By Nate Chinen
“Jazz built for arenas.”
A friend and former rock critic shared this admiring assessment of Sons of Kemet, after seeing the band for the first time at this year’s Big Ears Festival. There’s obviously truth in it: Over the last eight years, Sons of Kemet has not only fueled the fires of a raging London jazz scene; it has also scaled up the pyrotechnics, in strictly musical terms.
With Shabaka Hutchings on tenor saxophone, Theon Cross on tuba, and Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner on drums, it’s a hardy combustion engine that also feels like a breathing organism. Arenas, sure, but this is also jazz built for street parties. And certain proudly eclectic fests.
At Big Ears in Knoxville, Tenn., Sons of Kemet brought its exultant blend of carnival rhythm, club abandon and jazz improv to a midnight show that packed The Mill & Mine, a cavernous room that once housed the Industrial Belting and Supply Company. The set drew from a knockout recent album, Your Queen Is a Reptile, but with a spirit of freedom in the moment — whatever setting you think suits it best, it’s music made for a perpetual now.
Shabaka Hutchings: saxophone; Theon Cross: tuba; Tom Skinner: drums; Eddie Hick: drums
Producers: Sarah Geledi, Colin Marshall, Katie Simon; Head of Recording: Matt Honkonen; Lead Recording Engineer: Jonathan Maness; Assistant Recording Engineer: Ryan Bear; Concert Audio Mix: David Tallacksen, Josh Rogosin; Concert Video Director: Colin Marshall; Videographers: Tsering Bista, Annabel Edwards, Nickolai Hammar, Kimani Oletu; Editor: Maia Stern; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producers: Colin Marshall, Katie Simon; Supervising Editors: Keith Jenkins, Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman, Amy Niles; Funded in Part By: The Argus Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, Wyncote Foundation