In a year which has seen releases from some of the most innovative names in music, it’s two jazz albums that find themselves among the very best. Both acts, moreover, can be found at the London Jazz Festival – Sons of Kemet on Saturday, and Arun Ghosh on Sunday – and so it’s as good a time as any to draw attention to their superb new work.
Arun Ghosh, a British-Asian clarinettist, composer and music educator, has offered up an expert blend of cultures on his third studio album, “A South Asian Suite”. Here, as the LP’s title and his track record suggests, he brings together traditional South Asian instruments (tabla, dholak) with Western lilt and swing. There’s so much to adore here. There’s the brassy swagger of Sufi Stomp (Soul of Sindh), which sends a mesmerising horn line out over a wave of head-shuddering drum-and-bass. There’s the forlorn call of “Mountain Song” and “Ode to Martyrs”, side-by side tracks which resound as longing nods to absent and departed friends, and which ascend into the triumphal blasts of “Journey South”, which ends the LP as a thrilling six-minute call to arms.
Perhaps the finest of all the offerings on display, though, is “After The Monsoon”, where Ghosh is joined by Zoe Rahman on piano, and whose elegiac majesty is reminiscent of that finest of film scores; the reflective and melancholic “The Last Seduction”, by Joseph Vitarelli. Given Ghosh’s successful exploration of soundscapes prior to this album – his live score of animated fairytale “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” was a rare delight – it would be exciting to see him work with a film director, as the outcome could be truly compelling. On this album, Ghosh and his eight collaborators have provided that rare treat: an album which feels like a carefully-paced path through the widest range of your emotions. I would recommend that you get your ears on this as soon as you can.
Sons of Kemet, with “Burn”, have produced a work of extraordinary force. Clarinettist and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, joined by Oren Marshall on tuba and Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on double percussion, serve up a debut which, as the band’s name suggests, is shot through with ancient African pomp. The opener, “All Will Surely Burn”, is a tune that recalls both the urgency of Wildbirds and Peacedrums at their most intense, mighty horns rising over clattering anguish, and the moral fury of Antibalas’ “Beaten Metal”. The album has a keenly political thrust, evidenced further by the names of some of the tracks – Fernando Pessoa’s “Book of Disquiet” is given a fittingly contemplative tribute here – and the arrangements are elegantly woven, with surprising and joyful twists of electronica throughout; almost as if TV on the Radio had popped into the studio to add the finishing touches. “Going Home” has the bustle of the Budos Band, and “Beware” could comfortably go toe-to-toe in a soundclash with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Yet, in a testament to this band’s exquisite control of their sound, the standout track on here – like that on Ghosh’s “A South Asian Suite” – is one where restraint is everything. “Rivers of Babylon”, clocking in at eight and a half minutes, is as beautifully mournful a record as you could imagine. As the tragic soundtrack to the slave trade, it is the most satisfying of climaxes to this album. Rarely has a MOBO award, which this album has gone on to claim, been so fully deserved.