Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2 stars)

This article is from 2010.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Peter Dibdin Photography

Chicago fusion of jazz, hip hop and funk

This nine-piece comprising eight horns and a drummer are not what you might expect at the Jazz & Blues Festival.

It’s not so much that these young African-American brothers (all but one of them are sons of one-time Sun Ra trumpeter Phil Cohran) who hail from the southside of Chicago – and who feature on the new Gorillaz album – are as interested in hip-hop, funk, Afrobeat and ska as they are jazz. Rather, the way in which they whip the crowd into hysteria with rap-along routines and divide the audience in two for a shout-out would be more at home in panto. Then there’s the stripping off of t-shirts to reveal some buff torso, which caused one group of admiring ladies to scream at the boys like they were Chippendales. None of that would matter one way or the other if the music was great. But it’s not. Lacking virtuoso playing, and a long way from the experimental arrangements of Sun Ra, the Hypnotics’ workouts quickly become tiresome. In that context, six-packs and singalongs just don’t cut it.

Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, Tue 3 Aug, part of The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival.


1. Marika18 Aug 2010, 6:10pm5 stars Hypnotic Brass Ensemble Report

To my ears, the Ensemble’s playing is not only virtuosic but also lyrically expressive to the point of evoking words in the listener’s mind. All their music is originally composed, varied in mood, and catchy. Compare the evocative Middle Eastern strains of Frankincense with the Salvation Army pomp of Balicky Bon. The nonchalant homeboy posturing could be gimmicky if they weren’t so good! And what’s wrong with a bit of buff torso anyway?

The performers had boundless and infectious energy, bringing to life a potentially demure crowd within their 90 minutes. Until I read this review I was persuaded that experiencing them live would win anyone over (not to mention provide edification on what a sousaphone is).

For a group of Chicago buskers to have gone global with a brass band to a young audience is a testament to their success in bringing jazz into the 21st century and I look forward to more like them at next year’s Jazz & Blues Festival.

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