Sons of Kemet
Naim Jazz **** RECOMMENDED
Powered by the twin attack of Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford: Skinner does the pounding heavier work, Rochford the skittering ecstatic bits thrown on top clearing space for Shabaka Hutchings in the lead soloing role; the Kemets, though, know about being a collective and playing as a band.
Hutchings invokes the inspiration of Count Ossie, Yusuf Lateef, and Steve Lacy via saxophone and clarinet leaving tuba-playing Oren Marshall to carve out the unusual sounds: a raucous presence teetering on the brink of some sort of all-out splurge of mayhem, and a big factor on the banging intro to ‘Beware’.
‘Kemet’ in the band name refers to an early name for ancient Egypt, and an extra connection is that the ancient land’s last Nubian king was called Shabaka, coincidentally the first name of clarinettist/saxophonist Hutchings the band’s leader. Shabaka is king here. Time to pay homage, jazz fans.
Live, the band makes people dance even if it’s not dance music in design: it sends judders down the spine (check the opening of ‘Inner Babylon’, with that very wide aperture of sound dying to shake the room).
It’s easy to forget Hutchings is basically a free-jazz and improv player, but not here although Burn because it has tunes isn’t an improv record in the usually accepted sense although Hutchings’ circling routine at the beginning of ‘The Itis’ is a good stab in this direction.
The improvising is riotously heavy, and long time fans of Hutchings and Skinner will detect echoes of Zed-U, their trio with bassist Neil Charles, and the woefully underrated Babel album Night Time on the Middle Passage when they hear this SoK debut, particularly in the quieter tracks.
Mulatu tribute ‘The Godfather’ is not what you’d expect: its serpentine clarinet line a tease adding a cultured serenity to the ensemble roar: the “Mulatu modes” in Shabaka’s hands move more towards a middle Eastern direction.
It’s not all jumping-around jazz by any means, and ‘The Book of Disquiet’, inspired by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa shows subtlety in composition and performance while the beginning of ‘Going Home’ can be listened to back-to-back with the soundtrack of The Master, the Jonny Greenwood-composed music Shabaka played on for the film. But it has also got the jitteringly baggie indie dance dimension too. The echoey production here is just great. ‘Adonia’s Lullaby’ with The Invisible’s Dave Okumu guesting feels as if belongs on another record, again, it has that Greenwood factor somewhere in there, which is ridiculously cool.
The middle section of the album is where the real depth lies, yet a song such as ‘Song For Galeano’, a nod to Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, needs patience. The Caribbean/Rastafarian standard ‘Rivers of Babylon’ at the end let’s face it is not for Boney M fans. So, a stirring debut, all in all, of considerable quality, originality, and daring. SG
Released on 9 September