Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Ella Carman
From the days of the Salvation Army street bands, to David Byrne, St Vincent and Taylor Swift, brass has become a lot cooler in recent years.
Raised in Chicago, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE) was taught music from a young age by their father, Phil Cohran, himself a well respected jazz musician. The story goes that Cohran instilled a sense of discipline in the eight brothers, waking them at 6am every morning so that they could practice before school.
After leaving education they earned a living busking, eventually self-releasing their first album Flipside in 2004. Since then Hypnotic Brass Ensemble has performed with MosDef, Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul and Prince, and even supported Blur on a number of dates.
Tonight they join a warm and appreciative audience at The Glee Club for the first night of a five-date UK tour, having spent most of the last two months on the road in America, Europe & South America. Since the days of 6am rehearsals the HBE boys have always been a hardworking bunch – apparent in the tightness of their performance tonight, both in the music and choreography.
However tonight’s gig takes a while to get going. There are a few too many new songs in the first half of the set and a little too much smooth jazz – chugging and funking away nicely enough, but without really setting the pulse racing.
One of the most intriguing things about Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is their ability to incorporate a wide range of influences: Balkan, Spanish, even traditional Colliery brass band music – but again, this doesn’t really happen enough in the first half to keep things interesting.
Things kick off after the interval, when HBE’s most famous (and probably best) song ‘War’ definitely gets the crowd going. ‘War’, which you may have heard in the Hunger Games movies, showcases the band at its best, getting the brass interplay between bass, rhythm and melody exactly right.
Indeed, HBE are most fun when they go a little darker. ‘Delta’ sleazes around with a killer riff and ‘Kryptonite’ is a downright nasty Hip-Hop track. These boys honed their skills on the streets of Chicago and things still work best when we’re reminded of that.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble certainly looks the part, all tattoos, muscles and posturing. And despite their cool street style they are endearingly eager to please, obsessing about how to say ‘Birmingham’ the English way, “Burmingam. Burmingam. Am I saying it right? No vowels or consonants.”
First and foremost they are entertainers and they want the audience to enjoy their “real good, feel good, music”. And we do. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble doesn’t just make brass cool, they make it relevant and sexy – and that is more than you can say either Taylor Swift or the Sally Ann.
For more on the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, visit http://www.hypnoticbrassensemble.com/
For further listings from The Glee Club (Birmingham), including all music & comedy shows, visit https://www.glee.co.uk/birmingham/