[JPL] JAZZ REVIEW | SOWETO KINCH: Sax and Hip-Hop Flirting With a New Idiom

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 9 15:59:27 EST 2004

NY Times
December 9, 2004

Sax and Hip-Hop Flirting With a New Idiom

	Soweto Kinch, a young saxophonist and more casually a rapper from 
Birmingham, England, took control of his first and only American gig on 
Tuesday night as few jazz musicians do.
	The performance, at the Jazz Gallery, started with the progressive 
hip-hopper appearance: blowout hair and scruffy beard, untucked white 
shirt with a too-large collar, a blue silk tie indifferently knotted, 
baggy jeans and basketball shoes. And it quickly proceeded through a 
set of alert, creative music from a working band that has been playing 
together around London for three years, not that we would have heard 
much about it over here.
	Do I hear you turning the page? Could it be two things: one, that the 
reason we don't hear much about British jazz is that it often seems too 
busy, not quite cool enough for American sensibilities (even though 
their musicians often look to ours for cues)? And two, that the holy 
grail of the jazz-hip-hop connection, after about 15 years of 
searching, may never appear? (A too literal-minded interpretation of 
combining A plus B just isn't the answer.)
	Whatever. Don't sleep on Mr. Kinch, who studied modern history at 
Oxford before going full time as a musician and plays alto, tenor and 
soprano saxophones. He comes from a London scene that keeps leading 
back to the bassist Gary Crosby - bandleader, educator, connector of 
people - and the jazz record label Dune, which released Mr. Kinch's 
first album, "Conversations With the Unseen," last year. His playing is 
busy: excited busy, not dispassionate busy, more Rahsaan Roland Kirk 
than, ah, the Charlie Parker or John Coltrane imitator of your choice. 
He is a twitchily charismatic presence on the bandstand, not New York's 
form of cool.
	After a short, freestyling hip-hop introduction with Mr. Kinch rapping 
in midtempo, a way-behind-the-beat delivery related to Q-Tip's, the 
music shifted to swing rhythm and the descending bass line of a new 
theme. Then Mr. Kinch opened up the floodgates and improvised over his 
quartet. He has learned from the bouncing-and-weaving flow of newer 
players like Greg Osby and Steve Coleman, flipping the emphasis of 
phrases by alerting you to the upbeats. But at bottom he has swallowed 
Parker whole. Not just the serious Parker of the curled melodies and 
the hard-and-fast rhythmic delivery but also the enlivened, joyous 
Parker, his raucous, hollering rhythm-and-blues devices.
	He explained that he wrote his next piece, "Snakehips," in reference 
to the Guyanese-British bandleader Ken Johnson, who ran the West Indian 
Orchestra, London's most popular swing band in the 1930's and the first 
all-black swing band of much notice. He died in an air raid while his 
band was performing at London's Caf?de Paris. The piece began with a 
long, single saxophone note, inflating and deflating its pitch; then a 
milonga rhythm started under a melody related to "St. Louis Blues," and 
Parker slid away to a Johnny Hodges influence, while the pianist, Karim 
Merchant, played Ellingtonian figures.
	A few hip-hop things followed: his new single, "Jazz Planet," a 
what-if scenario about jazz taking over the world, which is funny if 
not very deep, and a chilling new piece called "Adrian," which starts 
and closes with hard bop (the trumpeter Abram Wilson came on stage as a 
guest) and opens up to rapping over bass alone. Here Mr. Kinch 
demonstrated what England has to teach us about narrative hip-hop: a 
clear, clever, class-conscious and grim way of looking at the world, an 
outsider's down-and-out tale that had to do with life and not hip-hop 
	To end his set Mr. Kinch burned through another jazz piece that 
suggested Coltrane, but it wasn't the formal, full-band Coltraney 
assault that jazz listeners have heard a million times. At its peak it 
became just a duet between saxophone and bass. Mr. Kinch has done his 
homework but seems to be swimming toward his own idiom; he has a 
distinct and commanding way of looking at jazz, at hip-hop, and at the 
whole performance situation.

Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
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