The pieces blend seamlessly to create an immersive experience in which you feel the joy, pain, wonder, despair, pessimism, optimism…

Impulse: 651681

Shabaka Hutchings: saxophone, clarinet, shakuhachi, quena flute, svirel, bamboo flute; Andre 3000: teotihuacan drone flute; Floating Points: Rhodes Chroma,; Nduduzo Makhathini, Jason Moran: piano; Surya Botofasina: synthesizer; Marcus Gilmore, Nasheet Waits: drums; Tom Herbert, Esperanza Spalding: bass; Dave Okuma: guitar; Carlos Nino: percussion; Charles Overton, Brandee Younger: harp; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson; viola, ‘cello, violin; Liane La Havas, Moses Sumney, Saul Williams, ELUCID, ESKA, Anum Iyapo, Laraaji: vocals; Chris Sholar: electronics; Rajna Swaminathan: mrudangam

Recorded by Maureen Sickler at Van Gelder Studios, New Jersey

I had Shabka’s ‘Afrikan Culture’ EP as one of my records of 2022 and greatly enjoyed his shift from ebullient saxophonist to meditative flautist. I also wondered how the move to Impluse!, home of John Coltrane and his astral music inspired by Indian spiritualism, would influence Shabaka’s sound. On this, this question is answered in full. Shabaka brings a spiritualism that inherits much from the African diaspora and a strength that comes from a wealth of contemporary music scenes. There is, in collaboration with Andre 3000 and Floating Points (‘I’ll do whatever you want’), blissful ambient tunes, but also in the spoken words of many of the guest vocalists on the set, an anger and a reckoning.

The range of instruments that Shabaka plays, each with their own physical demands on how best to produce notes or how best to manage the player’s breathing, is testament to a work ethic that continually pushes him to new challenges and a perfectionism to sets a very high bar on performance – which he always clears with ease. ‘Managing my breath, what fear had become’, track 4, has Overton’s tremulous harp lines giving a foundation for Shabaka’s powerful wooden flute playing with drawn out notes and slowly extended lines as a masterclass in both breath control and emotional intensity.

On ‘Breathing’, track 9, Shabaka multi-tracks drones beneath circling flute and clarinet lines that repeat, with small variations, over Swaminathan complex drum patterns, before he switches to alto saxophone for a full-blooded blow-out as the coda (just to remind us that even in his quietest moments, Shabaka is able to pick the sax back up and explode). This piece fades in the keening last note of the saxophone and segues into Lianne La Havas’s wordless murmurings on ‘Kiss me before I forget’, with Shabaka weaving clarinet lines around her like coils of smoke.

The closing track, ‘Song of the Motherland’, has Iyapo intone the words ‘I was your song of unity but now that you are far flung you are withered and dismembered but you shall bloom again, you are not dead’. This seems a fitting description of the spirit of the compositions. The collection of musicians that have gathered together on this recording show the respect in which the jazz world holds him, and I am sure this album is going to garner many awards. The pieces blend seamlessly to create an immersive experience in which you feel the joy, pain, wonder, despair, pessimism, optimism through the compositions look at the world in their efforts to perceive its beauty (warts and all) and acknowledge its grace (and gracelessness).