Jam of the Week: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – What It Is

Hypnotic Brass - What It Is video, 01 (715x380)Hypnotic Brass is a group with the power to take your body and soul into the cosmos. Cuts like ‘Gibbous’ and ‘Ballicki Bone’ have always been warmly received when I’ve played them for friends. These eight Adonises of the jazz scene tour more extensively than just about any other band around. But, despite being productive songwriters, regular recordings from them can be infrequent. So when a new Hypnotic Brass cut does appear, it’s like a gift from the jazz gods. Continue reading

Best albums of 2013: 25 to 21

Aaron's Best albums of 2013 collage 25-21It’s that time again to decide exactly which albums are among the year’s best. Albums that have pulled me through the bleak hours, albums that have clocked up hundreds of minutes as I’ve clocked up the miles and albums that have been the soundtrack to good times.

In what has been a turbulent year of change, we’ve had terrific albums from the likes of Lady, Caro Emerald and Blludd Relations, as well as some mixed debuts from Chvrches, Deap Vally and the Strypes. We’ve even had Beyoncé’s shock release of her fifth studio album at the eleventh hour, which goes to show you just can’t write-off the year in music until it’s all over. But none of those artists have made it into my top 25. And I thought it was tough choosing a top 10 last year – that was without hearing half of the spectacular 2012 albums that I arrived late to this year. Continue reading

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ the Jazz Cafe, London

Hypnotic Brass @ Jazz Cafe, London (Jun 2013) by Aaron Lee

“Can I get a hot tub?” yelled trumpet player Gabriel ‘Hudah’ Hubert, with all the jest of market trader, in the most tangential shout out a Jazz Cafe audience has been treated to in months.

The laughter that ensued drew the crowd closer to Hypnotic Brass before they’d even begun to serenade it with their cosmic sounds. Continue reading

Playlist Picks: Electric Guest, Estelle and Norah Jones

Songs that make you get up and go, strut your stuff and sway in the breeze

Electric Guest – This Head I Hold
If your pulse doesn’t start to race to the sound of Electric Guest’s ‘This Head I Hold’, then it’s time you saw a doctor. It’s burst after burst of repetitive, high-energy rhythms that rise to a climatic zenith. Continue reading

Newsroom playlist

What was it like to work in a 1950s newsroom? Fingers chattering out news stories on aging typewriters, cigarette smoke hanging in the air, leaving the room’s occupants – dressed in sharp suits, fading ties and trilbies – in a permanent state of intoxication.

I may never get to find out. But, thanks to my MP3 player and selection of hot tunes, I get feel like I’m a newsroom hack, sniffing out stories, on my daily trip to college. Continue reading

Gorillaz @ London O2 Arena

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]


Did this really happen? Looking back I can’t quite believe it. It was the night I’d been waiting for all year: to see Gorillaz, and their many guest artists, live on tour.

Following my blissful first time seeing the band play live at the Camden Roundhouse back in April, I immediately jumped at the chance to see them again when they announce their first ever world tour. I snapped up tickets for one of two dates at the London O2 Arena. Originally scheduled for September, the concert itself was switched to November 16 to fit in with the rest of the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Contrary to having to rush down from Nottingham, it was reading week at my uni so I’d already come down for the week to find the tickets waiting for me (and would you believe it, I received ticket numbers 33 and 34). I had planned to take my brother to see the band this time, but literally and hour before we were due to leave he said he was feeling ill, so I had to ring my main man, Dee, to take his place.

Though I’ve driven past it on many occasions I’d never actually been inside The O2 (or Millennium Dome as it was originally called) until now. Making our way toward the gargantuan structure from North Greenwich tube station its 12 yellow support arms dazzled against the night sky, illuminating the oversized marquee like a spaceship that had landed right in the centre of the city. Inside the thing itself was a myriad of restaurants, cafés, bars and entertainment venues all packed together in one of the most inventive architectural feats I’ve ever seen.


During our exploring, Dee and I ran into two fellow Gorillaz fans, and their friends, that we’d met back at the Roundhouse in April. When the time came to make our way into the arena, we had to pass through no less than three ticket and security checks only to find that there was no cloakroom for standing audience members to dump their bags. On to the music…

Gorillaz in the Midst

Or not quite, as we had to wait nearly two hours before Gorillaz took the stage. Fortunately, support act Little Dragon (who appear on two tracks on Plastic Beach) energised the crowd with a number of hypnotic tunes. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was rocking a long oriental two-piece dress and twisted and danced her way across the stage like she was summoning some mystic bird from beyond the sea.

Speaking of which, when the accompanying orchestra played the band in during the island intro the whole place erupted with excitement. I’d brought my compact camera along to get a few shots, but I decided early that I wanted to enjoy this experience to the full and not spend half of it viewing the magic from behind a digital display – the shots you see here are the best of the small amount I took.

For the second time this year, it was a buzz to feel the presence of Damon Albarn and the rest of the musicians standing some five metres above me on stage. The band had played at The O2 just two days ago, but had to fly to Amsterdam the day after. Honestly, it felt so rewarding to hear Damon expressing his relief and gratitude that his home fans had come to show their support. It was by no means a sell-out gig. Why more people don’t feel the magic I feel from this band, and its many associates, is something I will never know.

That night I was treated to a rapturous harmony of music from all corners of the globe, from the Lebanese National Orchestra for Arabic Music to De La Soul. Music from all three of the band’s studio albums – Gorillaz, Demon Days and Plastic Beach – was played, including some favourites I witnessed live for the first time, ‘19-2000’, ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ and ‘Demon Days’.


And as if seeing the core band – Paul Simonon, Cass Brown, Mike Smith and the rest – wasn’t enough, the sheer number of guest artists left me delirious with happiness: Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, Roses Gabor (who kindly signed my tour book after the gig), Kano, Bashy, Yukimi Nagano, Hypnotic Brass and the legendary Bobby Womack. What’s more a special appearance by none other than MF Doom during ‘Clint Eastwood’ was a real shock. They should have brought him on to do ‘November Has Come’ live. Daley, too, was in the house to perform newfound pop gem ‘Doncamatic’, and I have to say that boy has some pipes.

Veikko’s Blur Page has a rundown of the setlist, as well as all the other live dates from the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Seeing Gorillaz and their guest crew live, for the second time this year, was a tremendous experience that will stay with me long after these years are behind me. EMI could help though by putting out a tour DVD so I can relive the memories of this gig in crisp AV quality.

Hypnotic Brass: Medicine for the Soul

Calming, soothing and uplifting – that’s how I would describe the cosmic sounds of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. I heard one track, ‘Ballicki Bone’, from the brass-brothers during Damon Albarn’s Radio 1 takeover, in January this year. After just one song their music captivated me with fresh sounds and beats, giving me an instant attachment to their music. I got hold of an MP3 version of the radio show and played Hypnotic Brass’ track more than fifty times that same week. Their music is something else entirely. I’ve not felt this way about a band in a long time.

So, to my surprise, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the debut album from the eight-piece brass band, was released under Honest Jon’s Records in June this year. It arrived yesterday, and after only a day, I can tell this album is going to be standout addition to my music collection. You might expect a full brass and percussion album to be a bit too much after the first two tracks, but that couldn’t be further from the truth with Hypnotic Brass. From the upbeat ‘Gibbous’ to my personal favourite ‘Ballicki Bone’ (which sounds even cooler, thanks to a classy bass line), Hypnotic Brass Ensemble soothes mind, body and soul.

With so many tasks and so much responsibility this year, I am going to need the spiritual energy of artists like Hypnotic Brass to help me survive the up and downs.