Tonight: Big Brass Bravo! at Tlaquepaque Plaza

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Tonight, for free, you can see a very different battle of the bands at Tlaquepaque Plaza, the boho Telephone Road shopping center home to Bohemeo's and the East End Urban Market. Part of the Houston Institute for Culture's "Houston Meet Houston" program, Big Brass Bravo! pits the Mariachi MECA faculty ensemble against Soul Rebels Brass Band offshoot the New Orleans Hustlers Brass Band - which, despite the name, is composed entirely of Houstonians who relocated here in the Katrina aftermath - in a lung-straining struggle for horn supremacy. 

Although mariachi and second-line brass bands might seem very different, Houston musicologist Pat Jasper says these ensembles often arise from similar origins. "Both mariachi and the New Orleans brass-band tradition are 'street musics,'" she says, where performances are usually given in a public (and often free) setting, be it a Mexican restaurant or Mardi Gras parade. This has led to players in both styles developing keen competitive streaks - "ensembles in public proximity are known to deliver even more spirited performances to assert their standing."

Furthermore, she adds, players in both styles often begin at a very young age thanks to New Orleans' Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and the network of community mariachi programs that has grown "exponentially" in recent years. Both cultures also have strong ties with music-education programs in local schools - many mariachi and brass-band musicians also double as music educators - that keeps the pipeline stocked with young, fresh, eager musicians.

Before the groups break out the brass, Jasper and visiting U of H ethnomusicologist Steve Azcona will moderate a round-table discussion featuring members from both camps. "The composition of both groups and the fact that they can pick up and play multiple configurations - often at a moment's notice - point to the shared repertoire and improvisational core of these musical traditions," Jasper says.

7 p.m. tonight at Tlaquepaque Plaza, 708-B Telephone Rd., 713-521-3686. Free.

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