Ensemble Mik Nawooj brings innovation, energy to EP release party

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With no introduction, JooWan Kim begins to play, gently touching the piano keys. With one hand on the piano, he abruptly raises the other. The strings slowly enter, followed by a flute and clarinet. And then, for a brief moment, silence. The bass drum hits. The lights open on masters of ceremonies Do D.A.T. and Sandman. They step forward and begin to rap: “Hope. Springs. Eternal. Eternal.”

Bay Area-based hip-hop orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj, or EMN, celebrated their EP release at Oakland’s Yoshi’s Jazz Bar on Wednesday. In addition to performing their self-titled EP in its entirety, the group played covers from Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle and Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers. From original compositions to orchestral renditions of classic rap tracks, the band’s unmatchable style weaves symphony with a gangster vibe, delivering what may be the first recorded instance of classical swagger.

The group began the performance with “Hope Springs Eternal,” an explosive and empowering number fueled by deep, soulful drums and a sweet piano melody played by JooWan Kim, musical director and pianist of the ensemble, who later introduced the group. Ensemble Mik Nawooj then transitioned into “First Song,” a seven-minute symphony that gracefully explores humanity’s first experiences with love, life and expression. “First Song” combines the light, airy vocals of soprano Anne Hepburn Smith with the heavy, machine gun-speed delivery of Do D.A.T and Sandman, who seamlessly swap bars in between chilling yet charming instrumentals.

After playing a majority of their new EP, the band shifted to classical spins on rap tracks from the early ‘90s. The audience, somewhat amused by the mix of gangsta rap and piano trills, chanted along, hands high to EMN’s orchestral rendition of Snoop Dogg’s “G’z and Hustlas”  and “Who Am I.” The group then traveled to ’90s Brooklyn to deliver Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta F’ Wit,” two songs no one would ever expect to be arranged for an orchestra. Audience members jammed to the bumpy basslines performed by Eugene Theriault and the sharp and strong set of strings through Michele Walther and Lewis Patzner. Carmen Lemoine and James Pytko delivered classical and funky melodies through the flute and clarinet while Do D.A.T. and Sandman kept the rhythm and energy alive through their immaculate flows. The show ended with “Morning Light,” a lighthearted exit with cheerful vocals, enlightening lyrics and melody reminiscent of the final steps of a spiritual journey.

With the raw energy of a live band, the lyrics that match wits with the greats and the musical prowess of a classically trained genius, Ensemble Mik Nawooj combines classical, hip-hop, rock and jazz elements into one cohesive unit, truly encompassing JooWan’s vision for the group: hybridization.

When The Daily Californian asked JooWan Kim via email about hybridization and the future of music, he answered,  “Hybridization (plays) an essential role in the substantial changes in generation of new genres and their evolution. Having said that, I don’t think music will necessarily mold into one genre or one art form. It will create a wide variety of forms based on different interpretations dependent on cultural, social and, of course, individual perspectives.”

Contact Matt Hong at [email protected].