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Shabaka Hutchings opens new doors for his music by trading his sax for flutes

Shabaka album cover for Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace
Gareth Jarvis
Crossover Media
Shabaka puts his saxophones aside for an array of flutes on new album Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

After developing a reputation as one of the world’s most exciting young saxophonists, Shabaka continues to impress with his second release of hypnotic flute (and clarinet) playing.

Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace follows the 2022 “mini-album” Afrikan Culture, giving Shabaka’s fans their first taste of his new direction.

That is to say, Shabaka Hutchings had already shown musical flexibility with the electro-fusion trio The Comet Is Coming, the two-drum-and-tuba powered quartet Sons of Kemet, one-off project 1000 Kings and his own Shabaka and the Ancestors.

So even though the news hit the jazz world with the same impact of Andre 3000’s surprising flute album New Blue Sun last fall hit the pop world, Shabaka’s fans should find it easy to follow this new musical direction.

The venues were packed for Shabaka’s recent shows in Portland and Seattle, both featuring modern jazz icon Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals.

Those concerts began with a spiritual-feeling series of duets played with each band member, consecrating the stage before the band performed all together.

The album opener, “End of Innocence,” begins slowly with Jason Moran on piano, drummer Nasheet Waits and percussionist Carlos Nino. All are experienced jazz musicians who build a relaxed sonic realm for Shabaka to explore on his clarinet.

The melodies are slight, improvisational and loose. Songs like “As the Planets and the Stars Collapse” sound ephemeral, as if the song itself is collapsing.

Alternately, “Insecurities” is centered on a compelling melodic flute idea supported by Charles Overton’s harp and embellished by the beautiful voice of Moses Sumney. Shabaka’s playing is no less adventurous but returns to the heart of this memorable hook again and again.

Throughout the mesmerizing sonic atmospheres of Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace is the legacy of the African diaspora. Shabaka has explored the music of several African countries in his previous saxophone-based albums and the flute is a logical extension of that journey, connecting more globally using flutes from Japan, indigenous North America, the Caribbean and beyond.

The album’s closing moment, “Song of the Motherland,” features Shabaka’s father Anum Iyapo (Orville Hutchings) offers the poetic central theme over the gentle interplay of harp and flutes.

Originally recording his own 1985 album, Iyapo’s resonant Barbadian accent calls out, “I am your culture, know me. I am blackness. I am identity. Take with me the knowledge that I am undeniably yours…”

Each song title for the album was extracted from a longer poem written specifically for the album, intended to reach completion only when joined with the music.

Guest performers include vocalists Eska, Laraaji, Elucid, Saul Williams, while bassist Spalding and jazz harpist Brandee Younger are featured on several songs. Each makes strong contributions while retaining the relaxed, hypnotic flow of the album.

Shabaka has found a unique place for his musical expeditions with Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace. His music may drift beyond traditional jazz boundaries, as jazz has always done, but the listener, without judgment, will find a sonic paradise to enjoy and explore.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.