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Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - 27 July 2008: New York, Highline Ballroom

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Monday, Aug 4, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner.

Kin of Chicago Jazz luminary Phil Cohran—Sun Ra Arkestra trumpeter and founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)—this group of eight blood brothers (and one non) seem born and bred for musical conception. What began as a family band in Chicago during the late ‘80s has developed into something deeper. Since transplanting to Queens in 2005, busking and backing major artists has become the group’s calling card.


At New York’s Highline Ballroom, in what turned out to be a homecoming celebration (the group just completed a month-long European trek) the group was energized and unabashed in a show that seemed more like a party for their closest 150 friends.


Considerate hosts, they announced their 9:30 pm starting time and even came on five minutes early, cutting off the Lil’ Wayne prelude. Playing disciplined and cohesive brass lines, the ensemble carved out dense harmonies across a scope of styles ranging from the somber but resilient “Baliky Bone” to the rowdy “Get the Party Started”. “War” has a beguiling Afro-Cuban beat that was missed when performed live. They even made room for a speedy variation of “Korobeiniki” a.k.a. Tetris song A.


As a unit they still maintain their individual identities with demure solos. But it’s largely their tight brass and hip-hop laden sound that has attracted collaborations and backing gigs with Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Damon Albarn, Tony Allen, and a Jay Z remix. Sadly, September 1st has been declared their final street-performance, something they have diligently served NYC since their arrival. On the upside, it may mean a sharper focus and more recording that should yield promising results.


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