Album Review: Shabaka and the Ancestors – Wisdom of Elders [Brownswood, 16th September]


Shabaka Hutchings is a musician curious about the relationship between modern and traditional music. His latest free-jazz recording is dedicated to his vision of reimagining the spirit of his African influences voiced through the rich musical languages spoken by his South African band members. Wisdom of Elders was penned across a number of exploratory trips to South Africa last year and recorded on a single day in Johannesburg. The album will be released on 16th September by Gilles Peterson’s label Brownswood.

Hutchings is an acclaimed bandleader and saxophonist on the London jazz scene, and spent his childhood years in Barbados. He is best known for his work with MOBO award winning group Sons of Kemet and Sun Ra Arkestra and despite already paving a distinct path is keen to respectfully use the energy of his past to propel him and his audience further forward.

The first song is a perfect introduction to the album’s concept and is one of the stand out tracks. It is a track called ‘Mzawandile’, the Xhosa name bestowed to Hutchings after spending time with legendary South African jazz drummer Louis Moholo in his Xhosa township. The name means ‘the home is expanded’, which is fitting for Hutchings’ recent growth into this new flourishing realm. The song starts with a playful bass intro,
and quickly engages you with a punctuated and ritualistic dialogue between the saxophone and rhythm section.

A later track, ‘The Sea’, challenges listeners to let go of any predefined ideas and is inspired by traditional Ugandan Amadinda music. Centered around an intense, tangling dance between the alto and tenor sax, the song flows freely, with continuing, rolling waves of melody and sound. ‘Natty’ and ‘OBS’ indulge the listener with pulsating and distinctive grooves, built around Caribbean Calypso bass lines and expressive drum melodies.

Wisdom of Elders is intense, captivating and liberated and a meeting between two lands. The songs are breathtakingly recorded giving clarity and space to all instruments to fully express their warmth and skillfulness. This is a must listen for anyone with a desire to delve into the depths of an intriguing and remarkable mind.

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