Sons of Kemet (l-r): Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross, Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford
One of the most enduring and sometimes frustrating truisms in music journalism is the notion of the difficult second album. As Dorian Lynskey commented in The Guardian: “The cliché that you have a lifetime to make your first album and only a year or two to make your second holds true.”
Compound this, in the case of Sons of Kemets, two years on from their MOBO winning Burn with a slight rejig in the line-up – not easy to replace a tuba player, but Sons of Kemet have done just this with the departure of Oren Marshall and the arrival of Exodus’ Theon Cross – and a set of tunes that aren’t quite as much a bolt from the blue or as explosive as the Kemets’ debut. Yet Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do is if anything tighter and more ambitious than their debut.
Happily there’s still that remarkable drum interplay underpinning everything – Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner going hell for leather serving up highly complex room shaking patterns not forgetting to conjure rumbling dance floor grooves in the process – that move the band from the confines of the concert hall to the sweatiest and stickiest of venues.
That knack of combining intellectualism and party fervour, and there are plenty of literary and political references strewn about in the tune titles, via Afro-grooves and eyes-clamped shut free form blowing from Shabaka Hutchings is still a marvel to hear. It’s a world away from conventional bebop-ordered jazz conventions and when Hutchings bumps and shoves his saxophone particularly beyond its natural register the band have more in common with free-jazz.
Title track-less, quite a few of the tunes begin with the drum attack of Skinner and Rochford (e.g. the opener, ‘In the Castle of My Skin’, the quieter ‘Breadfruit’, ‘The Long Night of Octavia E Butler’) while new tuba player Theon Cross often sets the shape of the tune for Hutchings to elaborate upon. ‘Play Mass’ has most in common with the earlier album erupting as it does with a passionate energy, while the long ‘Afrofuturism’ has a feverish danceable energy familiar to the best parts of the earlier record.
Hutchings on the band’s debut invoked the inspiration of Count Ossie, Yusuf Lateef, and Mulatu Astatke and their influences are less obvious here although Lateef’s proto world music-friendly sound drifts in somehow hovering like a guardian angel over Hutchings’ solo deep into ‘Mo Wiser’. Seb Rochford has produced the album and it’s not a hugely layered studio affair by any means, the organic appeal of the band easily captured, the snatches of random electronically manipulated sounds sucked in just occasionally blending in to varnish the acoustic power of the instruments provide a recurring element of fascination.
Released on 25 September