Soweto Kinch Conversations With The Unseen Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Debut from the hotly tipped altoist who's picked up three major awards already at the...

Peter Marsh 2003

There's nothing us jazzers seem to like more than a young dynamic talent, and it seems we're always on the lookout for the next big thing to take the music forward (or alternatively do a nice preservation job on it). Soweto Kinch might just fit the bill; the Birmingham born 25 year old has already picked up a BBC Jazz Award, plus the White and Montreux Festival awards for Best International Saxophonist.

Despite the Pine-esque title of this debut album, Kinch's aesthetic has little to do with Coltrane or his followers. And that's not just because he's one of the few younger British players to concentrate on alto saxophone.

Conversations kicks off with a rap from the saxophonist, delivered as an intro to an imaginary live audience (a bit like Charlie Mingus on the classic Presents album), before taking flight with the airy, uptempo swing of "Doxology". Here and for much of the album, Kinch sounds a bit like Gary Bartz. Like Bartz and Joe Harriott (to whom he's often been compared), he balances advanced high speed harmonic workouts with bursts of bluesy passion or self-absorbed, reflective lyricism.

Several other raps (all delivered with a wry, self deprecating humour) show an easy familiarity with contemporary black music that the likes of Courtney Pine haven't really managed (and without a turntable scratch or sampled beat in earshot). Kinch also connects with his forebears with "Snakehips", a tribute to the first black British swing bandleader Ken Johnson. Despite this mix of tradition and contemporary influences, there's no sense that Kinch is making a big statement, thankfully (other young jazzers should take note).

The use of guitar rather than piano gives the music a light, supple feel. Femi Tenow's pure, economic chording provides a sympathetic frame for Kinch's broad melodic strokes. He's no mean soloist either (check his sparkling, agile contribution to the tender title track), and the rhythm section offer concise, crisp solo spots too as well as unflagging support. Jason Yarde's production is warm, resonant and immediate. Though there'll be much speculation as to what the future lies in store for this gifted young player, there's no doubt that this isa sound, intriguing start to his recording career.

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