mon 26/02/2024

Soweto Kinch, Jazz Cafe review - instant karma in Camden | reviews, news & interviews

Soweto Kinch, Jazz Cafe review - instant karma in Camden

Soweto Kinch, Jazz Cafe review - instant karma in Camden

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of a spiritual jazz classic

The seismic collision of jazz and world music: Karma

Camden’s Jazz Cafe reverberated to the sounds of a 50-year-old spiritual jazz classic last night, as saxist and MC Soweto Kinch and his quintet paid fulsome homage to NEA Jazz Master Pharoah Sanders’ consciousness-expanding album, Karma.

Recorded in New York City over two days in February 1969, the album line-up was one of Sanders' finest, including vocalist and lyricist Leon Thomas, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith and bassist Richard Davis, who had performed on a similarly genre-defying masterpiece, Astral Weeks, the year before. The seismic collision of jazz and world music heard in Karma is still felt today on both sides of the pond, an important touchstone for artists ranging from Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus to Shabaka Hutchings.

Introducing the work, the Mercury Prize-nominated and double MOBO-winning Kinch acknowledged its significance to him personally (“The message, the power, the unifying energy”) before performing it in its entirety, albeit reversing the order of its two tracks.

Kinch’s quintet seemed entirely immersed in the music. From the most subtle textural touches to thunderous snare hits, US drummer Jason Brown kept the music buoyantly sprung, while bassist Ferg Ireland dug deep into the vamp as well as offering some forceful bowed work. Whether delivering torrents of notes in the right hand or chunky block chords, pianist Rick Simpson proved a powerful soloist. Kinch himself played with incredible intensity and depth of feeling, as befits a work that revolves around moments of catharsis.

Cellist and vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson delivered the album’s familiar lyrics with a moving delicacy, as well as providing extra gravitas to the overall sound. In the brief, but exceptionally beautiful, “Colors”, she perfectly captured the sense of the rising opening line – “Mother nature seems to love us so” – somehow stretching out into infinity.

The 33-minute epic “The Creator Has a Master Plan” then followed. Kinch and the quintet by no means offered merely a facsimile copy of the original. The performance had its own timbral identity, its own cohesion, while summoning up the same alluring, pulsing collage of sound. Each return to the two-chord vamp drew warm applause from the audience, as if greeting an old friend, while the sudden shift to double time elicited a kind of transcendent joy which lit up the venue.

Kinch’s opening set included two fine originals (“Heartstrings” and “The Rescue”), a freestyle, plus Coltrane’s “Spiritual”, which was not only the perfect scene-setter for Karma purely in aesthetic terms, but also nodded to the fact that Sanders was an integral member of the band that recorded on Coltrane’s late masterpieces, Ascension and Meditations.


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