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Shabaka:Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

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    Posted: 05 Apr 2024 at 3:01pm
Shabaka: Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

(Impulse! Records)

LP|CD|DL

Out on 12th April 2024

Buy it from Sister Ray

4.5 out of 5

 

Gone is the fire and the fury. The saxophone merely observes. Shabaka Hutchings has changed scope, now leaning on a range of flutes from across the globe to craft a much warmer, more organic sound. Different, but equally great. Gordon Rutherford reviews for Louder Than War.

In the corner of the studio, stands a saxophone. For almost a decade, it has played a significant part in producing the most thrilling sounds to come out of these islands. Now, however, it rests. Redundant. For the time being, anyway. Unemployed, but if it were to have feelings, surely not unimpressed. The bond between man and instrument is insuperable. Proudly regarding the creator of these alien sounds, the saxophone listens appreciatively, for what it hears is a sublime form of music; one that drifts ethereally, far removed from the sound and the fury of days past.

Like The Comet, it’s been coming. On New Year’s Day 2023, Shabaka Hutchings announced that he would be laying down that saxophone to concentrate primarily on flute. Surely this couldn’t signify the end of the sonic Afro maelstrom of Shabaka And The Ancestors? So long to the ferocious and exhilarating Sons Of Kemet? Bon voyage to the jazz/funk/psych-rock of The Comet Is Coming? It seems so. And that’s a real shame, because over the last eight years those acts, all heavily featuring (or led by) Hutchings, have brought us no small amount of aural enjoyment. But, nothing stands still. Time waits for no man. Not even Shabaka.

In an uncanny parallel to Andre 3000’s jaw-dropping, most un-Outkast-type release of last year, Hutchings has veered sharply from his hyper-driven progression; taking a flute-fuelled left-turn that will come, despite his signposting of fifteen months ago, as something of a surprise. It’s far from an unpleasant one, mind you. Furthermore, maintaining the Andre 3000 link, the ex-Outkast polymath happens to feature on this descriptively titled new album, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace. Clearly, it’s a flute thing. Also collaborating, sans flutes, are an equally talented cast, including Brandee Younger, Moses Sumney, Floating Points, Lianne La Havas, Esperanza Spalding and, fresh from his outstanding contribution to Charles Lloyd’s latest release, Jason Moran.

Combine such able personnel with an iconic studio and special things ensue. Inspired by the sound of so many seminal jazz albums that he listened to through the decades, Hutchings chose to record at Rudy Van Gelder’s historic New York studio. The end result captured on Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace is not only a factor of location. To capture the atmosphere, Hutchings insisted on the musicians playing together in the space; no headphones, no separation. Minimal technology. His approach has resulted in a collection that feels very intimate and organic.

Listening to Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace is like reposing in a glade of tranquillity. In fact, the accompanying video (see below) for the album’s opening track and lead single, End Of Innocence, sets the tone perfectly. Sinuously, effortlessly, Hutchings swims through aqueous depths. There is a graceful, zen-like majesty to it all. Visually and musically. Earlier, I alluded to Hutchings’ transition from saxophone to flute. We shall come to the flute (or flutes, plural, to be more precise shortly), but in End Of Innocence, his weapon of choice is actually his first love, the clarinet.

End Of Innocence is a stunningly beautiful composition and equally tender is The Wounded Need To Be Replenished. At under three minutes, it sadly takes its leave of us far too soon. Notwithstanding that, it’s time enough to marvel at the exquisite interplay between Hutchings’ Quena flute and the intricate piano of Nduduzo Makhathini. It is an almost perfect ballad, one where no words are required to tell the tale. On Hutchings’ flute, whilst he deploys the traditional Andean flute, the Quena, on this track, he actually uses woodwind from the four corners of the globe to create the ambience for this collection. Each one brings its own distinctive character to the piece that they help to shape.

Shabaka: Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace – Album ReviewPhoto credit: atibaphoto

Speaking of distinctive character, there are few voices performing today who that epithet is more fitting of than Moses Sumney. The album’s third track, Insecurities, provides more than sufficient evidence. Co-written by Sumney, and featuring his inimitable vocal, Insecurities is one of the stand-out compositions on the album. It’s a song that would fit snugly within Sumney’s magnificent 2020 album, Græ. Of course, that voice is spectacular, but it has such a wonderful platform, created by the flute of Hutchings and Charles Overton’s harp, upon which to soar. The three elements weave in and out of each other, creating an elegant, porcelain-like structure.

Sumney is not the only voice on Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace. Of the eleven tracks, no fewer than seven have a vocal contribution, although some are more conventional than others. The album’s most straightforward track is the soulful Kiss Me Before I Forget, featuring a rich vocal contribution from Lianne La Havas. Whilst it feels more orthodox than the accompanying songs, that doesn’t detract from its beauty. Moran’s piano is wonderfully understated, serving the song as always, whilst Hutchings’ flute dances to the jazzy musings of La Havas.

The stunning Living, co-composed by Hutchings, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Eska Mtungwazi, is a gem, with the latter also bringing a sultry, soulful vocal. As for Hutchings, he takes up the Svirel, a Slavic flute, to bring a medieval, Gregorian vibe to proceedings. And underpinning it all are layers of lush strings courtesy of Atwood-Ferguson and a twin harp attack from Overton and Brandee Younger. The end result is a song of many contrasts and counterpoints; something that shouldn’t quite work but ultimately knits together quite splendidly.

Three of the less conventional vocal contributions are spoken word. Rapper and producer, Elucid, appears on Body To Inhabit. Similar to Living, it’s a track that is awash with contrasts, as Elucid raps with increasing intensity atop Hutchings’ becalming bamboo flute. Meantime, the fluid, supple bass Esperanza Spalding brings depth and presence. The mystical Managing My Breath, What Fear Had Become features the rich narration of Saul Williams, accompanied by Hutchings’ bamboo flute. However, overshadowing that, on this occasion, is the shimmering harp of Overton. Featuring on no fewer than six of the album’s tracks, the contribution of Overton cannot be understated. When involved, he brings such a subtle hue to the canvas, reinforcing the wisdom of Hutchings to feature that instrument of the angels so prominently.

Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace is an album of great ambition and nowhere is that purposefulness more manifest than on I’ll Do Whatever You Want. Everything unfolds in these eight magical minutes. At the heart of its ambient universe is the Rhodes Chroma of Floating Points, reprising the virtuosity of Promises, his work with Pharoah Sanders and The London Philharmonic Orchestra. He lays down a hypnotic riff which is accompanied by the warmth of Andre 3000’s Teotihuacan drone flute. That flute has a personality as big as that of the man wielding it. Accompanying, Hutchings picks up the Shakuhachi and this beautiful, classical Japanese flute weaves intricately amongst the other passages. The pièce de resistance arrives late in the track, in the form of Laraaji’s vocal, which is a combination of moaning and yodelling. It is quite mesmeric.

It takes a lot of courage for an artist to deviate from a path that is tried, tested and successful. However, with admirable boldness, Shabaka Hutchings has effectively started again. Indeed, he describes this collection as a second debut album. Fortune favours the brave; his ambition has paid off. Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace is an excellent album, one that unpacks so much as it unfolds. It’s lasting impression will be a collection of reflective compositions, warm and personal, and created by an artist at the top of his game. The saxophone approves.

Shabaka Hutchings can be found here. He is also on Facebook, Instagram and X.

Impulse Records can be found here. They are also on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

from https://louderthanwar.com

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