Jazz is cool again, report the latest editorials. But, launching his album Rare Groove at the Pizza Express, Josh Kemp embodied the spirit that sustains jazz no matter which way the weather vane of vogue is pointing. Kemp is a musician at the coal face of jazz, his expression of the idiom uncut with additives or E numbers. No slugged hip hop beats or EDM drops here, just 100 per cent free-range swing.
His ensemble of outstanding sidemen ring every drop of groove from Kemp's compositions. 'Stirred not Shaken', a high-wire hard-bop blend of 'Straight, No Chaser' and 'Sweet Georgia Brown', sees Arnie Somogyi's blisteringly groovy basslines meld with Ross Stanley's perfectly weighted piano voicings. Kemp's own playing recalls the soulful fluidity of Hank Mobley, an influence alluded to with a cover of Harry Warren's 'The More I See You'. But his sound isn't tied to any particular tenor touchstone; his improvisatory language speaks of a deep and comprehensive engagement with the jazz canon.
Kemp is no historical re-enactor of jazz's glorious past, however. His compositions speak of an impulse for creation not curation. From a selection of grittier grooves in a second set that saw Ross Stanley switch to Hammond organ 'Home Cookin'' stood out. The riotous New Orleans inspired jam, propelled by Chris Higginbottom's stomp-inducing second line beat, turns out to be inspired by building work undertaken in Kemp's kitchen. Many of the pieces have domestic inspiration, from Kemp's daughter's bedtime ('Turn on the Dark'), which hints at Head Hunters-era Herbie, to a moody, bluesy meditation on his Walthamstow home ('East Wind').
Kemp's domestic vignettes tell of a jazz-man in the finest tradition. A fierce talent, cemented by studious shedding, who is practising a devotion to the genre that is rarely glamorous and often hard. If music is its own reward, we are lucky that we can share in Josh Kemp's gift.
– Liam Izod
– Photos by Colin Izod