The Family Stone + The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – The Prince Bandroom, Melbourne (15/11/2011)

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are a joyous, energetic and extremely tight group who have been redefining the concept of a brass band since their inception in the early 2000s.

Hailing from Chicago, the Ensemble is made up of eight brothers, the sons of Phil Cochrane, famed trumpet player with the Sun Ra Arkestra in the late 1950s. Specifically, their instrumentation is made up of three (colour coordinated!) trumpets, a tuba, two trombones, a sousaphone and drums. Their sound is a decidedly up-tempo take on marching band jazz delivered with a certain amount of force, and set to a firm jazz/funk beat, with elements of rap thrown in.

Each of the brothers took turns in taking to the mic from song to song, which varied from call and response with the audience, chanted refrains, to straight up on-the-beat rapping.

Particular highlights were Krytponite, from the new EP Bulletproof Brass, and crowd favourite War. A brilliant, thoroughly engaging support set.

By this stage, the crowd was well and truly warmed up and ready for the main event. Mostly adorned in shiny gold jackets, the current incarnation of The Family Stone walked onstage.

The band now has three of its original members: drummer Greg Orrico, saxophonist Jerry Martini and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. Consequently, much of the audience’s attention was directed towards these members, while the rest of the group, being bassist Blaise Sison, guitarist Nate Wingfield, singer Trina Johnson, and keyboardist/singer Alex Davis, were somewhat less of a focal point.

As we were reminded at several points during the night, Sly & The Family Stone first stepped onto the world’s stage in 1966, and performed at the 1969 Woodstock festival. Nevertheless, it was a decidedly younger crowd than one might expect, suggesting perhaps that their style of funk and rock simply has a timeless and cross-generational appeal.

Having not released any new material since 1974’s Small Talk (the albums that followed were Sly Stone solo records in everything except name), this was guaranteed to be a hits laden set, and the group did not disappoint, with Everyday People, Hot Fun in the Summertime and Stand! all making early appearances.

Dance to the Music, as it is on record, was used to showcase the group’s musicianship, with each member taking a solo, and tonight the song’s form was repeated in order to have twice as long to do this in. Davis was particularly notable as he completely nailed Sly’s vocal and organ parts. When it was Wingfield and Sison’s turns, however, they each opted for playing something very simple and repetitive instead of actually soloing.

This seemed somewhat odd, since they are both obviously extremely proficient at their instruments, but what they, and all the other members of the band communicated very well, was feel. The entire group was locked into the same groove consistently and so were able to reproduce the sounds of the original recordings perfectly.

Perhaps too perfectly, for at times it did feel a little like seeing a tribute band, the absence of the erratic yet passionate frontman being quite noticeable. Davis, dressed in a 70’s-style white fluffy suit and hat, looked and sounded like a young Sly Stone, which added to the tribute act effect.

Johnson did most of the speaking to the crowd and shared vocal duties with Davis and Robinson, whilst Martini seemed to be loving the attention, particularly from the female members of the audience, with whom he constantly interacted with from his position on stage.

Martini took every occasion he could to ham it up, including the most flamboyant tambourine solo witnessed thus far. His saxophone playing was spot on and, though a little eccentric, his stage antics along with those of Robinson helped keep the energy of the performance up, the pair of them looking as if they were having a lot of fun.

It was surprising to note that there were a few occasions that the band seemed to lose their place in the songs, with Davis at one point desperately waving his hand to try and get their attention when he saw they were about to go into the wrong section. At another point, two band members launched into a solo at the same time and Martini often spoke into his microphone when somebody else was also speaking, making whatever he wanted to say impossible to understand.

Thankfully, these were small issues and probably not noticed by the majority of the audience, who were too busy dancing and singing along to an uninterrupted string of classic songs.

I Want to Take You Higher was dedicated to Stone, with Johnson requesting that the audience sing loud enough for their retired leader to hear them back in L.A. This, along with Thank You (FaLettinme Be Mice Elf Again), an exceptional Family Affair, in which Davis really shone, and If You Want Me To Stay, featuring the funkiest bass line ever written, were the among the set highlights.

Of the two bands who performed tonight, the first was definitely the freshest sounding and most urgent, while the headlining act were a successful celebration of the past and included some of the most well loved funk and soul songs of all time. The pairing of the two resulted in a very enjoyable and thoroughly funky evening’s entertainment.

Originally published on FasterLouder on 18/11/2011. View original article.

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