For those in search of something to do as everyone you know is getting wastered and potentially fired at office holiday parties, the epically outstanding Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is playing at Don Hill’s tonight. We put the HBE dudes in FADER 46, which you can read if you click more, but you really should see them live because words do not make awesome brassy noises.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble takes its celestial frequencies to the street
Story Edwin STATS Houghton
Photography Geordie Wood
Utopia means ‘no place’, so by definition utopians move around a lot. Logical then, that even as they stroll through a spring afternoon expounding on the spiritual dimensions of sound, Gabriel Benyehuda Hubert and Jafar Baji Graves scope the Brooklyn real estate closely. Better known as Huda and Yosh, the half-brothers are two of the eight horn-players that, along with drummer Chris Anderson, comprise the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. They’re in the process of migrating east, and are scouting a New York replacement for the Ozone Park bungalow where all nine of them have been squatting since moving from Chicago. Over the last year, Hypnotic has generated as much excitement as is humanly possible for a band with zero connection to the conventional music biz, parlaying their daily grind as street musicians in Union Square and Columbus Circle into write-ups in the Times and gigs backing Mos Def at Lincoln Center and BAM. Hypnotic’s only videos are camera-phone uploads, their only releases a few limited runs of 10” vinyl and the homemade CDs they higgle on the sidewalk. All share a signature sound: a huge brass bridge of genuinely hypnotic polyphony connecting the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra’s Arkestra with the urgency of hip-hop and the sweeping emotional scale of a Curtis Mayfield blaxploitation opus.
“It stems from our pops…” explains Yosh in a whispery Southside drawl, looking and sounding something like Kanye West would if he had spent the last five years busking in public parks instead of orbiting the planet of the BAPEs. “Our pops’s music is unorthodox. Actually, it’s orthodox, just more anciently, like.”
“Pops” is trumpeter and composer Phil Cohran, who played on Arkestra classics like “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” and founded the Artistic Heritage Ensemble. Father to all eight horn-players by three different mothers (Anderson is fam but not blood) Cohran began their musical instruction at around age four, waking them before sunrise to drill on their instruments. The street-level utopia of self-employment and guerilla concerts the brothers have carved for themselves is a hustler’s interpretation of the ’70s happenings Cohran organized on Chicago’s lakeshore. “It’s a way to eat and we eatin,” Huda says. “But at shows you get a whole other Hypnotic. When you see us onstage, we already paid, so we really let our hair down.” By that he means stepping into the spotlight uniformly dipped in custom black T-shirts emblazoned with Barack Obama’s face and the words “So Fresh, So Clean” written in red and green, horns swinging in unison as the bros take Mos Def and the melody of BBD’s “Poison” to alter-dimensional heights. “That’s what comes from hip-hop,” says Yosh. “That swagger that you got. What we do, we make horns look cool. We like, ‘This is the shit,’ and we energize it to where you think so too. Its not like you question, ‘Do you like it?’ Nah, you like it.”