REVIEW: Soweto Kinch at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Soweto Kinch
Photo by John Watson /© jazzcamera.co.uk

Soweto Kinch
(Parabola Theatre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29th April 2016. Review by Jon Turney)

The multi-skilled Soweto Kinch’s projects have generally majored in story-telling, with his coruscating alto playing complemented by his own rap vocals or the work of other singers. This impressive Cheltenham set signalled a move away from that, perhaps. We heard big helpings of new music developed he said, from explorations of number.

Hard to say more about that – there was so much music, other announcements were mostly dispensed with. Does this interest in numerology signal a move toward abstraction? Not quite. The sound mix was mainly familiar, with star recruit Gregory Hutchinson laying a rich carpet of beats on drums, Kinch adding electronic overtones and occasional loops to his sax lines, Nick Jurd powerfully propulsive on upright and electric bass, although Reuben James, slightly under-mixed, was unexpectedly decorous on piano.

L-R Reuben James, Nick Jurd, Soweto Kinch, Gregory Hutchinson
Photo by John Watson /© jazzcamera.co.uk

The new work is often complex, with long written lines for sax and piano, or sometimes bass, in unison, and shifts of rhythm that come – a few bars of mid-tempo swing here, a brief glimpse of straightahead bass playing there – and go again rapidly. The first 45 minutes of their lengthy set ran without a break, and felt at times as if the band, while playing brilliantly, were working through the impressive mass of material ratrher than feeling easy enough with it all to let it flow.

Still, a few longeurs – some of the pieces, even some of the sax solos, sounded rather similar, the electronics muddied the sound and overwhelmed the piano here and there – were easily outweighed by the more arresting moments. And the second portion of the set offered a few more pauses for breath, a little more variety. There was space for a knockout bass solo from Jurd, and an up-tempo vocal from Kinch in a new rap piece reflecting on urban fear and paranoia. The brief freestyling interlude near the end, picking up words offered by listeners, didn’t sit that well with the new material, I fancy. Perhaps his enthusiastic audience – who packed the beautiful Parabola theatre – really thinks no Soweto gig is complete without this little party piece, but I reckon it’s now dispensible. The closer, whose title referenced being at peace and had a melody line to suit, was a cracker, though.

That finish reaffirmed that the new band is a good unit that has the potential to become great as it grows into the music. It was a treat to see them at this relatively early stage, and a great way to begin a Cheltenham weekend.

Categories: miscellaneous

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