There is nothing quite like the Sons of Kemet. In a genre that struggles with the perception that it too often becomes mired in sameness and safety, this is a group that embraces the African roots of jazz while skirting the very essence of the genre. Eye-opening deviations come from unexpected places and in the case of Your Queen Is a Reptile, that source is London's "New School," or so-called "New British Invasion" in jazz. Including the likes of Kendrick Lamar associate Kamasi Washington and Elevator Throttle Music, the UK source of new jazz is neither boring or derivative, but many of its artists lean toward slick production that doesn't match the Sons of Kemet for raw emotion and fresh rhythmic drive.
A traditional name given to ancient Egypt was "Kemet," which means the "black land" believed to refer to dark, fertile silt left behind from annual flooding of the Nile River. From another esoteric source, the Sons of Kemet emerged in 2011 and with their debut album Burn (Naim, 2013), and found themselves on several prominent "best of" lists for that year. The Afro-Caribbean influences common in subgenres of jazz are compounded by the UK's various urban melting pots and its multi-lingual musical inspirations. Composer and multi-reed player Shabaka Hutchings (named after a pharaoh of a group indigenous to present-day Sudan and Egypt) has enjoyed a successful parallel project with his Sun Ra inspired group The Comet is Coming, but with Sons of Kemet he has an unusual format that leaves him free to explore.
As Charlie Haden and Carla Bley bore with Not in Our Name (Verve, 2005), Sons of Kemet have a political message rooted in the struggles of immigrants in the UK; reflected in their liner notes, they explain, "Your Queen is not our queen." And so, the queens of this album are legendary black womenpast and present "queens"celebrated with two drummers, tuba, saxophone and voice on a palette of Afro-Caribbean, extended reggae and grunge effects. Guest vocalist Josh Idehen provides some cutting remarks on "My Queen Is Ada Eastman" and "My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence," but even absent lyrics, as on "My Queen Is Harriet Tubman," defiance and assurance are palpable.
Your Queen Is a Reptile could easily pass for highly danceable modern jazz were in not considered in its political context. In either case, it is rewarding and engaging music. The tuba of Theon Cross takes on multiple brass personalities and the dual percussion of Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford is driving and complex. Hutchings himself is a soulful powerhouse whose tenor can convincingly convey celebration or rage with equal measure. Sons of Kemeton any of its three albumsis well worth multiple listens.
Track Listing: My Queen Is Ada Eastman; My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark; My Queen Is Harriet Tubman; My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper; My Queen Is Angela Davis; My Queen Is Nanny of the Maroons; My Queen Is Yaa Asantewaa; My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu; My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence.
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