Saturday, February 8, 2014

Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch
Sometimes I'm just late to the party; I recently discovered a wonderful musician from England named Soweto Kinch, who is equal parts alto saxophonist and rapper. Kinch's vision is very fresh to me; when I hear music like this, it makes me want to stop talking about learning standards and tradition and so forth and start talking about going forward. Kinch has combined a rock solid gift for jazz alto saxophone with a very distinct and engaging lyrical flow that is truly a revelation. Soweto Kinch has been out there for about a decade, but I guess I've been preoccupied with Facebook or something.

I used to be very sensitive about the notion that Jazz in Europe is becoming more innovative while
many American musicians cling too strongly to the past. Well, musicians like Soweto Kinch sort make me want to eat my contrary words; Kinch blends hip hop and jazz so well, it's almost a perfect fusion.  Kinch's alto sound reminds me of Kenny Garrett, Steve Wilson and Vincent Herring; the tone has the crying hard edge I love, and he has a very fluid sense of melody and rhythm. On 2010's "The New Emancipation," the tune called "A People With No Past" jumps out with a swinging soaring sequential melody nicely countered by guitarist Femi Temowo. Kinch the jazz musician is without a doubt an expert navigator of chord changes. " Trying to Be A Star" shows off Kinch's lyrical expertise; at times, it's almost more like spoken word, but then also has a Busta Rhymes sort of behind the beat feel. (I think it's refreshing that Kinch makes no effort to hide his British accent.)

The sonic palette of 2009's "War In a Rack" is euphoric, symphonic. "Can't Hold Me Down" alternates many voices with Kinch spitting rhymes with overwhelming intensity. Contrast this with another EP from 2008, " London Sessions, " a live date which is somewhat more spacious: a blend of acoustic jazz/groove with lyrics, Kinch's flow is no less impressive. The opening track, "Ridez" is a bottomless pit of creativity. "Adrian's Ballad," which begins rather conventionally, leads into a very dramatic lyric. The final track, "Freestyle," is a funny interaction with the audience trying to find a word with which to flow spontaneously. It's mind boggling how comfortable Kinch is with rhyming off the top of his head.(Perhaps his studies of Modern History at Oxford helped with that.)

Soweto Kinch's latest is "The Legend Of Mike Smith," a concept album about a young rapper trying
to get into the business, dealing with phony music executives. (I get the feeling that this would be what you might get if Miguel Zenon and Wu Tang Clan somehow made a record together.) The double album follows a narrative but never leaves the music behind. " The Dream" is Shakespeare with a hip hop groove; it's sophisticated English poetry with rather wild orchestrations accompanying. The whole album feels like a Hip/hop Opera. It's a magnum opus from an artist who I hope has many years of creative output ahead of him.

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