Shabaka : Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

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Shabaka Perceive Its Beauty Acknowledge Its Grace review

As early as 2019, Shabaka Hutchings began to find his focus drawn away from his primary instrument, the saxophone. While in Japan, he bought a shakuhachi, an end-blown flute made of bamboo, that eventually led him to pick up another in the UK, and over time led to a shift in interest toward a number of other instruments, other flutes and clarinet, which he studied before becoming a prominent saxophonist. But the method of playing the shakuhachi, the actual physical sensation of it, led him to rethink his own spiritual practice of performance. He said in 2021, “it’s about a specific way of directing a small stream of air in a very pointed way. And it’s a very different headspace. You have to be bodily relaxed, but have a source of pressure and intensity that comes from deep inside your diaphragm.”

By 2023, the bandleader and performer in jazz ensembles Sons of Kemet, Shabaka & the Ancestors and The Comet Is Coming had announced his retirement from the saxophone. In an Instagram post explaining his reasons for refocusing his energy, he explained that his ability to employ performance as a commodity to be sold rests on his enthusiasm with the performance itself, and that “the moment this enthusiasm wanes in the slightest, it’s time to reassess artistic orientation.” After a handful of historic shows, including a performance of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and a Hollywood Bowl performance of the Floating Points collaboration Promises, in place of the late Pharoah Sanders, Hutchings put down his horn for good and refocused his efforts on the more meditative sound of the flute, crafting a stunningly engaged stillness with a rotating ensemble of collaborators on his solo debut, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace.

Where the electrifying energy of an album like Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery and Your Queen is a Reptile are outside the frame of view on Perceive Its Beauty, in its place is an overarching palette of breathtaking beauty. It’s no hyperbole to describe this as Hutchings’ prettiest album by some margin, driven in large part by the degree of space and subtlety he allows for. Through mostly concise compositions and softer textures, Hutchings leans away from the deeply physical and intense dynamics of his other groups in favor of something that often feels more like a prayer or a private ritual, as on the gentle touch of opening track “End of Innocence” or through the twilight lens of the aching “As the Planets and Stars Collapse.”

Throughout the album, Hutchings is often animated, even impassioned, but the very nature of flute itself makes the end result feel less piercing and abrasive by default. His melodic spirals in “Body to Inhabit,” which features verses from Armand Hammer’s Elucid and harp from Brandee Younger, is one of the most dazzling performances here, while there’s an exploratory dimension to his leads on “I’ll Do Whatever You Want,” set against Floating Points’ electronic burbles and subtle accompaniment from André 3000. But throughout there’s an intimacy and grace, a more insular form than the fiery sounds for which he’d been previously known. It’s a recentering as much as a new beginning, less a performance for the sake of the listener than a private ceremony we’ve been generously invited to attend. All Hutchings asks of us is to follow the simple, inevitable suggestion within its title.

Label: Impulse!

Year: 2024

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Shabaka Perceive Its Beauty Acknowledge Its Grace review

Shabaka : Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

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