There is already a sense of excitement in the air as opener Vels Trio‘s drummer Dougal Taylor brings their set of elegantly hip Hancock-esque minimal fusion to a simmering boil. This gig in the low-ceilinged Komedia basement sold out long ago – evidence of a far-sighted booking policy by joint promoters Dictionary Pudding and Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. The Sons of Kemet themselves take to the stage without introduction and take it to the top without delay; Tom Skinner and Eddie Hicks kick off a thunderous double-drum bashment, while Shabaka Hutchings preaches above, spitting out short incandescent phrases in a hoarse tone like a furious Junior Walker, and Theon Cross prowls the stage with detached self-possession and floppy hipster hat. He looks as cool as it’s possible for a man carrying a tuba, thoroughly reclaiming the instrument from it’s association with the likes of Danny Kaye and Harold Bishop and reinventing it as a source of low-frequency wub. Shabaka leans into the attack, forcing out shrill notes with his entire body, then flashing a massive grin as he and Cross negotiate a long, complex unison.
Club grooves, Afro-beat, rave and festival vibes all combine into one 90-minute long workout, each piece blending into the next. The sheer stamina is intoxicating, with sweat and spit flying across the stage. Hutchings and Cross function effectively as co-leaders over the relentless, even chaotic double-assault of the drummers, Hutchings pumping out riffs as Cross breaks out into squeals and bass-bin shaking low-end bombs; their unison lines have a telepathic accuracy that shows the effects of heavy touring. A loping 12/8 groove builds into a pounding Afro-jig; a slow nyabinghi rhythm invites Cross to drop down low with some sub-bass that draws roars from the crowd; then the tempo shoots back up again.
Shabaka’s playing is built up from nagging two- and three-note motifs, repeated over and over, driving the energy ever upwards; it’s all about rhythm and groove, and those after melody or varied expression should probably look elsewhere. There’s a foot-on-the-monitor solo for Cross that provides an oasis of respite from the intensity, and a crescendo of echt free-time blowing for the alternative jazz crowd, but the majority here have come to dance, or at least sway and nod heads. The demographic is a typical Brighton mix of older hipsters, young students and assorted free-thinkers, and they are all ears when Hutchings finally addresses them with an unexpected foray into critical theory. “The first thing that oppressed communities lose is the ability to create their own histories,” he states, after the cheering dies down, before launching into a disquisition upon the power of ‘myth’ that would have provided useful material for any third-year students of Barthes. Then, switching off his mic and associated pedals, he moves to the front of the stage. The drummers take up the nyabinghi groove again, but this time softly, as Cross joins in on Agogo, and Hutchings freestyles over the top, in a hushed, mellow tone, full of melody and reflective yearning, as the room remains in absolute silence. It’s a magical moment that acts as a coda to, and helps contextualise and resolve, all the sound and fury that went before.
Sons Of Kemet have truly broken out of the jazz box with a message for the people – long may they continue to spread the word.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley