I can’t think of a more imaginative choice for artist in residence at this year’s Sligo Jazz Project than the just announced saxophonist/MC Soweto Kinch (above, right pictured with Shez Raja and John Etheridge last year photo: marlbank). A long track record, ok pun intended, of albums such as The Legend of Mike Smith show the wit, skill and artistry of the 39-year-old bopper. And no stranger to Irish audiences either: the Birmingham player has toured with drummer David Lyttle appearing for instance at the Brilliant Corners festival in recent years.
The story started with Conversations with the Unseen in 2003, like a thunderbolt. A complete unknown then, Kinch had somehow come up with something that immediately ranked him as a significant player who in time may will be thought of as one of the greatest alto saxophone players the UK has ever produced (eg quick timeline to justify past and present: John Dankworth>Joe Harriott>Peter King>Kinch>Nat Facey). And his skills were picked up internationally as well, with Kinch collecting international plaudits at the Montreux Jazz Festival winning a hotly contested saxophone award, while going on to develop his dual saxophone/rapping concept to move him into a new space, in the process gaining the high profile backing of Wynton Marsalis who he played with popping up at venues such as the Jazz Cafe in Camden for instance I remember hearing him play, as Kinch also did appearing with Skain in the saxophonist’s beloved Brum.
When the Oxford University history graduate won the Peter Whittingham award back in the UK he used the money to fund the subsequently much sought-after single ‘Jazz Planet’, a catchy rap about an imagined topsy turvy world where jazz is the commercial music (last retooled in a Jazz Utopia version heard last year in Birmingham), and rock is the art music that no one really listens to. It’s amusing but makes its point felt. Kinch was underlining his ability as a lyrics man and a freestyler, at concerts often asking audience members to lob words (often very difficult rarely heard fiendishly polysyllabic ones) to build an impromptu rap.
Concept album A Life In The Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, his Birmingham album, was not so much of a success despite some good ideas, and was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but changing label and settling down into a better groove as his artistic direction changed The New Emancipation released in 2010 saw Kinch assert himself fully again and was met with positive reviews. The Legend of Mike Smith (2013) was once more a concept release, a double album built around the idea of the seven deadly sins with many short tracks spread over the two CDs, lots of humour, and role playing featuring characters that include Soweto speaking as his inner voice, his brother Toyin Omari-Kinch as album hero Smith, and skits plus full blown instrumental burn outs. Mike Smith is a hopeful MC looking for a deal but he has everyman qualities and faces everyman temptations, trials and tribulations. There’s lots more on this superb double album, funny little songs such as the fast food restaurant parody ‘Gula’ and its companion ‘Escape the Vomatorium’ and a certain historic time shuffling stepping back centuries before The Pharcyde via beats, baroque classical music programming, and a Milton-esque narrative sense. Kinch took over the reins at newly created Monday night Radio 3 show Jazz Now last year in the classical station’s most prestigious jazz slot and has also presented documentaries on Radio 4. His latest album Nonagram was released back in the autumn. Link to the Sligo Jazz site