Album Review: Soweto Kinch’s The New Emancipation

soweto-kinch-the-new-emancipation-pack-shot-LST079159Soweto Kinch’s The New Emancipation, released on his own Soweto Kinch Recordings label, is a stunning album which fulfills all the promise this Birmingham-based saxophonist, composer and rapper showed early in his career. It distills blues work songs, classical motifs, spoken word, gospel, challenging modern jazz and wonky hip-hop into a thrilling, kaleidoscopic and totally contemporary 70 minutes of music.

Kinch burst onto the jazz scene in 2003 with his Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Conversations With The Unseen which showcased his lucid, probing alto sax sound (two parts Joe Harriott to one part Greg Osby), literate and witty rapping on tunes like ‘Jazz Planet’ and an unfashionable (especially in the jazz world of 2003) yet thrilling desire to confront contemporary urban reality.

After a few years in the wilderness with some record company shuffling and several projects stuck in development hell, Kinch has regrouped, set up his own independent label and delivered this knock-out comeback. The New Emancipation is a concept album of sorts, mapping out the modern modes of slavery in its many forms; from debt to wage, difficulties of creative expression in the face of the corporate music industry and the lure of celebrity obsession.

The opening ‘An Ancient Work Song‘ features the sort of ensemble arranging that would have pleased Ellington with its constantly shifting harmony over a bluesy alto melody. This arresting but brief intro segues into an extraordinary fusion of jazz, gospel and old-school hip-hop in 15/8, ‘Trying To Be A Star‘, featuring a soaring vocal performance by Francis Mott and some telling signifying by Kinch about the pitfalls of aspiring to celebrity. ‘Paris Heights‘ is a sometimes hilarious but ultimately disturbing multi-character spoken word/music piece set in a debt-collection agency, while ‘Help‘ showcases some thrilling devil-may-care singing by one Justin MacDougall. ‘Escape’ is a beautiful, shimmering ballad reminiscent of Wayne Shorter and Greg Osby‘s best work from the late ’80s.

Guitarist Femi Temowo is a constant calming influence on the proceedings, while American drummer Justin Brown is nothing less than a revelation, consistently kicking the jazzier tunes into top gear while ensuring the hip-hop grooves always swing. Trumpeter Byron Wallen and saxophonist/clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings also shine. Kinch has delivered nothing less than a modern classic here, a 3 Feet High And Rising or Hustler’s Convention for the ‘Fonejacker’ generation. Don’t miss.

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