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Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are eight brass playing brothers (and an unrelated drummer) from Chicago who are all the sons the jazz music legend Kelan Phillip Cohran who played in the original line-up of Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 1950’s. The band grew up practicing their instruments from 6am every morning as children, when they reached their teens they all got into hip-hop spending their nights secretly listening to their new heroes Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and NWA. Eventually these two musical genres would be combined by the brothers when they decided to making a living busking in Chicago. Having honed their sound they moved to New York and soon caused a stir with the mesmerising live performances, which lead to performing alongside Mos Def and Erykah Badu. The songs played as part of those live sets became their self-titled debut album released in 2009, swiftly followed by guest appearances on ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach’ and ‘Sweepstakes’ by Gorillaz. The band then went on the Gorillaz and their own world tour, emerging with two new releases in 2012, one a collaborative album with Cohran, the other a mini album called ‘Bulletproof Brass’.

All through their career to date Hypnotic Brass Ensemble have combined multiple musical genres and always experimented within said genres, ‘Fly’ is no different in this respect throwing guitars, synths, rapping, sung vocals and Latin drums and percussion into the mix. The album opens with ‘P.O.T.A.’, there’s a quick drum roll that brings in a parping horn riff that plays counterpoint to an ascending horn melody, it’s all underpinned with a head nodding hip-hop beat. Around two minutes in the trumpet breaks away from the other instruments to play an expressive solo, it provides a nice contrast to the mournful and strict parts of the track that preceded it. Next up is ‘Rebel Rousin’ which opens with a staccato horn riff playing over the slippery minimal bass line and drum break, a trumpet plays a staccato solo over the top.  There’s a great build up that reminds me of ‘Jungle Boogie’ by Kool and the Gang. The title track is the first of the three vocal tracks on album and features Aquilla Sadallah, it kicks off with a drum break put through a cool reverb, a Latin sounding trumpet riff and ‘la la la’ backing vocals. Then Sadallah drops in for his first rap verse which gives way to the laidback and smooth vocal lead chorus.

Next up its ‘Baggae Claim’ with its combination of hard head nodding beat, lilting rhythm guitar and bright interweaving brass riffs that up the track. Then the guitar falls away and the drums, sousaphone bass line and a staccato trumpet riff take over. There’s a little change up on the brass and the original section kicks in again. The saxophone takes a solo over the sousaphone, drums and guitar around one minute in. It’s a great example of how the band mix up hard and light sounds to stunning effect. ‘Navigator’ utilises a blunt beat and deep minimal sub bass to back the sharp attack of the brass section, then things back down to an 8 bit synth riff and deep voiced rap verse that are a complete stylistic change for the band. Next up is Exchange Rate’ that opens with a spoken word sample over subdued trumpet, then the rest of the brass section and beat drop in. All the instruments drop except drums, piano and a guitar which plays a solo. The brass returns with the sax playing its own solo.  It’s another departure for the band that hadn’t used guitar or piano on any of their track before this album. ‘Favela Funk’ is the second of the two Latin influenced tracks (the other one being ‘Fly’) and combines a fast percussion pattern play behind spritely trumpet and trombone riffs another trumpet solos over the top.

The addition of the Latin rhythms to the band’s sound works as they’re previous work suggested and the same can be said of adding the raps to their hip-hop influenced tracks. However, I’m totally convinced that the rappers and rapping feature on this album always gels well with the band’s tracks and though ‘Navigator’ would have been a solid track on many a hip-hop album the band don’t quite pull off the electronic organic hybrid. Despite these missteps “Fly” is an excellent addition to an impressive back catalogue.

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