JAZZ REVIEW | SOWETO KINCH: Sax and Hip-Hop Flirting With a New
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 9 15:59:27 EST 2004
December 9, 2004
JAZZ REVIEW | SOWETO KINCH
Sax and Hip-Hop Flirting With a New Idiom
By BEN RATLIFF
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.
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