Sons of Kemet, a Danceable Force of Jazz, Play Two-Night Stand in SF

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Four men in elaborate wardrobe, lined against a red background
Sons of Kemet, led by Shabaka Hutchings, left. (Artist Photo)

Ten years ago, if you'd have told me that one of the most exciting jazz groups in the world would be made up of two drummers, a saxophonist, and a tuba player, I'd probably have said, "Yeah, right. If that happens, I'll eat my John Coltrane records."

I'm glad I never made such a bet. (Not just because my stomach would hurt.) And not just because Sons of Kemet, led by fiery British tenor saxophonist phenomenon Shabaka Hutchings, have made four exploratory albums that treat improvisation as a savior and rhythm as a deity. But because in a live setting, they're a revelation, filling a dance floor as few jazz bands can. The first time I saw them, in 2018, at the side room of the SFJAZZ Center, nearly every single body moved in time, nonstop.

Which is part of why Sons of Kemet's two-night stand at the Independent is a perfect pairing of band and venue. Jazz can suffer from a staid, stuffy atmosphere when presented at performing arts centers. But when it's on stage at a nightclub, with no seats or tables, and with dancing and beer bottles and sweat and laughter, it brings back the original joy and interaction of jazz, what Miles Davis routinely called "social music."

I witnessed this joyful spirit at the Independent once before, in 2016, when Kamasi Washington brought his group there as part of the Noise Pop festival. "Take away all stuffiness, all rules, all two-drink minimums. Play this music loud and proud to a room of people beaming, dancing, soaking in a new experience, a room that's housed Mos Def and Major Lazer and DJ Shadow and Wilco and M.I.A.," I wrote at the time.


Expect the same when Sons of Kemet, that unlikely quartet with, yes, a tuba, brings the crowd to life over two nights, April 11 and 12, at the Independent in San Francisco. Details here.