BRASS BAND OF BROTHERS, A DAD'S GIFT: IN 'BROTHERS HYPNOTIC,' A FUNK ENSEMBLE REMEMBERS ITS ROOTS
- 03/23/2014 by Nicolas Rapold (New York Times)

Probably the biggest influence on the group in “Brothers Hypnotic” comes from very close to home. In Reuben Atlas’s relaxed documentary about the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the band’s proudly independent musicians still grapple with the ideals of the Chicago trumpeter Kelan Phil Cohran, father to seven of the group’s eight members, their teacher in their formative years and an advocate of black consciousness for alternatives to the establishment.

Mr. Atlas tracks the ensemble as it performs on New York streets, and selects gigs and recording engagements in an industry the members’ father, now in his 80s, often scorned. The group’s fusion of funk, jazz and hip-hop is a propulsive pleasure, and — as is the case with many music documentaries — we could do with seeing and hearing even more of it.

Yet the players’ upbringing — which involved early-morning lessons with “Pops,” and the presence of two of the three mothers with whom he had children — exerts a fascination. So does their organic flow as a brotherly ensemble, whether performing or not, though it’s a tough challenge to individuate all the members (who were in their 20s and 30s during filming).

The style of the documentary falls into some commonplace rhythms: the band’s concerns about keeping it real, spotlighted brushes with stardom and the kind of visual filler that might round out any tour chronicle. These dull the impact of some moving introspective interludes and well-observed moments.

One telling juxtaposition encapsulates the band’s evolving identity: A police officer scolds the musicians about performing in the street and says that he could seize their instruments, and in the next shot, the ensemble is loosening up for a gig at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Mos Def.

The fearless streak displayed by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble deserves its equivalent in a bolder movie technique. But Mr. Atlas delivers a rousing finale with a shiver-inducing studio session involving father and sons that’s at once a glimpse at deeply felt family dynamics and a moving bridge across generations.

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