Event Review: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ Jazz Café (London; Tuesday 7th May 2019)

Before its association with elevators and beige dinner parties, jazz was all about making people dance with a sense of rebellion, similar to what rock and hip-hop later became known for. Fifteen years since their first recording, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble still prove that safe doesn’t have to be an option as they graced the intimate Jazz Café post-May Day.

One by one, the Chicagoan 8-piece flittered onto the stage without huge commotion, suited and booted, in contrast to the more casual tees-and-jeans attire of Loud Noises, who opened for them with covers of mostly 2000s classics. These included a comical take on ‘It Wasn’t Me’, in which the lead saxophonist mimicked the brassy timbre of Shaggy’s delivery.

As the rest of the night would prove, the Ensemble were effortless in their approach as a welcoming, tight family unit, wishing everyone a good old time. They kicked off their set-list with bouncy hip-hop-flavoured tunes to set the general party scene. Although the audience were only slightly shuffling to what they heard at this point, by no means were they not entertained. A collective sense of concentration and respect for the band could be felt across the floor as they presented an authentic slice of Black American culture.

Their fourth song ‘Are They Really Your Friends’ added some soulful depth, being introduced with an important call to support independent artists, as the group shone light on guest supporting bandmates from across the world. ‘Party Started’ delivered by far the most rapturous applause, after the band engaged the now bustling crowd, who were well and truly enjoying the fruits of their labour in playful call-and-response sequences, surrounded by flashing and swirling disco lights.

Before delving into a funky new song, which they had recently finished writing, the late great Prince (one of Hypnotic’s several prolific collaborators), James Brown and the Isley Brothers were referenced as a reminder of a long tradition the group follow. A wise Miles Davis quote (“Good music is good no matter what music it is”) was even paraphrased. Subsequently, it was hard not to be flooded with memories of another era as the remainder of the set was played, even if that era was before your time.

There was not one dull or awkward moment; each song playing an important role in the story the Ensemble wanted to tell. Whilst mostly a jazz/hip-hop amalgamation, aspects of rock ‘n’ roll, Latin and reggae could still be heard throughout the evening.

In the middle of the evening, the band said they hoped that by the end of their set the audience would crown them their favourite band. Well, for at least one night only, they could be confident their performance worked like a charm.