Photo credit: Benjamin Amure
(CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 6 May 2017. Review by Peter Bacon)
In one sense Soweto Kinch has moved perfectly logically from his last project, The Legend Of Mike Smith, to his current one, Nonagram. It’s a natural seven (as in the deadly sins which Smith was working his way through) to nine. In other ways it is a slightly disconcerting move. Where were the words that usually pour in an often overwhelming deluge from the rapper’s mouth? For the first 50 minutes of this concert, aside from a brief personnel-and-titles announcement, Kinch kept shtum and let his alto saxophone and a set of pieces based on numbers do the talking.
Not that the near-capacity crowd was complaining. Not only was the band playing with an awe-inspiring mix of highly accomplished technique and great emotional power but, comprising three Brummies - Kinch, bassist Nick Jurd and pianist Reuben James, plus Derby drummer Ed Richardson - they also prompted pride to swell in Midland breasts These were “our people”!
The tracks from Nonagram started out in the same sequence as on the album: Centricity, Crosswinds, Waved and Triangle. Yes, like the M-Base composers Steve Coleman and Greg Osby Kinch uses numbers to fire his imagination when constructing the music - he has spoken of the sacred nature of numbers in different cultures, going way back in history - but, he reassured his audience, what he wanted to do on this Saturday evening was provide an “audio bath” for us to luxuriate in, perhaps to wash our cares away.
There was much in which to bathe. For a start there was Kinch’s alto playing (sometimes dressed here in electronic harmonies via his pedals and laptop). He is not the only modern jazz player to have found a way to make his own version of bebop, uniting a full head of intellectual complexity with a large heart of passionate feelings, but he does it more equitably than most.
And then there was the band…
Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and much-in-demand bassist Nick Jurd has been with Soweto since the Mike Smith stage show and is a rock solid presence rear centre stage. His timing and pitch sound impeccable to my ears, and his solos were both flowing and precise. Drummer Ed Richardson has a great sound - toms and bass punchy, cymbals crisp, and he can hit hard when he wants to. His solos were as rabble-rousing as drum solos should be.
And Reuben James! The dapper young pianist brings something new and very special to Kinch’s sound which in the past has often worked best as a trio. His solo in Triangle, for example, was not alone in being almost entirely chordal. He played with volume, rhythm and closely-voiced, chunky harmonies to build a powerful and exhilarating improvisation. And there aren’t many young pianists around today who prompt in an old jazz lover's memory thoughts of Errol Garner.
As the concert neared half-time this was a band absolutely “in the zone” and firing on more cylinders than I thought possible.
Any worries that the MC was taking a rest were allayed after interval. Soweto had us all chanting “what’s it all for?” as he strung together socio-political observations for Forecast, and later divided us into “I know you” and “you know me” call and response in an attempt to restore some social cohesion in Nostalgia.
Stems And Petals left lots of space for piano and bass solos rich with ideas, the music having a luxurious ebb and flow in rhythm and feel. The finale had the band channelling a pre-bop style and sound, swinging hard and having a good time as old as Harlem in 1937 yet as bang up-to-date as Birmingham in 2017.
A triumphant return to Birmingham for Kinch and band, and a real treat for the cheering audience.
- This was a Jazzlines concert.