Review: Soweto Kinch - The Legend of Mike Smith at Ronnie Scott’s

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Soweto Kinch. Photo credit: Benjamin Amure. All rights Reserved

Review: Soweto Kinch - The Legend of Mike Smith
(Ronnie Scott’s, Mon. 25th Feb. 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)


`If you`re quiet, you can hear the sound of teeth grinding with Envy!` UK saxophonist Soweto Kinch introduced his jazz and hip-hop drama The Legend of Mike Smith, featuring the Seven Deadly Sins, played and rapped with Nick Jurd on basses, Shane Forbes on drums, and some laptop wizardry. His new CD (SKP003CD) has a multiple cast, but this gig featured a reduced but potent number of Sins and musicians.

Kinch’s fictional character, Mike Smith, is a well-meaning urban musician pursuing a record deal, and a mystical golden microphone he's seen in a dream, like the Holy Grail. He's waylaid by various characters: the Seven Deadly Sins, who tempt him from his true course. On the gig we heard raps based on Envy, Greed and Gluttony (though the man at the back of the audience kept calling out in vain for Lust!) Kinch is a powerful, charismatic performer of his two loves- jazz and hip-hop- and engaged the audience totally from the outset, in a glorious mixture of highbrow and comic rap, social comment and virtuoso jazz.

Kinch's raps were brilliant: witty, analytical and engrossing. There was call and response with the audience: in Invidia we chanted, 'When will I be getting mine?' in a satire on jealousy, over groovy electric bass subtones from Nick Jurd and hiphop beats. In The Board Game, we called out, 'Privatise the gains, socialise the losses,' as part of the clever, searing yet comic analogy between Monopoly and the recession: 'Someone's torn up the Community Chest'. Gula almost recalled Linton Kwesi Johnson's reggae performance poetry, as 'Mike Smith' rapped the rhythmic sounds of different kinds of food over a quirky synth track.

The instrumental pieces held the audience equally spellbound: Kinch's sense of the dramatic spilled over into his soloing. His alto sound and phrasing sometimes recalled tenor players: Joe Henderson's pianoless trio in Sweeping Changes, with its oblique tonality, as well as free-form Sonny Rollins. The remarkable Shane Forbes frequently sounded like Elvin Jones to Kinch's squalling Ascension-era Coltrane. In Vacuum, Kinch filled out the harmony with crying arpeggios, against Jurd's double bass counter-melody and beautiful rich-toned solo. A Restless Mind had Steve Colemanish sharp-edged dissonance and skewed shapes in the melody, over loping double bass phrases that made Forbes grin with appreciation. Kinch played as if rapping on Traffic Lights, riffing on a theme, always communicating, Forbes' sizzling rimshots echoing.

Kinch is a consummate entertainer, and he ended by working the audience's chosen words into his freestyle rap (raunchy? onomatopoeia? indigo?) heckling the hecklers with great humour and getting everyone dancing to the absurdist Stroke the Hippo. The trio created a wonderful blend of musical brilliance, wit, showmanship and sheer energy.

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