Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!/digital outlets)

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Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!/digital outlets)

We'll be frank, the previous album Your Queen is a Reptile by this much acclaimed British jazz ensemble (around the peripatetic saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings) didn't quite do it for us.

Got the politics and culture, admired the ensemble playing but, as we said, on a musical level it seemed to pull back when its antecedents would have soared.

That however seems to be Hutchings' modus operandi, short staccato saxophone blasts which can be almost minimalist in their repetition while all others about him spiral and spin.

It makes for tense and tight music across roiling Afro-Caribbean grooves, but for our money the British jazz albums by this ever-morphing collective/scene came from The Comet is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors and, especially, Nerija and Nubya Garcia.

This album however really does hit the mark, in part perhaps because it is based on jams which Covid allowed to be on the receiving end of smart but subtle overdubs.

It opens with the desperate and politically incendiary Field Negus with rapper/poet Joshua Idehen (back from the previous album) and moves through exciting or moody instrumentals for tuba, drummers and sax, hits a low'n'mean toasting mood with Kojey Radical on the terrific Hustle, lets in the bouncy beats of For the Culture with London grime star D Double E . . .

If Hutchings still keeps close to that short blast style, the anchor and often standout here is tuba player Theon Cross (whose 2019 album Fyah is worth checking out).

This is also an album of moods: the more reflective To Never Forget the Source; the whimsically seductive In Remembrance of Those Fallen which evolves into a lament; the exceptional Let the Circle be Unbroken held down by Cross' tuba but lets Hutchings squall in a visceral and almost horrifyingly cloying manner.

Sons of Kemet have previously offered challenges, but perhaps none quite as fully realised, angry, engaging and emotionally deep as this one.

A melodic, political journey through black culture “from ancient to the future”, as they used to say.

Or as they say -- on the terrific Afrobeat-cum juju groove -- Through the Madness, Stay Strong. 

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You can hear this album on Spotify here

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