You likely listen to a lot of good new music over the course of a year, but how much of it would you characterize as truly exciting, so genuinely innovative that you can honestly say you’ve heard nothing like it? England’s Sons of Kemet, now celebrating a decade together, fit that bill, and Black to the Future is their most noteworthy work to date. At their core a quartet led by tenor saxophonist/woodwinds player Shabaka Hutchings, and presently filled out by tuba player Theon Cross and a pair of drummers, Tom Skinner and Edward Wakili-Hick (replacing Seb Rochford), Sons of Kemet take an open-ended approach to creativity. Churning African- and Caribbean-inspired rhythms cross-pollinate with a jazz-rooted yearning to investigate; a tinge of psychedelic wanderlust pushes the music into unanticipated places; hip-hop informs the guest vocals that bring an added measure of intensity to it all.
Black to the Future, the band’s fourth full-length album, expands on sonic concepts that first surfaced on 2018’s extraordinary Your Queen Is a Reptile. There’s more urgency to these 11 tracks, a tense sense of an impending but undefined something—and this was recorded before some of the soul-crushing events of 2020. “Hustle” features music and arrangements by Hutchings, with lyrics from Kojey Radical and Lianne La Havas, who also provide the vocals. “Born from the mud with the hustle inside me,” they repeat what seems like countless times over a thumping beat that recalls the more fiery, experimental side of early dancehall and dub.
The feverish instrumental pieces are just as captivating: The springy interplay between Hutchings and Cross on tracks like “In Remembrance of Those Fallen” and “Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong” is fed and fortified by the relentlessly blazing percussion, producing a set of dense jams whose sweat factor is matched by the participants’ ingenuity and an irrefutable veneer of consequence embedded in the tracks.