Hypnotic Brass Ensemble Gets Hypnotic with 'Book of Sound'

Photo: Ray Yau (Kosson Talent)

Rich in texture and depth, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble's Book of Sound is a departure from funk and jazz. Nonetheless, it's packed with lush vibes and a soulful backbone.

Book of Sound
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Honest Jon's

10 November 2017

The brothers of Chicago-based Hypnotic Brass Ensemble grew up in a disciplined, musical household. Their father, Phil Cohran, was a trumpet player in the Chicago jazz scene who spent a considerable amount of time playing in the Sun Ra Arkestra. Cohran would rouse his sons up at the crack of dawn to practice before breakfast, bathing their house in the warm glow of polyphonic brass harmony. It was a tradition that not only instilled a rigid rehearsal structure but also magnified the ritualistic, almost devotional power of connection with one's instrument.

Growing up and forming their band, the brothers came into their own as a polished collective of musicians fusing jazz, funk, and R&B. Their sound pays homage to hip-hop and soul as much as the New Orleans brass band tradition.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble cut their teeth in clubs and street performances, eventually touring the country and visiting international jazz festivals. They solidified their group dynamics, blending tight arrangements and energetic improvisations and developing their vivacious live shows. Their latest record, Book of Shadows, however, pivots the band into more of a meditative direction. Conceptually influenced in part by understanding our place in the cosmos and the great unknown, it's a record underpinned by what jazz critic Whitney Balliet called "the sound of surprise". Textured and patient, Book of Sound expands Hypnotic Brass Ensemble's range with a more static, contemplative direction.

Most of the tracks build upon repetitive, trance-inducing vamps that feel no need to rush into needlessly virtuosic grandstanding. The bass line of "Lead the Way", constructed with low brass and voice, is lethargic yet welcoming. "Morning Call" feels like a ritualistic call to prayer with organs and reverb-caked trumpets melting into a beautiful, psychedelic meditation. It's a stark departure from their previous records, a progression that feels like a natural evolution of maturing musical instincts. The warm buzz of layered vocals and shining brass harmonies in "Now" make it an ideal late-at-night-with-headphones experience.

Book of Sound radiates the spiritual essence of Sun Ra and Miles Davis' early electric period. It sounds like an album that demands to be heard on vinyl under intense mood lighting. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble mined their studio resources for this record, taking time to mix and arrange each tune into a stellar, moody number. Consider the melancholy melody of "Midnight" as it shifts character by being passed around from trumpet to haunting female voice to flute. That's not to say it's a derivative throwback album – Book of Shadows is packed with fantastic moments of originality and spiritual richness.

Occasionally, however, the hypnotic slow jam gets a little tiresome. "Kepra" and "Purple Afternoon" are beautifully hazy numbers that still sound stale when compared to a more nuanced track like "Midnight". Towards the end of the album tracks like "Sri Neroti" feel a bit overused, almost like imitations of what you've already heard on the record. "Heaven and Earth" amps up the energy with a virtuosic tuba bass line and tight trumpet shouts – more of this would have given the album more range. By itself, closing track "Royalty" is sleek and sexy, but after the previous ten tracks, it lacks the same edge as it would have surrounded by more energy and, perhaps, less studio production.

Nonetheless, it's a record with a polished, trance-inducing vibe. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble honors their father and their influences in a spiritually cleansing way.





Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.