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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sons of Kemet – Burn (Naimlabel, 2013) ****

Often times while penning down a review, I get down to thinking what yardsticks and traits constitute an ideal piece of critique. And more often that not I end up boiling down to the struggle between objectivity and subjectivity. To write a piece as an emotional reaction to a piece of music devoid of all prejudices and bias and prior knowledge about the band, their influences, the genre they fall into, in my opinion, results in a piece of writing that is mostly objective. But subjectivity brings its own school of merits - by providing a counter point to all the facets of objectivity that I have cited above, it brings home a certain authenticity that a reader can instinctively connect to. A subjective piece (expertly written) can lead a reader to make  conclusions and judgments without even listening to the music it attempts to describe. In summary achieving a credible middle ground balancing both schools of thought would be the IDEAL review but I would assume that that is no easy act to pull off.  However for the record in question I had no option but to resort to the former school of practice for I had never heard of Sons of Kemet, who the band consisted of and not even what instruments I was going to get to listen to. And I kept it that way keeping in check every impulse to call upon Google's services. What ensues is the amazing ride I experienced when I hit that play button.

The first track, All Will Surely Burn (an apt title in hindsight!) started with a pounding assault  with what I was sure was a dual drum set; ten seconds in a brass sets the stability to the tune; another ten seconds, enter reeds stating a melody with the drums unrelenting all the while - all this happens in first 30 seconds - enough to get me hooked (I recounted later that what began as a sitting and relaxed posture while starting out to listen automatically turned into a semi-frantic pacing, the dispelling of energy I suppose!). The track continued in the same vein with the drums and brass not letting down the pulse while the reeds was free to explore with multiple melodic lines. Calling this a wonderful start would probably be a huge understatement. Seeing how already I have spent quite an amount of space for just the first track, I would think it wise to refrain from a track wise description. I will stick to some highlights that should describe what the album has to offer.

The ordering of the tracks was pretty much perfect - the high energy tracks are seemingly punctuated by the slower brooding ones almost letting the listener and the record breathe. The fourth track, The Book of Disquiet, is the first of this - it is an almost meditative piece with every instrument developing motifs and ideas around one another. This track serves as the perfect piece to spotlight the superlative drumming that one gets to listen to - the drummers who can create blistering and quivering rhythms (often of multiple varieties - African, reggae, dub and what not) also know when to resort of tasteful restrain happy to provide a foundation on which their colleagues get to stretch and turn. Also the album is filled with memorable hooks  that refuses to stop swimming in your head (I would challenge anyone to stop humming the riff of Inner Babylon) - I guess this is song writing and arranging that is so well thought out that it is amply evident in its execution. Another facet that I found exciting to listen to is how every instrument is ready to be the base on which the others can improvise - an example being The Godfather, the track that follows up the blistering opener, has a brilliant melodic hook around which everything seems to build and fall. I found it a brilliant counterpoint with the brass exploring sounds around this melody. Beware (which I later learned is a staple live track) is where the brass almost single handedly propels the song forward with a fierce drive around which the drums and reeds walkabout - a mesmerizing track.  Almost every song exemplifies the tightness of the band portraying the level of comfort they have with one another and they are at their shining best when each of the instruments build up to end in an aggressive flourish blending together so well while offering a manic crescendo.
The last track Rivers of Babylon was a pleasant surprise to me and I do not intend spoiling it for you!

After the listen I did eventually succumb to the internet - the leader on reeds (clarinets and saxophone) is Shabaka Hutchings; the tuba is the instrument that I keep referring to as the brass played by Oren Marshall; Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner on the amazing dual drums (and Dave Okumu with guitar on tracks 5 and 6 lending a beautiful atmosphere). Apparently they have been around for 2 years very active in the live circuit before Burn came about as their debut. Reading a bit of their history and background it is no wonder that the music is an eclectic mix of Caribbean rhythms stepped in African roots (even the name Kemet and 'Shabaka' add to the African story!) infused with some modern jazz thoughts. Though never in your face, the influences manage to add a distinct colour to the music making it something that is going to stick in your head for some time. Given the vast amount of fun I had listening to this intensely rhythmic record I can only imagine how their live shows would be - it must be an electric, high energy affair full of riotous fun (if jazz had a mosh pit, Sons of Kemet certainly get one!). Shame that my geographical coordinates is never going to help me realize the dream of seeing them live. Now, if only I could find a way to get them down to India... hmmm.....

Buy from the label.


Anonymous said...

That's fabulous, captivating, compelling record! A beatiful one to break through crossover audiences without losing its strong and shining jazz identity and roots

Thomas said...

Well said, Anonymous.

I also found the sound quite interesting, instead of the usual clean jazz-sound, they went for a fuzzy indie-sound, which works very well with their already unusual band-sound.