Concert review: Soweto Kinch Trio

Soweto Kinch at the mac last night
(Photo copyright John Watson/

mac theatre, Birmingham UK

I went to a serious jazz gig last night. The saxophone trio – sans chords – is a strenuous set-up and one which demands not only great stamina from the players but also great concentration – and a little endurance – from the audience.

The strident, keening alto saxophone solos were lengthy and complex, full of strange scales and finger-twisting patterns taken up and down the usual saxophone range, plus some squeals and choked harmonics right up in the range marked “strictly for canines”. The double bass solos were equally complex, full of freshly strange – or is that strangely fresh? – timing and harmony. The drum rhythms were constantly shifting and shape-changing, bringing strangely fresh – or is that freshly strange – challenges for the tapping toe. Was that a time signature of 9/4 directly after the interval?

Yep, it was a gig that the kind of guys – balding, of a certain age – who go to hear “free jazz” and to witness rare appearances of the avant-garde players from 1960s/70s Chicago  would just love. And it was superb.

I also went to this uproarious hip-hop gig last night. The rhymes were bursting from the MC, the electric bass lines were locked into a sinuous loop, and the drummer dug deep for some seriously shoulder-dipping beats.

In When Will I Be Gettin’ Mine?, which the audience was encouraged to join on the shouted title line, the MC shifted into an amazing double-time, just like a jazz soloist might; on The Board Game, the audience became two halves alternating the City of London’s twin demands: “privatise the gains” and “socialise the losses”. In the illustration of gluttony – the subject matter was the seven deadly sins – we heard, among many classic lines: “I don’t need a knife/I eat faster with two forks”.

The traditional hip-hop freestyle piece taken from audience suggestions had a novel twist. Instead of the suggestion of lust as a subject, the MC chose to translate it into the Latin used by Dante: luxuria. But the results were just as crowd-pleasing with a cheer as each agreed word was eventually arrived at. We had a fine time.

I guess Soweto Kinch, with Karl Rasheed-Abel on double and electric basses and Shane Forbes on drums, is the only man who could have given both those concerts – generally the odd numbered performances were the jazz and the even ones the hip-hop – on the same night to the same audience. And bring both off with such intelligence, such panache and such an effortless sense of it being thoroughly natural to mix these styles in this way.

The material all came from Soweto’s latest project The Legend Of Mike Smith, the recording of which is released in the next week or so. It was a brilliant performance warmly cheered by a full house. This was a Jazzlines/mac gig.

Categories: Live review

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