Review by Stephanie Escalante, photos by gtdmouse
The evening was a ten-man mission.
Consisting of a trumpet section, trombonists, even a euphoniumist, sousaphonist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, last Wednesday night at the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble played for an enthusiastic crowd.
Harkening a jam musician’s nonchalance and mastership, the brothers, decked out in black sports coats, took the stage with strut and casual swag. Originally from Chicago, the guys worked the crowd with ease – there was no trying too hard here. Their first number was punctuated by brass, styled with rhythmic groove, hits, and punches. By the second song of the night, HBE literally got the audience from sitting to dancing for their music.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble has had a following for a number of years. While the guys have had ample performances and studio sessions with heavy-hitters ranging from Wu Tang Clan to the B-52s, it is their track “War”, which was featured on The Hunger Games, that has recently heightened their musical recognizability. Of course, the brothers played that track, making the sound of brass sound simultaneously epic, bombastic, larger-than-life, unceremonious, and unpretentious. Simply put, it is cool.
A fusion of funk, hip-hop, jazz, even calypso and gypsy, all of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s music is original. Part of what makes this group interesting is how their hip-hop narrative in no way deviates from their jazz-and-funk core. The brass is not undercut by the rap components or singing. Their lyrics, choruses, and hooks are perfectly tempoed, timed, and metered. In a live setting, this is all celebrated and fun, almost a way of low-key seduction or flirting– HBE wants audience participation and for fans to echo alongside them; they want their feedback.
Towards the end of the evening, the brother’s song selections of blended calypso and gypsy often hinted to a jam band quality. Because all their music is original, this musical combination is masterful and rich. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s guitarist and bassist add a complexity and richness to their overall sound. The drummer kept the beats steady and held the music down. The beauty of the evening was that one section never overpowered the other. Even in verse, the bass-lines were clear and distinct, fresh and crisp.
The distinguishment, for listeners and fans, is that distinctive Chicago house sound. It is at once “now”, old-school, fresh, nostalgic and current. The jam-elements are authentic, the hip-hop relevant, and the brass tones marking territory. None of the ensemble’s musical embellishments were striving.
And that is the key– nothing about the brothers or Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is striving.
Their quality of musicianship is amazing. The show was all at once tight, fluid, relaxed, celebratory, hype, enjoyable and complex. Rarely can one hear so many musical fusions and genres meeting in one space and from one singular band. That Chicago that they infuse in their music is real. HBE’s funk, their stride, the bright and warm tones of their music, their groove, is not simply incredible music, but demonstrably shows, in a larger picture, how music defies pigeonholing, carves identity, and all while intersecting so many universal ideals. In other words, they are a now band, and they must be heard.
In a world of contrived, overly produced and manufactured music, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are guys who genuinely give their audience and fans what they want: truly authentic, one-of-a-kind, original music.