Photo: Ray Yau (Kosson Talent)

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble Gets Hypnotic with ‘Book of Sound’

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.

RATING 7 / 10
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