27 Apr 2024

Review: Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace by Shabaka

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 27 April 2024

Photo: atibaphoto

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Shabaka Hutchings is one of the most acclaimed jazz musicians of the past ten years, playing saxophone in bands like Sons of Kemet and The Comet is Coming over thrilling, high impact instrumentation. But recently he announced he’d put down the instrument altogether, and sure enough, on his new album Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace, it only features once.

Instead, the London-born musician challenged himself to learn various kinds of flute, from Japan, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. 

It’s a similar trajectory to former rapper Andre 3000, who released his own jazz flute album last year. In fact 3000 and one of his key collaborators appear on this album. So do many other notable guest players and performers, and the result is the rich, and sometimes challenging, sound of an artist reinventing themselves. 

'Living' features vocals from London singer Eska. Elsewhere on the album you hear the voices of Ghanaian-American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, and Britain’s Lianne La Havas, each dabbling slightly outside their usual framework. 

The track contains the svirel, a Slavic woodwind used in Russia and Ukraine. It’s followed by ‘Breathing’, the one song here featuring sax, as well as an Indian percussion instrument called the mridangam.  

What this record is about is obviously in the ear of the beholder, but there are signifiers, like consecutive tracks called ‘Living’ and ‘Breathing’, and another called ‘Managing My Breath, What Fear Had Become’.

Breath management is a technique associated with playing wood or brass instruments, but in conjunction with other titles here, like ‘Insecurities’, and ‘Body to Inhabit’, starts to feel like something much more spiritual.

The track that references the technique has vocals from poet, rapper, director and activist, Saul Williams. 

There’s another stylistic switch-up on ‘I’ll Do Whatever You Want’. The album has an aural point of view, but Hutchings is always willing to flow with his collaborators, and on this one they’re significant: the English musician known as Floating Points, who makes electronic music, and collaborated with legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra on the album Promises, and ambient pioneer and Brian Eno collaborator Laraaji.

On that track Hutchings plays the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. It includes percussion from Carlos Niño, who also played on and co-produced André 3000’s New Blue Sun. There’s common ground between the two albums, but this one is much more focused, and less exploratory.  

It’s heartening to see a resurgence in this kind of cosmic jazz, and while it might be foolish trying to nail down what’s being referred to in the title Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace, a good answer might be the music itself.