Reed player Shabaka Hutchings is known for being the band leader in the highly rated jazz outfit Sons Of Kemet. Shabaka and the Ancestors, which finds Hutchings fronting a band of South African jazz players, released their debut album, Wisdom of Elders, in 2016. Here we have their much anticipated new one, We Are Sent Here By History, which deals with the weighty subject of human extinction. Powerful stuff.
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Christ, another Shabaka Hutchings project? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a wonderful musician, but you’ve got to wonder whether he feels the future of jazz weighs solely on his shoulders. In the last few years we’ve had records from him as part of Sons of Kemet and the Comet Is Coming, and more recently a guest spot on Sibusile Xaba’s ‘Nigwu Shwabada’. He gets around more than Colin Stetson (and what a collaboration that would be).
I’m pleased to say I haven’t yet reached my Hutchings saturation limit. ‘We Are Sent Here By History’ is the second album Hutchings has recorded with a group of South African jazz musicians working here as the Ancesctors, and is an album less immediate than his other projects. Instead of Theon Cross’s foghorn of a tuba there’s a lithe double bassist, instead of Dan Leavers' cosmic keys there’s a second saxophone to play off Hutchings.
That’s not to say the music is any less urgent, you can’t think that when one of the musicians is full on yelling “war! worship! addiction!” on track one. Indeed the whole album is a righteous confrontation of the forces that have allowed humanity to come as close to its own end as it is right now. And who better than Shabaka Hutchings to lead such a charge? His saxophone playing has always been lively and intense, and it’s a pleasure to here him lead a more conventional jazz band. ‘The Coming Of The Strange One’ has a hook that will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s heard Hutchings past work, but in sharing sax duties and backed by a conventional rhythm section he doesn’t have to hammer it so relentlessly, and can peel off into some really nice improvising.
The album’s greatest delights are those moments that sound nothing like Hutchings other projects. ‘Til The Freedom Comes Home’ features a group of men singing a melody, which is echoed by Hutchings, creating a wonderful mixture of textures. 'We Are Sent Here By History' closes with ‘Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable’, featuring just Hutchings and a piano. It’s mournful and gentle in a way all too rare in Hutchings discography. Hopefully it won’t always be.
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