Brooklyn’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble were in town once again, and so was Martin Longley.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Hare & Hounds
Kings Heath

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble don’t struggle to cram the main upstairs room of the Hare & Hounds, as now-regular guests of its Leftfoot promoters. Although now dwelling in Brooklyn, the Hypnotics mostly grew up in Chicago, and eight of them are brothers, sons of Phil Cohran, who is famed for being a Sun Ra disciple in the late 1950s and early ’60s.


Amidst the ongoing flood of post-New Orleans parade-style bands, each torch-bearer of the style has to bring their own personality to the brass-structure, usually via the grafting of compatible musics. Most often this means hip hop, but funk, soul, gospel and free jazz often rear their horns. Perhaps to make themselves more mobile, the Hypnotics nowadays leave the sousaphone and euphonium back home, and have moved towards having a more conventional band structure in the back line. Now, there’s a drumkit, bass and electric guitar to underline the sprawling front line of trumpets, trombones and baritone horn. Plus, most of the band sing or rap, to varying degrees.

The Hypnotics employ a hip hop feel, but it’s not straight rapping, being equally amenable to funk and soul inflections, as well as meandering into a kind of beatnik spoken word zone. They’ve created their own composite band style that sets them apart from their fellows, combos like the Youngbloods, Hot 8 and Soul Rebels. They also respect the originators of this ‘modernised’ form of New Orleans marching, the Dirty Dozen, and their descendants, Rebirth.

The set keeps matters mixed, blending vocal and instrumental numbers with well-balanced dynamism. This crew always maintains a high degree of partying excitement, so their gigs should be judged on how high, or slightly lower, they differ from the ‘norm’. With extended crowd-surfing right to the back of the bar, crazed trumpet-wing stabbing, manic drum features and full ensemble chanting, this gig was well up to their expected level. Some of the older tunes are more ingrained in the collective consciousness, such as Party Started and Kryptonite, the set climaxing with what sounded like either Tank or Gypsy, which could have been grown from the manic musical hotbeds of the Balkans or Haiti, or both. Whichever origin, it’s their most compulsively danceable tune.

Photograph: Inès Elsa Dalal