For any readers currently unacquainted with Soweto Kinch, now is the time to get comfortably familiar with the award-winning British artist. Kinch is a gifted alto-saxophonist, producer and MC whose ingenuity allows him to straddle effortlessly both the jazz and hip hop scenes.
A Mercury Music Prize nominee and MOBO Award winner twice no less, his deft skills have gained worthy recognition in the urban music world. He he has further flexed his considerable talent by writing scores for musical theatre, acting, collaborating and performing with other notable artists and guest curating at festivals. I had my first experience of Kinch at the Jazz FM Love Supreme Festival where his compelling sound provided the perfect accompaniment to blazing hot weather and crisp chilled cider. Kinch, along with Andreya Triana, was in my opinion one of the standout British acts from the festival lineup and so I was looking forward to seeing him in my home town.
Kinch used to play at Rich Mix regularly on a Sunday evening, and so in some ways this gig was a homecoming. The intimate venue provided the perfect setting for the performance; low-key and unassuming but impressive all the same and with a cool crowd lounging comfortably on plush seats or standing as near to the stage as possible ready for some action. London-based producer and globally respected DJ Eric Lau warmed up the crowd beautifully with soulful beats that thawed the freezing night and kick started the head-nodding and all round good vibes.
From behind closed doors the faint but distinct sound of a saxophone could be heard, Lau slowed down the tempo of his last record and Jazz FM presenter Chris Gilvear jumped on stage to make a warm introduction before the man himself appeared bang on time. Without words, in a striking deep burgundy jacket, he produced a smooth clean sax sound in an effortless solo, his face drawn with intense concentration and his fingers moving so animatedly and impressively it was hypnotic. THAT is how you open a show with impact – no words needed.
Joined by a very tight backing band featuring Moses Boyd on drums and Nick Jurd on bass, Kinch confirmed all material from the evening would be taken from the influential 2013 album The Legend of Mike Smith, a Dante-inspired jazz journey through modern-day manifestations of the seven deadly sins. With a richly textured laugh and infectious grin he invited the up-for-it crowd to partake in some seriously good audience participation on Invidia. With speed-defying rapping, the crowd responded eagerly with fervent cheers of appreciation and responsive shouts of the chorus line ‘When will I be getting mine?’.
Throughout the performance he showcased his versatility to dazzling effect, seamlessly mixing jazz with hip hop with spoken narrative and blurring the boundaries. Being at one of his gigs is not just an exuberant musical journey, it is an education. A poetic and intelligent lyricist with a degree in Modern History from Oxford University, as a writer I learnt words that I am ashamed to say do not currently exist in my vocabulary. The Board Game got us all going again, as Kinch confidently navigated the crowd and divided us in two ready for a battle in song. One side was invited to ‘imagine you are all really rich, fat cats‘ and shout out the line ‘privatise the gains!‘. I, fortunately, was a Proletariat who wanted to ‘socialise the losses’ and as we were invited to join in on his cue, he played the crowd off against each other to great vocal effect.
Traffic Lights had a mean bass and synth intro, mirroring the album version, and initiated further appreciative head-nodding from the trendy crowd upfront. Kinch is highly regarded as an improvising musician and having heard him showcase this particular talent a few months ago on Jazz FM, the main highlight of the gig for me was the freestyle rap. Kinch explained that for every single letter in ‘Rich Mix’, he needed a creative word from the audience to transform into an improvised piece. The crowd was willing, offering the most tongue-twisting, difficult-to-articulate-on-the-surface words they could think of. ‘Razzmatazz!’. ‘Ingenuity!’ (‘damn London people who come with special words for me’, said Kinch good-naturedly). ‘Christmas!’ said someone, seasonally. ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’ said another, appropriately. ‘Indigo!’, noted Kinch, was a Duke Ellington reference for all the Jazz aficionados. He effortlessly meshed all the words together and produced a brilliantly funny festive-themed rap.
Better off Alone was the most vocal song of the performance with a catchy riff. With The Bounce, Kinch said to the crowd, ‘if you want to dance, dance’ and dance they did. A bit more liberally, buoyed up by the freestyling, the laughing and beer. The show concluded with The Healing and sadly, it was over too soon. Eric Lau, described beautifully by Kinch as ‘a prolific beat making beast‘ closed the night.
At the end of the gig, I got to meet the great man himself who was unpretentious, self-deprecating and chatted about recently flying back from Martinique. He signed an impressive USB flash drive with two albums worth of music on it and even a video, no less. I was also fortunate to meet Moses Boyd, the drummer who was also charming and passionate about his work.
With his performance, Kinch took us on an exciting journey of musical virtuosity and experimentation. One of his many notable skills is the ability to fuse fast-paced hip hop tracks with jazz-infused melodies with ease. Throw into the mix righteous political messages, formidable vocabulary and a great huge dollop of natural talent, plus added charisma and natural rapport with the audience, and you know you are onto a good thing.
Soweto Kinch, a thought-provoking and influential British artist and to the best of my knowledge, the only man who can freestyle using the word razzmatazz. If he can draw a greater and more varied audience into jazz then that is a job well done.http://www.soweto-kinch.com https://twitter.com/sowetokinch https://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/Soweto-Kinch-Official/157925057577022