Sons of Kemet is led by tenor saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Shabaka Hutchings who, though he is far too modest to make any such claim himself, is the de facto standard-bearer for the new wave of musicians who have emerged on the London jazz scene since around 2015. The band is one of three Hutchings either leads or co-leads which are signed to Impulse!. The other two are the cosmic-fusion trio The Comet Is Coming and Shabaka & the Ancestors , who are based in South Africa.
Hutchings founded Sons Of Kemet in 2011 with tuba player Theon Cross and the drummers Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner. Black To The Future is the band's fourth album. It was recorded by the founding lineup (the drum chairs have shuffled around a bit over the years)and it is a stone blinder.
Among the chief attributes of Sons Of Kemetand also of Shabaka & The Ancestors and The Comet Is Comingis that, however sophisticated the music is on one level, it also resonates with the lived experiences of its audience. It is the junction of the conservatoire and the shaman. There is an edge to it, a sense of drama, of danger, and of healing, too, all of which are absent from so much jazz in 2021 and which have increasingly been missing since the times of first generation bop, hard bop and spiritual jazz, leaving a vacuum into which hip hop and other musics have moved.
Like all Hutchings' albums, Black To The Future comes with a manifesto-cum-sleeve note. The key passage reads: "The meaning [of the album] is not universal and the cultural context of the listener will shape their understanding...[but] the overarching message remains the same: for humanity to progress we must consider what it means to be Black To The Future." The narrative is laid out in the sequence of track titles: Field Negus / Pick Up Your Burning Cross / Think of Home / Hustle / For the Culture / To Never Forget the Source / In Remembrance of Those Fallen / Let the Circle Be Unbroken / Envision Yourself Levitating / Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong / Black.
Spoken word features extensively and should there be any doubt about the album's message, it is removed by the performance poets, MCs and rappers who are guest artists. These include Chicago's Angel Bat Dawid, Philadelphia's Moor Mother and London's MC D Double E, Kojey Radical and Joshua Idehen. Instrumental guests include three of the younger stars emerging on the London scene: alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi and trombonist Nathaniel Cross. Another particularly welcome face is the pioneering tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson, who pre-pandemic was making a tentative return to the stage following a decade and more out of the public eye fighting depression. One of 2019's live highlights was Williamson fronting his alma mater, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama's, student Jazz Orchestra in a one-night-only performance titled "Celebrating Coltrane."
A decade and more on from graduating from the Guildhall himself, Hutchinson is frequently described as a "saviour of jazz." What does he think about that? "I think it's a good marketing technique to sell some papers or get some clicks," he says. "But I'm just doing my thing. Actually I don't think jazz was ever in a compromising position, it never really needed saviours." Be that as it may, Black To The Future is a shot in the arm.
Field Negus; Pick Up Your Burning Cross; Think Of Home; Hustle; For The Culture; To Never Forget The Source;
In Remembrance Of Those Fallen; Let The Circle Be Unbroken; Envision Yourself Levitating; Throughout The
Madness Stay Strong; Black.
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