Scene spotlight: Solar Ellipsis blends jazz, hip-hop and hard work

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Story and photos by Gabrielle Calise

From midnight to 3 a.m., in a 10-by-10-foot storage unit with no A/C, Solar Ellipsis runs through its songs.

Drummer Noah Hinrichsen practices while wearing just a pair of gym shorts, no shirt or shoes, to combat the heat in the cramped unit. It’s a pain, but while saxophone player Daniel Hopin is performing in the University of Florida fall musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, the three-piece jazz/hip-hop fusion band has to practice in the middle of the night.

This is just a small setback compared to the rest of the challenges that Solar Ellipsis has faced. From navigating a music scene that’s notoriously difficult for new bands to break into to losing a core member, rapper James Boyes, the group has its fair share of difficulties since its conception a year ago. But despite it all, Solar Ellipsis is still pushing forward, preparing new music and performing whenever the opportunity strikes.

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“[The band] is a lot of work, but it’s a good release at the end of the day,” Delpino said. Photo by Gabrielle Calise
The band formed about a year ago when a group of UF students met during their first year of college. Hopin and Hinrichsen lived on the same floor in Weaver Hall. The two became friends with trombone player Brandon Delpino thorugh shared classes in the UF music building. Everything fell into place when they heard Boyes, an international student from York, rapping in his dorm room in Weaver one day.

“He was perfect,” Delpino said.

After inviting Boyes to jam and discovering an undeniable chemistry, Solar Ellipsis was born.

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Daniel Hopin, a UF public relations sophomore with a jazz minor, plays the saxophone onstage at the High Dive on October 18. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

The group recorded a handful of rap-infused jazz demos in dorm rooms and the music building.

“We have a very unique sound,” Hinrichsen said. “It’s an attention-grabber.”

Even though the band has a solid foundation in jazz, each member brings a little something different to the table.  Delpino, for instance, loves heavy metal. Hopin is into rap and electronic music. Hinrichsen, on the other hand, is all about alternative and pop punk.

This eclectic mixture of influences has led to a captivating new genre that translates well to the group’s energetic live set. Unfortunately, it’s also made the band a hard sell when it comes to booking shows.

“People say ‘I like your sound, but I just don’t know what to do with you,’” Hopin said. “And I say, ‘You should let us play.’”

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Solar Ellipsis’s setlist on Sunday night at the High Dive included a mix of existing songs as well as covers. Photos by Gabrielle Calise

Still, the group has managed to play a handful of shows in Gainesville, mainly at the High Dive and in the UF music building. The band also performed one time each in Sanford and Jacksonville.

At the end of the spring 2015 semester, Solar Ellipsis played its final show with Boyes before he returned to the UK. After he left, the group scrambled to find a replacement but ultimately wasn’t able to find anyone who fit in with the group.

Even though Delpino already juggled playing both the trombone and synthesizer parts, he decided to take over the vocals for select songs. The band members have also re-written their songs and incorporated more electronic elements since Boyes’ departure.

Solar Ellipsis performed its first set with its new lineup on October 14 in the Plaza of the Americas during the UF College of the Arts’ Pop-Up Culture event. The band’s set time was smack-dab in the middle of the day, amidst the hustle of Krishna Lunch and the commotion of students rushing to and from classes.

Without electrical outlets in the Plaza, the band performed an instrumental set for spectators that was completely different than their club performance. The absence of the synthesizer and microphones left the songs deprived of their extraterrestrial-sounding electronic parts or swift rap verses. Instead, the group was able to flaunt its core element – solid jazz music.

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Delpino plays trombone in the Plaza of the Americas on October 14.  With under thirty minutes to play and no electrical outlets to plug in the microphones and synth, the band performed with just drums, saxophone and trombone. Even without the other elements, the set still packed a punch. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Solar Ellipsis’ show this past Sunday at the High Dive allowed them to showcase the ways that they had grown amidst the process of losing a member.

Delpino alternated between roles, swapping between spitting rapid-fire rhymes at the audience, playing booming trombone solos and slamming on the synthesizer. Hopin also contributed an energetic performance, leaping down from the stage and weaving through the audience as he played the saxophone. Under flashing red and blue lights, Hinrichsen pumped out fast drum beats that got the audience to the center of the floor, dancing, for the first time that evening.

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“I might be an education major, but I’ll take any opportunity to play any show with any people,” Hinrichsen said. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Solar Ellipsis’ show didn’t flow without a few hiccups. One of Hinrichsen’s cymbals broke in the middle of song, and then fell right on top of his foot while he was playing.

“[It was] my right foot – the foot that I need,” he said.

Delpino’s synthesizer also malfunctioned before one of the songs. While he figured out how to fix his instrument, Hinrichsen and Hopin quickly began playing to fill the time, making up the music as they went along. Delpino was able to quickly fix the synth and join his bandmates in the final numbers.

“The crowd doesn’t write the songs,” Hinrichsen said after the show. “The crowd may not play the instruments, so who’s to say they’re going to notice? I think it went well.”

After their set, the band met with their family, friends and fans to distribute free EPs featuring the demos that they made with Boyes. They handed out every single EP that they brought before the next artist on the lineup even started his set.

“Everything went wrong and it still went good,” Hinrichsen said.

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“I had a lot of fun,” Delpino said after the band’s set at the High Dive. “Our friends were here. It was a little party.” Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Despite everything that’s been thrown their way, the members of Solar Ellipsis have pushed past each challenge. They hope to record new music within the next six months, in a real studio instead of a dorm room. The group also is open to the idea of performing at house shows and parties.

If fans in the Gainesville music scene are smart, they’ll book these boys to play their next party as soon as possible. The band may be practicing in a 10-by-10-foot storage unit now, but the combination of hard work and an undeniably unique sound is sure to propel Solar Ellipsis to big things in the future.

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Gabrielle Calise can reached via twitter or send an email to gcalise@ufl.edu.

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