fb-pixelHutchings and Sons of Kemet flavor their jazz with just about everything - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Hutchings and Sons of Kemet flavor their jazz with just about everything

From left: Eddie Hick, Tom Skinner, Shabaka Hutchings, and Theon Cross of Sons of Kemet.Perrick Guidou

Maybe you spotted headlines earlier this year in Rolling Stone (“Jazz’s New British Invasion”) or The New York Times (“With Sons of Kemet, Shabaka Hutchings Brings London Jazz Into the Spotlight”) and became aware that an eclectic new energy had arisen on the British jazz scene, and that Hutchings, 34, was prominent among those fueling it.

Or maybe you’ve checked out “Your Queen Is a Reptile,” the rhythmically (and politically) charged album that prompted that Times headline.

Released March 30, it was Hutchings’s first for the legendary American jazz label Impulse! Records. But it’s his third, and best to date, with his band Sons of Kemet, which features an unorthodox lineup of tenor saxophone (Hutchings), tuba (Theon Cross), and two drummers (Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick).


The music they make together is ecstatically danceable, jazz seasoned with healthy doses of reggae, soca, hip-hop, and other pop influences. Cross’s tuba switches fluidly from bass lines to horn lines; Skinner and Hick feed off each other like African talking drums; and Hutchings’s tenor is often as percussive as it is melodic.

Boston will get its first look at them on Tuesday, when Hutchings brings Sons of Kemet to Brighton Music Hall for the second date on the group’s 10-stop tour of North America. Given a description of the venue, one better known for indie and alternative bands than jazz, Hutchings acknowledges the likelihood that there will be dancing involved.

“It comes from the demographics,” he notes from London via Skype. “If you’re playing for younger people, then you’ll get movement. If you’re playing for places set up for movement, then you’ll get movement.”

The cohort of British jazz musicians now gaining international attention — Nubya Garcia, Yazz Ahmed, Moses Boyd, and others; many of them, like Hutchings, first- or second-generation immigrants — are purposefully mining their wider musical interests to attract younger audiences. If that means straying from jazz purism, so be it. Hutchings isn’t particularly fond of the word “jazz” to begin with.


“It’s the kind of word that’s never going to have a definition, because by the nature of the word, any definition I have needs to be kind of open,” he says. “Jazz is about exploring and questioning and subverting preconceived notions.”

Hutchings’s upbringing prepared him to do just that. Born in London to parents from Barbados, he moved to Birmingham at 2, then relocated to Barbados with his mother when he was 6. He began playing clarinet at 9, and his earliest musical influences were the calypso and soca he was exposed to at Barbados’ annual Carnival (known to Barbadians as Crop Over). As a teen, he became obsessed with hip-hop and reggae.

Hutchings returned to England and earned a degree in classical clarinet from London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. But he also made connections with the British sax stars Soweto Kinch and Courtney Pine, and was active in the jazz educational organization Tomorrow’s Warriors.

“I kind of came up, for lack of a better word, as a jazz musician,” he acknowledges. “So I listen to jazz. I’ve been checking it out throughout my life. I have lots of Henry Threadgill stuff, lots of Julius Hemphill, lots of Thelonious Monk, Sam Rivers. I love the tradition of African-American music, so-called jazz.”

Sideman work in various jazz groups eventually led to Hutchings recording with three bands of his own: Sons of Kemet, assembled initially for a dance club gig; the Comet Is Coming, the futuristic trio he co-leads with keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett; and the Ancestors, a collection of seven South African musicians Hutchings had played with on visits there, then brought together to record the 2016 album “Wisdom of Elders.”


“One of the things of my growing up has been trying to find a way to connect music that I like,” says Hutchings. “So there’s a few years where I played calypso and reggae, and then there’s a few years where I was very, very into jazz, and then a few years where I decided: Why is there an impasse between the music I grew up loving and the music that I started to love in my early professional training years? Trying to find some way to link those two things together, you know?”

It turned out others his age and younger shared his broad-minded view, and a thriving new London jazz scene was born.

“I just know this from the English context,” Hutchings explains, “but it feels like there’s been so much stratification of what music is supposed to be that a lot of younger musicians actually start to question: Why are we separating music? And then you get those kind of mergings of different types of music, musicians that are trying to find spaces within the cracks.”

Sons of Kemet tubaist Cross agrees. “I think most jazz musicians around my age group listen to or are influenced by hip-hop, R&B, reggae . . .,” Cross says in an e-mail, “and I think it’s only natural that these influences come through in the way they perform and play jazz music stylistically, rhythmically and conceptually.”


In his own case, Cross adds, “I have Caribbean roots in St. Lucia on my mother’s side and Jamaica on my dad’s side, which definitely informs the way I play music as I grew up around a lot of soca, zouk, basement and reggae music.”

The celebratory mood the Caribbean influences inject into Sons of Kemet’s music can obscure the new album’s politics, which is primarily confined to the song titles — and the swipes at hereditary monarchy embedded in the album title and a combative rap on the first track. Each tune is dedicated to a black woman Hutchings considers a worthy queen. These include Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, and lesser-known figures.

The album’s opening track, “My Queen Is Ada Eastman,” is named for Hutchings’s great-grandmother. Hutchings retains a memory of the family matriarch, then in her mid-80s, on the roof making repairs to one of the houses she owned in Barbados. “The more I grow old,” he says, “the more I appreciate how much of an inspirational and powerful woman she was.”

Sons of Kemet

At Brighton Music Hall, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets $15, 617-779-0140, www.crossroadspresents.com

Bill Beuttler can be reached at bill@billbeuttler.com.