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The New Cool: Shabaka Hutchings Revisited

Cover photo by Sergio Aparicio (Okobé)
Laura Mvula gets modeling credit, but saxman Shabaka Hutchings - nada.

One of London's hottest young jazz musicians, Shabaka Hutchings isn't big on self-promotion. He's appeared on around 50 releases over the past decade, but only one album under his own name - Shabaka and the Ancestors from 2016. He continues the pattern on a wild new album from the trio 1000 Kings.

You won't see Shabaka Hutchings name anywhere on the 1000 Kings bandcamp website. The band was conceived by Hutchings' frequent collaborator, Karl Rasheed Abel. The Berklee-trained bassist and drummer Kwake Bass are mentioned on their Jazz Re:Freshed label web page, but no Hutchings. Carrying most of the melody in the band, he's arguably the most important member of the group.

One short review of their new album Raw Cause went so far as to call him "an all too well known saxophonist", and just left it at that. Another website mentions "contractual reasons". His label Brownswood Recordings apparently have better relations with the many other labels who've hosted Hutchings' sax work.

Raw Cause is a challenging listen at times. The album takes a long-distance view of hip hop, folk music, rock and more, expressing the mix of styles with a looseness that will appeal to fans of free jazz. Hutchings can skronk with the best of the avant garde, but with 1000 Kings he plays minimalist melodies that are largely more rhythmic than lyrical. This isn't John Coltrane's "sheets of sound", but it carries the same intensely restless energy.

The bass and drums provide hypnotic, hip-hop-meets-tribal grooves, building into passionate crescendos and retreating into softer passages. I'm struck by the similarity to the electronic music that has dominated the airwaves in these musicians' home country of England, but it's much more organic.

One slight departure is "Jimi", a tribute to the Seattle-born guitar god featuring some backwards recording and echo effects on Hutchings' sax. A big drum sound gives the song a heavy feeling (if not quite metal), and a fuzzed out bass adds a menacing touch. His sax bears down hard on each note, riffing on hooks and careeting solos. "Hard rock jazz"? I bet Hendrix would dig it.

This week on The New Cool, I've got a nice feature for Hutchings on a song by London's punk-funk-jazz ensemble Melt Yourself Down. His sax is one of two with band leader Pete Wareham's. On "Free Walk" they introduce a happy melody atop drums provided by Hutchings' Sons of Kemet bandmate Tom Skinner, leading into singer Kushal Gaya's empassioned (yet softer than usual) vocal. Fans of punk and noise rock should definitely dig deeper into this primal fever dream.

Along with the recently formed Sons of Kemet, check out Shabaka Hutchings in other diverse groups like Zed-U, The Comet is Coming, and the Chickenwing Allstars. Some of his most exciting guest performances include his work with Shake Stew, Zara McFarlane, Yazz Ahmed, The Heliocentrics, and Hello Skinny. There are many more.

Shabaka Hutchings may not be searching for the spotlight, but his talents are well known and the word is spreading. He's obviously a busy guy, and you can count on The New Cool keeping track of this fantastic young musician. Until Saturday afternoon, here's a sample of 1000 Kings live in 2014:

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.