Hot 8 Brass Band and Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble in Bristol

Neil McKim enjoys two performances from visiting US street jazz bands

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Hot 8 Brass Band and Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble in Bristol
Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble at The Fleece, Bristol
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It’s not often you get top-class street jazz ensembles visiting Bristol and to have two in the space of a couple of days is a real treat. I went along to The Fleece, an established live music venue in Bristol to catch the Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans on Monday, followed by Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (pictured) on Wednesday.

Both bands have toured the UK in the past and both go down extremely well with audiences at jazz festivals and elsewhere, for example, playing at Glastonbury. This is thanks to their infectious blend of jazz, mixed with chants and catchy tunes.

As a venue, The Fleece, with its large flag-stoned floor, is perfect for this type of jazz, which is created for musicians and audiences to move to. With roots in the ‘second line’ tradition – where jazz bands march behind funeral processions – the Hot 8 reveal how much New Orleans bands have adapted over the years. They use a traditional formation with trumpets, saxophones and trombones, with rhythm provided by snare and bass drum, plus the growling tuba bass lines of band founder Bennie Pete. But they also overlay hip-hop style chanting vocals, often with trumpeter Big Al calling the shots. Their own catchy tunes, many reflecting the hardships of New Orleans’s recent history, are intermingled with terrific versions of hits, such as Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ and The Specials’s ‘Ghost Town’. The latter is a homage to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble hail from Chicago, but as well as using traditional marching jazz instruments, their sound has evolved over the years to become an extremely fast and tight funk-jazz unit, with added congas and bass guitar. Made  up from the many sons of legendary jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran, himself a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, his offspring have fused the sounds of jazz with an awareness of hip-hop. The 11-piece set played a selection of fast-grooves, at times with a 1970s soundtrack quality, or reduced to raw driving drum beats, drawing from their recent album Fly: The Customs Prelude.

The HBE made their name in Chicago, from busking, before being picked up in the UK by Damon Albarn’s Honest Jon’s label. The performance at The Fleece began at a high pace and just went higher and higher, as the whole band swayed and then jumped in unison, taking the audience along for the ride and even up on the stage. The band took it in turns to ramp up the party atmosphere, whether it was baritone horn player Uttama Hubert or his brother, trumpeter Gabriel.

Bristol is continually strengthening its links with New Orleans and the two cities are forming a musical partnership that is coming to fruition in the now firmly established Bristol Jazz and Blues festival.

‘Were’ gonna party in Bristol like it’s New Year’s Eve in New Orleans!’ proclaimed Big Al as the Hot 8 Brass band took the stage… Not bad for a Monday night.

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