The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s sound travels through jazz, rock, funk, soul, and hip-hop on peaceful waves. Reuben Atlas’s debut film, Brothers Hypnotic, follows the group’s eight horn-carrying brothers, all sons of legendary jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran, from an impoverished childhood on the South Side of Chicago to their current worldwide fame.
The documentary portrait starts by recounting the ensemble’s journey over a decade ago to New York, where the brothers and their drummer (a close friend) appear playing outside Times Square’s 42nd Street station for the pleasure of passersby. The musicians emphasize in talking-head interviews that they perform on sidewalks and without a record deal not from need but by choice, desiring to preserve their independent artists’ right — and their father’s wish — to “keep our music for the people that needed it.”
The film (whose shoot began in 2006) then shows the rise of financial temptation, with the ensemble eschewing a frontman in favor of near-total collaboration, especially on the tricky subject of how to grow while staying within itself. Its members won’t take money from corporate “them”s trying to dictate how they play, but will happily perform backup for like-minded admirers such as Mos Def.
Concert footage interweaves with the brothers quietly pondering their next moves; home movies of Phil Cohran rehearsing with a group of his kids meet with present-day scenes of him and them considering each others’ legacies years after their band broke up. We see Phil’s sons honoring him while going their own ways in a years-long effort to find the right pitch.