Sons of Kemet/Trevor Watts – review

Vortex, Dalston

One of the hippest of new UK bands – Sons of Kemet, a quirky quartet for sax, tuba and two drummers – showed a rammed Vortex jazz club why it's almost certain to dominate the best of 2012 lists at the end of the year. Beanpole saxist/clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, miniscule tuba virtuoso Oren Marshall, and the world-class double-drums team of Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford fired up the engine of dancefloor hooks, New Orleans street music, Middle Eastern melodies and free jazz that has marked the group out in recent months. They were preceded on stage by electronics trio Leverton Fox, in a set that was as absorbingly slow-burning as Sons of Kemet were incandescent.

A saxist of Hutchings's resources would have called the shots in an earlier era, playing complex, song-shaped melody lines over the rhythm section. Now he fires staccato fragments like drum-hits across layered and fast-shifting grooves – and this rhythm-dominant language is so well understood by predominantly young listeners that cheers broke out as the tricksiest counter-rhythms begin to pull and stretch against each other.

The show wasn't all a firework display of drums-driven relativity, though the set also let Hutchings loose on some passionately Albert Ayler-like tenor-sax flights, or soft clarinet ruminations over deep tuba drones, but it's as a dazzlingly adventurous and very accessible groove-band that they'll make their widest circle of friends.

Back-to-back Vortex gigs acted as fascinating reminders of how the past has influenced the present. The previous evening, Trevor Watts – a UK free-jazz sax pioneer since the 1960s – had demonstrated all his old edgy eloquence, impassioned Ornette-to-Ayler tone and quick reflexes in a set with long-time piano partner Veryan Weston and the firebreathing improv partnership of bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders. Many of today's young innovators unknowingly stand on Watts's shoulders, and those of other fearless innovators of his generation.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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