The Mancinis -- tireless veterans including guitarist Joe Gore of P J Harvey's band; cellist/bassist Matthew Brubeck of the Clubfoot Orchestra and the Berkeley Symphony; brass/reed player Ralph Carney of Special Parrot, Rubber City, and Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues; and drummer Scott Amendola of the Charlie Hunter Trio and TJ Kirk -- first met while recording Tom Waits' Night on Earth soundtrack. The resulting Mancini-inspired conglomeration was the brainchild of Brubeck's girlfriend, Diarmid Campbell, and jelled with little or no rehearsal time.
"We were born at the Radio Valencia, where Joe, Ralph, and I had an improv night," says Brubeck. "We just decided that, as the organizing principle of the band, we would just play Henry Mancini tunes in any way that struck our fancy."
The foursome's theatrical, high-energy improvisation is unlike anything else around. "I think that improv can often be more fun for the musicians playing it than for the audience listening to it," Brubeck explains. "This is really enjoyable because everyone knows the Pink Panther theme. When it gets mutated, it's interesting."
"There is definitely a lot of humor in what we do," agrees Gore, "but it is not of the Bud E. Luv-so-bad-it's-good sensibility. It's music of real substance. We're trying to dig into it and play really strong improv off of it."
The constant demands placed on the musicians by their multifarious projects have made it difficult for the entire "band" (Brubeck refers to it as "a constellation of like-minded musicians," while Carney describes the group as "a utensil") to be in one place at one time.
"Well, we rehearsed to get the initial material down," says Carney. "When we need new tunes, we'll do some more rehearsing."
Despite the scheduling conflicts, the Mancinis have managed to record an album with an auxiliary Mancini, producer/organ player Pete Scaturro. The project -- you guessed it, a whole lotta fantastical Mancini -- took only a couple of weekends to record and should be out early next year.
"We may have to change the [band] name," Gore explains. "Mancini died soon after we started playing, and there may be legal problems with his estate if we use the name." According to Brubeck, his friend Stephen Yerkey says that the Mancinis achieved in one gig what it took the Broun Fellinis years to accomplish: namely, killing off their namesake.
"I envision a string of projects," Gore says. "Each with a different personae. I'm thinking Burt Bacharach."
"The coolest thing about the Oranj Mancinis is that we get to wear orange shirts," Carney interjects. That may be an understatement, but it's still pretty fun.
The Oranj Mancinis open for Combustible Edison Fri, Nov. 3, at Bimbo's 365 Club in S.F.; call 474-0365.