britain’s cassie kinoshi fuses jazz and politics

January 14, 2019
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Community is at the center of London’s contemporary jazz scene and saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi is among that community’s central figures. Cassie is one of the horns in the Afrobeat group Kokoroko; one of the leaders of Nerija, the city’s all-star, all-women jazz collective; and her resume is stacked with both decorations from UK institutions (shortlisted for the BBC Young Composer of the Year, nominated for Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year, the Parliamentary Jazz Award), and admiration of her peers, via work alongside such local luminaries as trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, tuba man Theon Cross, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones and many others. They’re all among the colleagues Kinoshi has enlisted for Driftglass, the debut album by her SEED Ensemble, and a wonderful reflection not simply of the best of London’s current improvisational music, but a strong perspective representing the city’s young Black creative class.

Initially, the first single, “Afronaut,” opens with all the makings of a great dance-floor jazz stormer: bassist Rio Kai and drummer Patrick Boyle laying down a thick hi-hat-heavy groove, as the horn section (some combination of Kinoshi, Grey, Cross, and trumpeter Miguel Gorodi, tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael and trombonist Joe Bristow) elevate the vibes. But after Sheila Maurice Grey’s great solo, the energy gets headier, with the spoken-wordsmith Xana, unleashing two sets of Afronautical verses. Their lines bring together the continuing inner-city pressures with the power of dreams within the narrator’s grasp — “the top floors of the estates are high enough break through clouds into space […] I’ll be the first Afronaut who grew up on Desmond.” The black holes she sees once in outer space are energy forces: “power versus matter.” Then Kinoshi and Carmichael leap in with gorgeous exchanging lines, continuing the rising, before all the horns join the party.

“SEED Ensemble is my way of celebrating the vibrant and distinctive diversity that has significantly influenced what British culture has become over the centuries,” says Cassie about the project. “I hope that aspects of the music succeed in planting a ‘seed’ of awareness within the current climate of our society. It’s important to me that I shine a light on political subject matter which is often disregarded by the masses and highlight what it means to exist as a young Black British citizen today.” There is no doubt that Kinoshi’s saxophone and her compositions have so much more to say.

SEED Ensemble’s Driftglass is out on February 8th on Jazz re:freshed