Review: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at Jazz Café

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at Jazz Café
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
(Jazz Café, 4 June 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Bursting with energy, hovering on the edge of spirited abandon and thriving on the iron musical discipline ingrained in all eight brothers from an early age by their father, Phil Cohran - erstwhile trumpeter with Sun Ra and founding member of Chicago's AACM - Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are never short of mesmerising onstage. This hefty unit is so versatile that they evade pigeonholing, preferring to cross and harmonise across the genre divides rather than parking in one stall. Their sousaphone player, LT, has said, "We like to think we are making horns cool again, like an add-on to jazz, but in a different genre."

I stumbled across them five years ago in Oxford Street setting up for one of their now mythical impromptu street concerts, missing half the event I was heading to, so amazed at what I was hearing. This is how Honest Jon's discovered them in Portobello Market, subsequently producing great recordings with them, complementing the band's early cluster of home-produced CDs. They've performed for Nelson Mandela, teamed up with Blur, played live with Prince, and inspired David Byrne and St Vincent. Now based in New York, they see London as their second (or third) home. Rocco recounted how they nonplussed their Muswell Hill neighbours when based there for a year, from where they grew to love the city.

This was a kind of homecoming date after 30 days on the road. With the tightest bond of the blood tie uniting the unit, they turned this in to a family affair, their fans honorary members for the night. Skipping from jazzy riffs to hip-hop, with more than a dash of sizzling soul, they are sophisticated masters of the catchy melody line, which they embellish and extend with the tracery of wrought iron section work. Never laboured, the arrangements were sharp as hell, crafted to perfection, but never lacking an irrepressible, loose momentum.

Flighty solos and duets were tucked away in gilded section work, the four trumpets melding organically with the trombone duo and bari horn, the whole show driven by LT's whopping bass line carved out on sousaphone, and Emanuel Harrold's cracking percussion - finding a drummer of such quality (he works with Gregory Porter, too) has added extra definition to their finely saturated sound.

They happily returned to coveted favourites, from the hard rhythm and soft edges of Balicky Bon, to the band jumping and swaying in unison on War. Party Started with its call and response saw Rocco and LT peeling off their shirts, the Jazz Café's air-con notwithstanding, and the "spacey, sexy" Mars, with its echoes of a colliery band, had the house waving cell phones in unison.

They previewed new material - searing riffs, wailing choruses and hip-hop deviations underscored by fat, gloopy bass lines and razor sharp spikes – proving that they had risen to the challenge of how to keep on moving, and like the bands that rarely changed personnel over the years - Ellington, Basie - they have the audacity to keep it fresh.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Gabriel Hubert (‘Hudah’) - trumpet
Saiph Graves (‘Cid’) - trombone
Tycho Cohran (‘LT’) - sousaphone
Amal Baji Hubert (‘Baji’) - trumpet
Jafar Baji Graves (‘Yosh’) - trumpet
Seba Graves ‘Clef’) - trombone
Tarik Graves (‘Smoove’) - trumpet
Uttama Hubert (‘Rocco’) - baritone horn
Emanuel Harrold (‘Eman’) - drums

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