Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
On stage, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are loud and loose, a magnificent mash-up of jazz, funk, soul and hip hop. Eight brothers born and raised in the crime-riddled south side of Chicago, they bounce off each other and across the stage like a Warner Bros cartoon. Their show, their sound is larger than life, the band is the brothers on brass (four trumpets, two trombones, a euphonium, a sousaphone) and drums. When they get going they sound huge. Off stage however, based on my chat with Gabriel Hubert AKA Hudah, they seem intensely locked down and guarded. I would go so far as to say Jackson Five levels of weird, right down to controlling father and regimented childhood rehearsals.
“I grew up in a household where music was more than a focus, it was a way of life,” Hudah says of taking up the trumpet. “As a child, we had to wake up early to be ready to play at six in the morning. There was regular life outside the home, but inside the house it was our parents’ world. It was a beautiful thing but as a child, it also became a job. So some of the fun was taken out of it. But it was something great too, it gave us the gift of identity as children, because our parents never expected all of us to play horns. It was different but great at the same time.”
Hypnotic is the eight sons of jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran, and based on last names I am guessing at three different mothers. I have tried and failed while watching their live shows to guess who is the eldest but it sounds like as kids they were all singing from the same hymn sheet, their father’s. “In the beginning, when we first started learning music, my father was teaching the community, on the Southside,” Hudah explains. “If parents wanted their child to learn music they went to our father. So we started going. After a while, if they couldn’t afford to keep coming or the kids didn’t practice enough they would drop off, so it became just his children, us. It wasn’t like after we got involved we could just stop like the others, so we just kept playing.”
It is all that playing that got them their sound. Hypnotic isn’t just a cool name; that is how they found a sound, by getting lost in the brass, Hudah says. “It pretty much went like this. When we were young, one of the things we used to do is play for a very long time as a form of meditation, and from those long jams we starting developing our sound. We started playing off each other’s energy, so that is how our are sound and music was cultivated. But we need to be heard. We didn’t want to sit up in clubs, we felt the world wouldn’t hear us, so we went to tourist areas and played the streets.”
This is where the band really started finding their success, playing markets, tourist areas and streets all across America. And it hasn’t let up. They have played and toured with Mos Def, Aquilla Sadalla, Phil Cohran, The Recipe, Nomadic Massive, Tony Allen, Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul, Prince, Femi Kuti, Gorillaz, B52's, Blur and The Family Stone. They even had their track War used in The Hunger Games. But Hudah isn’t letting himself get carried away, he has the head of a businessman, giving me visions of a Joe Jackson ruling the roost. “We want to continue to ride this train and see where it takes us. You can’t go too far in any industry, I guess, without people having to cut people in and allowing their input. We are just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself, or to present ourselves to the right people. When that happens you will definitely see us form alliances with somebody who can put us on a platform that takes us to another level. Until then we will be doing our independent thing, it’s got us this far. You want to be aware of the things that you are signing your name on. You want to be aware of the things that you are lending your music to in licencing. You need to know what you are getting into. There is no excuse to fall victim to those things these days. But our careers are still in a fledgling stage. I judge success by where I am today, because I can see where I came from but I don’t know what the future has in store for me.”
BY JACK FRANKLIN
HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE, supported by Saskwatch, Judge Pino, and The Ruling Motions, will shake the walls off the Gershwin Room at the Espy on Thursday July 26. They also play the sold out Splendour In The Grass, taking place at Belongil Fields Byron Bay from Friday July 27 - 29.