(Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 18th November 7.30pm , Preview/ CD review by Thomas Gray)
It’s already been seven years since the alto saxophonist, Oxford University modern history graduate and MC Soweto Kinch burst onto the scene with his remarkably assured debut ‘Conversations with the Unseen’, and there has been a four year hiatus since his second release, ‘A Life in the Day of B19’. In that time, Kinch has lost none of his knack for incisive, searing solos and for penning some memorable themes, yet initial impressions suggest he has worked hardest at his MCing.
Back on his first album, the MCing was a mere hobby to his day job as saxophonist, serving to bookend the album’s largely straight-ahead jazz content. On ‘The New Emancipation’ (as on his second album), Kinch spends as much time behind the mic as he does blowing into his horn, and he raps with considerable swagger—sometimes under the guise of a malevolent alter ego, as on ‘Axis of Evil’—about familiar contemporary issues including corporate greed, unjust military intervention and celebrity obsession.
The flirtations with several disparate genres—as well as ‘Paris Heights’, a comedy skit you may only want to hear once—disrupt the flow of the album initially. But to stop listening here would be a shame: the album’s first half contains some wonderfully unfettered improvisation from Kinch and guitarist Femi Temowo on the post-bop quick-burner, ‘A People with No Past’ and includes one of Kinch’s most compelling compositions to date, ‘Suspended Adolescence’, where guest trumpeter Byron Wallen digs deep into the material.
With this in mind, I started to wonder during my first listen whether Kinch might have done better to keep his different talents separate, but his influences do come together far more convincingly in the album’s second half, particularly during ‘On the Treadmill’ which melds a wailing, Ellingtonian blues theme with some cutting-edge broken beats from the powerful and versatile drummer, Justin Brown. This album may not quite be Soweto Kinch’s masterpiece, but it does show a leap forward in his composing, and with a strong line-up which also includes Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax and clarinet and Harry Brown on trombone, it should be quite some gig at the QEH.