The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are an incredible band of seven brothers, who have established their unique and vibrant sound through not only superb musicality, but through authenticity. Continuing the legacy of their father Phil Cohran (Jazz trumpeter and founder of the Association of Advancement of Creative Musicians) the brothers show their respect to the legends of Jazz while embodying the true freedom and creativity Jazz gives us. You will find Funk, Soul, Rock, Blues and an underlying strength from growing up with Hip Hop. Their latest album, ‘Bad Boys of Jazz’ is described as a ‘sonic sorbet’ of 14 new tracks which show us exactly why these incredible artists have played with the likes of Prince, Mos Def, Tony Allen, Erykah Badu and so many more.
It was an absolute pleasure to catch up with the brothers and talk to them about their artistry. Working together, as a large family, must have its ups and downs, so my first question was about the dynamic of working together as seven brothers.
HBE: It works wonderfully! Life is full of challenges. It’s comforting to know that we have people that we agree with overall – our vision is the same. We are loyal to one another and we have each other backs – that always helps. We all sit at a round table – it’s not a dictatorship – a big load of purpose to it and certainty. But we do this as a legacy for our fathers’ music. Our father was a Jazz musician and he felt that music was the way you can influence and change things for the better, so you change the frequency, and this is the legacy we inherited from him. That adds to the drive of us doing it together.
Having grown up in a musical environment from a young age, their father’s impact on their work is clear. I asked them about their upbringing and how this has impacted on who they are today.
HBE: He started teaching just children in the community, and being a product of him, being at home, it only made sense that we made music as well. We were an example in the community. It allowed us to develop the beginning stages of what you see today. A combination of desire and being a child with parents who were musicians. Some of us picked the horns we wanted to play, and some were given. Our father used to rehearse in our living room, so we heard all different music playing in every night. Our parents have been a major force in our development. We take our hats off to the things they sacrificed to give us an edge on our fears, to give us music when our friends weren’t being guided in the same way and to tell us, this will benefit us in life. To see that come to fruition is huge.
They refer to their music as ‘now music’ and with their sixth album, we see electric guitar and bass added to their fantastic horn line up. We talked about Jazz traditions and bringing in influences from across the musical globe and how Jazz, as a genre, has the safety and freedom to explore this.
HBE: So when you think about Jazz, you think totally clean cut, straight and narrow but the origins of jazz comes out of the pains and bellows of New York city, Harlem, the Delta, Kansas City… it comes from pain and it was a little crooked – always curves. So, what we bring with our style of music is the cutting edge. An ode to those guys who were leaving crazy situations where they might have had to go to the night clubs with knives or pistols – or something like that – and go and play some of the best music people ever heard and then go back into these situations. We wanted to kind of pay homage to those guys because those are our rock stars and our role models. But also, to remind people, that Jazz was not just one way, it’s universal and it’s what filled the dance floors. It made people come out Friday and Saturday nights and we wanted to tap into that. Music is a universal language and we tapped into all different genres and put them into one melting pot. High octane and high energy.
The Hip Hop culture, born in the 1970s, came into being through a diverse mix of ingredients. Unemployment, political corruption, Civil Rights, migration of cultures and the desire to create a better community to live in. These concerns and needs are, fifty years later, still relevant today and Jazz and Hip Hop meet beautifully together.
HBE: Right now, things are emotionally driven. Emotions are real high and everyone pretty much understands what we are facing. It’s real tense, but our music is made in a more lively upbeat spirit, which is kind of why we waited until October to put this album out. To let the smoke clear and let all of the messages be heard, people’s voices be heard and then we can kind of add the other piece to that – we can kind of figure out what happens next and how we live life with all this change. Hopefully our music can be a soundtrack to that. All of our songs have always been infused with some sort of consciousness and we’ve always been at the forefront of trying to bring awareness and consciousness to the people who listen to our music.
It’s up to every artist to always stay authentic to the ideas and the beliefs that they have. Whether it is a politically driven belief or whatever title you may put on it, you have to always stay true to what is inside you. This is the energy and the drive that brings the people to your music and to your artistry in the first place. We definitely speak to the pulse of the people. Music is a universal language and we can paint a picture without using terms of a certain language – a potent and deeply transcended language and people can hear the message.
The choice of tracks on their latest album, came out of live performances over the past six years. Inspired by Fela Kuti, the brothers truly listened to the audiences, learning from their audiences and their energy and participation in their music live and have created an album which has the energy and vibrancy of their live shows.
HBE: It’s such a flavourful mixture of different genres and our creativity. Different cultures we’ve experience while we travelled. We mixed them all into our music and got this flavour. We want to be authentic. We want our creativity to be authentic. We want people to understand we are young men of the hip-hop era and a lot of that influence and energy is infused into our music. We play brass music in the Jazz tradition with a strong hip hop influence and soul, funk – a collage of all the best things of those genres. It’s literally an audience-built music. We want you to feel good and tired from dance. Coming to a live show, it is a party.
Speaking to the brothers, their energy and passion for their work and the importance of keeping things true and real is exhilarating and inspiring. An incredible group of artists that have created something quite wonderful. Combining the respect they have for the history of Jazz with the freedom to explore their world and their lives; resulting in music that has a purity and validity that is a much-needed medicine during today’s crazy times. I’m all in.
For more information visit the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble website.
Last modified: November 3, 2020