his body around on the ground with a chair and finally seating himself. As the others gradually surrounded him, he fingered two trumpets with his hands and maneuvered two trombone slides with his feet.

On a pop medley, three players went to the front of the stage to boogie to “Staying Alive,” and, accompanied by Wilfried Brandstötter’s tuba, the other six emulated zombies and other monsters to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

They also did a slow-motion race to “Chariots of Fire,” a piece on which Paul played bass trumpet while carried on the shoulders of four other Mnozils, and Haydn’s “Flotennummer,” where they performed with recorders via nose instead of mouth.

There was so much interaction, you might be focused on one part of the stage while a laugh would direct you to action somewhere else. In one quick bit, as Paul observed someone seating themselves after the show’s opening, he stared at them feigning disgust as he pointed to his eyes and an imaginary watch.

It would be no surprise if the Mnozil Brass returned to Zoellner. If they do, you can enjoy them a family outing, as a lover of either music or comedy, or all three.

More than 100 people saw the Southside Brass for the pre-show on the second floor of the Zoellner Center. The Brass played an eclectic set that included “After You’ve Gone, ”“Liechtensteiner Polka,” “Tuxedo Junction, ”“I Got Plenty of Nuttin,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and selections from Handel’s “Water Music.”

They provided the feeling of an old-time concert band, both rousing and fun, but with jazzier arrangements and a bit of classical and Broadway mixed in. The group, more than 25 years old, added songs not heard very often, including “The Ecstasy of St. Mute” and “Jupiter Hymn.”

The Southside Brass are staff and faculty of Lehigh University and community members. They are Jim Long and Clark Hamman (tubas), Patty Alercia and Jim Roberts (French horns), John Linkert and Ashleigh Pizzino (trombones), and George VanDoren, Alan Babp, and Rick Weisman (trumpets).