Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Sons of Kemet

George Square Spiegeltent

Keith Bruce


AT first glance, the Duke Ellington Orchestra of 1956 and the singular line-up of Shabaka Hutchings’s quartet Sons of Kemet would seem to have little in common. But when the saxophonist’s band appears at America’s venerable Newport Jazz Festival exactly three weeks after this Edinburgh date, there may well be musical echoes of the famous occasion when tenorist Paul Gonsalves played 27 consecutive improvised choruses during Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, to the baying delight of the crowd. That vibe is exactly what Sons of Kemet riff on, with the leader himself capable of exciting the audience with his repeated rhythmic variation on a single note as his sidemen maintain a frenetic pulse.

Actually “sidemen” is plain wrong for the way this band works. Drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick are often filling every nano-second of audible space with filigree fills over a rolling thunder on bass toms, while tuba player Theon Cross is simply a wonder, demonstrating astonishing articulacy in his soloing, relentless riffing, and command of the range on the big horn he wears so lightly. The levels of physical fitness this team demonstrates make them as much like a four-man bobsleigh team as a musical combo.

The ingredients that go into that music are globally-sourced and can be quite retro (like prog rock) as well as from contemporary hip hop, while the building development of a piece owes as much to the techniques of the dance-floor DJ as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. In the treatment of the sound of the horns, there is welcome evidence that the sort of technology that has helped made Ed Sheeran globally successful has a positive musical purpose as well.

Some of these grooves are clearly well rehearsed but when Hutchings says: “Here’s something we’ve been working on - we hope you like it”, the foursome set off into what is clearly relatively uncharted territory and the thrill of their exploratory extemporising is visceral. Long may they navigate their bold course.