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The astral plane of Shabaka Hutchings / Passion of the Weiss

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As tempting as low flight prices may be, Chris Robinson is staying home.

Of the current generation of musicians pushing jazz in new directions, perhaps none synthesizes the music of the black diaspora into a personal sound and style as much as saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. Three recent albums on the legendary Impulse Records tell listeners all they need to know to understand why he's a central figure in London's dynamic jazz scene, a rising star in North America, and in the vanguard of creating the sound of black music in the 21st century.

The recently released, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, is the second full length album from The Comet is Coming, a trio featuring Hutchings, keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett. Despite its jazz, Afrobeat, funk, dub, electronica, and rock influences, the music is irreducible to any genre. At its root, the trio specializes in assertive melodies, evocative soundscapes that fuel the imagination, and pelvis-shaking grooves that compel listeners to fill dancefloors. Leavers conjures a kaleidoscopic diversity of colors and textures from his synths, from crystalline trebles to rumbling fuzzed-out bass, from sonar pings to Prince Jammy-esque dub ray guns, from 8-bit video game glitch to dystopian sci fi soundtrack. Hallett is rock solid and emphasizes staying in the pocket over showing off his chops. Hutchings, who plays tenor and bass clarinet, brings to mind Maceo Parker-he doesn't play a lot of notes, and like Parker, his sense of rhythm, timing, and phrasing is nearly unmatchable.

The Afterlife picks up right where Trust in the Lifeforce left off. It opens with guest vocalist Joshua Idehen's ominous declaration: "The Comet is coming/Babylon burned down/Our time has come, our clock has run down/The Earth is cracked/The mountain's popped/The river's ripped/The air is churning." Idehen reminds us that we have killed the planet, we should've spent less time adding zeros to our bank account, and that there's nothing left for London but to gargle in flames.

We Are Sent Here by History is the second album from Hutchings's intercontinental band Shabaka and the Ancestors. Like Sons of Kemet, this group pulls together multiple strands of black music and-as did Fela Kuti and Bob Marley-infuses them with anticolonial and antiracist politics. The group came together in 2016 after Hutchings had traveled to South Africa to play with trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni, who introduced Hutchings to the musicians who would become the Ancestors: vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu (who sings in English, Swahili, and Xhosa), alto saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu, bassist Ariel Zomonsky, percussionist Gontse Makhene, and drummer Tumi Mogorosi. With multiple percussionists and a largely acoustic lineup, the Ancestors' sound is closer to Sons of Kemet than The Comet is Coming.

Passion of the Weiss - Chris Robinson explores three recent albums from the London jazz trailblazer. READ THE FULL ARTICLE