In the course of a 23-year musical career, many words have been used to describe BRAVE COMBO, but actually, their name still says it all: a band that is not afraid to take musical chances. “If BRAVE COMBO can do one thing,” says founder CARL FINCH, “we’d like to break down people’s perceptions about what’s cool to like in music.” Since they first surfaced in Denton, Texas (the home of the University of North Texas jazz program and still the band’s home base) in 1979, BRAVE COMBO has shattered stylistic barriers and scrambled musical genres like no other band performing today.
BRAVE COMBO specializes in a unique brand of domestic and exotic dance rhythms that fuel what Billboard calls, “world-wise, unclassifiable music.” Growing out of their love and affinity for the Polka sounds of Europe and America, BRAVE COMBO’s recorded experiments have included everything from Latin American dance tunes to Japanese pop. As Rolling Stone described their release A Night on Earth, “the elements…are interpreted through the high-energy filter of rock dynamics.” Their success at combining what FINCHcalls “a barrage of incongruous elements” flows from their deep sincerity, outstanding musicianship, and a firm belief that music should be fun and life-affirming. “Music is vital to our life on Earth,” FINCH says, “and we ignore that vitality when we let it become some sort of fashion statement. We like to play certain styles that people may not think they like, and then they realize the Polka, or whatever, is actually pretty cool.” That’s one reason the Chicago Tribune dubs them “a party band with a purpose.”
The BRAVE COMBO that makes this joyful noise is a five-piece miniature orchestra. FINCH–who sings and plays guitar, accordion and keyboards–and longtime musical partners CENOBIO (BUBBA) HERNANDEZ on bass, tuba and vocals and JEFFREY BARNES on reeds, winds, harmonica and practically any other instrument you’d care to name, are joined by trumpeterDANNY O’BRIEN and drummer ALAN EMMERT.
BRAVE COMBO has released over twenty critically-acclaimed recordings in the U.S. and Japan, including their Grammy Award winning 1999 release,Polkasonic and four other Grammy-nominated albums. BRAVE COMBO’s most recent release is Box Of Ghosts (Rounder Records) which features the band putting their own twist and salsa and tango on familiar classical pieces.
The band has made multiple tours of Japan and Europe, including appearances at the Roskilde (Denmark), Printemps de Bourges (France) and Steirischer Herbst (Austria), Storsjoyran (Sweden) and Lowlands (Holland) music festivals. They have provided music for David Byrne’s film True Stories, Clive Barker’sLord of Illusions, Late Bloomers, Fools Rush In, The Academy award winningThe Personals, Fox Television’s “Bakersfield P.D.” and 1994 U.S. Olympic Ice Dancers Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. The band on the DownbeatCritic’s Poll in the category “Pop/Rock Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” three years in a row. In addition, they have been frequent guest on such public broadcasting shows as The Lonesome Pine Special, Fresh Air, All Things Considered and A Prairie Home Companion, whose host Garrison Keillor calls them “entertainers who just won’t take no for an answer.”
Their performing career includes 150 dates a year, at venues ranging from rock clubs to polka festivals; from high profile concerts (including the annual Midsummer Night’s Swing at Lincoln Center in New York City) to parades (Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, marching under Woody Woodpecker); and from state fairs to wedding receptions–all to the delight of enthusiastic audiences, captivated by BRAVE COMBO’s infectious dance rhythms.
Filtering jazz, pop and world music aesthetics through a rock sensibility, the sources of BRAVE COMBO’s sounds and styles span the globe. They come from virtually every continent and include not only Polka, salsa, cumbia and conjunto, also zydeco, the Twist, acid rock, bubblegum–and even Muzak!
But behind such “fearsome expertise in ethnic sounds” (New Musical Express) lies a serious purpose, even if “peace through polka”sounds a bit corny. “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,” explains FINCH. “That kind of understanding will give us all a better chance to survive.”