Sons of Kemet
(Leith Theatre, 14 August 2022. Part of Edinburgh International Festival. Live Review by Patrick Hadfield)
Back in June, Sons of Kemet announced that, after more than ten years and four acclaimed albums, they would cease to be, at least for the foreseeable future. So it turned out that their Edinburgh International Festival show in Leith was their last UK performance.
They didn’t mention it as they came on stage; they didn’t mention anything – there may have been a “hello, Edinburgh”, but if so it was inaudible over the roar that greeted them from the capacity crowd.
And then the band were straight into their thing, led by the double-drum attack of Tom Skinner and Eddie Wakili-Hick. Their bass drums kept a steady, pounding beat which belied the rhythmic complexity they produced throughout the evening. Together they built ever changing polyrhythmic patterns over the primal bass beats.
This was high energy jazz for the dance generation. And dance they did, non stop from the very start. This audience didn’t need a warm up.
With Skinner and Hick pushing it along, the front line of Shabaka Hutchings on tenor and Theon Cross on tuba led the full-on assault. There was something adversarial about their playing, confronting each other and the audience.
Moodily lit from behind for the most part, Sons of Kemet were a powerful, brooding presence on stage: there was a heavy darkness to the music. Hutchings played with forceful insistence; it may not have been subtle, but it was certainly impressive.
Theon Cross, too, was pushing through, as if nothing was going to stop him. The tuba is a comparatively rare instrument in modern small group jazz, and the effort that Cross was clearly having to make may go a large distance in explaining why. Just holding that much brass for over an hour must have been hard work. To use it to create such compelling, dynamic music is something else.
The two front men each got a break whilst the other took a solo slot; the drummers got two – they certainly deserved a breather. Hutchings’ solo feature saw him pick up a bamboo flute, and he displayed a softer, more romantic side. Cross’s solo allowed him to extend his reach beyond the limitations of the four piece.
Apart from the two solo segments, the music was full steam ahead, right until the final piece, which was significantly slower and presented a more relaxed aspect of the music. And then, after a brief “thank you” from Hutchings and a wave from the others, they were off.
The audience were having none of it. After so much energetic music, it seemed cruel to demand more of the band, but that’s what the crowd did. Sons of Kemet willingly complied, giving us another few minutes to dance away.
Despite their success as recording artists, Sons of Kemet were first and foremost a live band. Each gig was an experience, their unique performance a force of nature. They will be missed.