Sax icon Soweto Kinch made an appearance on University Challenge on TV this week representing his old college Hertford College, Oxford battling Edinburgh University. Famed news journalist Adam Fleming captained the Hertford team. The altoist studied modern history at Hertford before breaking through as a jazz star in 2003 with the extraordinary Jason Yarde produced Conversations with the Unseen that went on to gain a Mercury nomination.
Think ''bridge of sighs'' for Hertford in the city of dreaming spires - a stone's throw from the Bodleian.
Read a review of White Juju, out on the LSO Live label - one of our albums of the year below:
A major extended work for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra from alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, MC, Soweto Kinch with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded last year in the Barbican during the London Jazz Festival.
It is a scalding anti-establishment critique certainly of greased piglet Boris Johnson mainly hoisted by his own petard in the use of his own words. His podium to the nation voice harrumphs ever preposterously out at the beginning of this deeply considered broadside couched in a style that long-term Soweto listeners will recognise from The Legend of Mike Smith.
More a tragedy than the contrasting equally inspired Mike Smith skittishness “it fascinates me,'' Soweto says, ''how we’re all acquainted with an unspoken architectural and symbolic language of power. How do these monuments or myths affect how we see ourselves as a nation? Naming the piece 'White Juju' deliberately inverted ideas of the ‘savage’ or primitive. Perhaps the bizarre fetishes and obsessions of a cult religion are more visible in modern Britain than third world countries.”
In terms of scale there is nothing like White Juju in terms of UK jazz releases this year both as a hard hitting satire and a cogent experiment in form that Kinch has developed and deepened over many years in various fragments of his work. It's all the more remarkable given that it was delivered live.
Conducted by Lee Reynolds, the LSO's woodwinds on 'Juju 1: Dawn' conjure serenity out of what could be interpreted as a vision of birdsong and the meshing together of orchestra and jazz group spanning idioms works and compares favourably with Wayne Shorter orchestral work 'Pegasus'.
All this and a ''burning Babylon to the ground'' rap masterclass on 'Curated Chaos' - a voice from the wilderness and sound that needs to be heard given the straits post-Brexit and Covid that the UK finds itself in. 'Sunlit Uplands' merging a Brexitian asylum of voices of stricken malaise, agitation and discord against a lament driven by beautiful loosely stitched alto-playing from Soweto is just one of many highlights on what is certainly a magnum opus.
Soweto Kinch, main picture and top. Photos: BBC 4. Above: Wikipedia