Sun Hop Fat lavishes worldly instrumental on Carbone’s.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Sun Hop Fat is the name of a pair of Asian grocery stores in East Oakland. It’s also the name of an 11-piece instrumental band playing at Carbone’s on Friday.
“We really liked the way the words sounded together,” keyboardist Harry Murphy says of the name.
The Oakland-based crew is made up of a large group of friends with a very specific focus and highly distinctive musical concept: 1970s Ethiopian jazz from the Swinging Addis era. The best part about such a concept is it introduces a style of music that many aren’t very familiar with.
Most of the band members either majored in music in college or have been playing a musical instrument for most of their lives. This gathering of expert musical minds resulted in a dense and vibrant collaborative, a reinterpretation of Ethiopian music that bursts with jazz, soul, a rich horn section and expansive improvised jams that can be likened to the trained spontaneity of Garage A Trois and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
“We took Ethiopian scales and applied it to American instrumentation,” bassist Jesse Toews once told Brown Condor. “It’s a crazy blend.”
The band – whose song catalog comprises mostly covers – reinvents classic songs by pioneers of the movement like Mulatu Astatke, who was among the first to fuse American jazz and funk with traditional Ethiopian five-tone scales more than 40 years ago.
“When I first heard [Ethiopian music], I fell in love with it,” Murphy says. “The music itself is pretty simple with a lot of elongated solo sections and improvisations.”
Murphy also points out that the often-overlooked Afropop of the late ’60s and early ’70s has obvious traces of influences coming from American music icons like James Brown and even Elvis, resulting in very danceable underlying rhythms coming from the bass and percussion parts.
“The music uses some unique scales and melodic patterns that are very original and distinct from other forms of music,” Murphy says. “It’s a combination of traditional African music with Western rhythms that make it kind of funky.”
SHF’s skill is exceedingly impressive, as is its ability to weave a tightly knit bond between baritone and tenor saxophones, trumpet, flute, congas, bass, keyboard, guitar, and any other instrument introduced into the epic collective.
At a show last year at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, the stage looked like it was at capacity with the large amount of musicians. The audience was locked in with the band’s heavy grooves and engaged with every direction the songs went in. But even when they’re cramped like sardines on a tiny stage, SHF takes its musicianship to a higher level and busts out psychedelic constructions that many times extend beyond the 10-minute mark.
Sun Hop Fat has yet to release an album, but Murphy says they are currently at work on their first EP, which will feature mostly original tunes and should be out some time later this year.
It will offer further evidence that sharing a namesake with a grocery store known for its outrageously enormous selection of sauces, spices and condiments is quite fitting for a band that uses so many different worldly ingredients.
SON HOP FAT plays 9pm Friday, Jan. 21, at Carbone’s, 214 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. Free. 643-9169.