By Dave Cantor | Published December 2020
Even before clocking the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s origin story, it’s hard to shake its music, a collection of roiling big-band horn harmonies, hip-hop inflected rhythms, Afrobeat-styled percussion accents and wiry wah-wah guitar accompaniment. It’s almost the perfect summation of the past 70 years of brass and dance music.
The ensemble emerged from Chicago’s deep well of talent, drawn generation after generation from the AACM’s reservoir. Now split between its Chicago birthplace and New York, Hypnotic first came to fruition as an overwhelmingly engaging group of buskers, electrifying the Windy City’s “L” stops with stubbornly catchy performances. The group’s founders—all sons of multi-instrumentalist and Sun Ra affiliate Kelan Philip Cohran (1927–2017)—soon found their impromptu performances didn’t serve as a proper forum. And after self-releasing a handful of albums, the troupe lit out for New York, falling in with a growing contingent of performers discarding genre boundaries and working to encompass the breadth of Black music birthed of the fraught American experience.
Bad Boys Of Jazz is the group’s most recent effort to cover all of that terrain, “My Ship” adding in vocals that span rapped cadences and r&b grit, before downshifting into the blue funk of “Indigo,” a tune that effortlessly pulls from ’70s groove-based music and sterling brass harmonies—something that might bring a smile to Quincy Jones’ face. “Soul On Ice,” likely named after the 1968 book of essays Eldridge Cleaver published, offers a heroic horn melody, layered atop irrepressible percussion.
Like its musical DNA, drawing as much from party music as art, the band’s worked to distill every level of culture, from romantic numbers, like the closer “What It Is,” to the cerebral funk of “Art Comes First.”