In 2014, The New York City Police Department murdered Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old man of Carribean heritage. From there, among the many atrocities committed by police departments across the United States, jazz protest music has blossomed. Terri Lyne Carrington, Robert Glasper, Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran (with artist Kara Walker) all come to mind in this genre.
Irreversible Entanglements began as a response to Gurley’s murder but has since evolved into a hybrid of jazz and other genres with poems intertwined in the music. Vocalist Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) begins the new album with a call to “Open the Gates, we arrive, energy time.” Luke Stewart accompanies her on a supportive bass arrangement and Tcheser Holmes runs along beside them rhythmically.
There are bits of free jazz, sci-fi and a complicated mix of the African Diaspora and perhaps how time is considered by these cultures. The incendiary poetry that accompanies the music is beautiful in this context. You might think of Pharoah Sanders Sun Ra and John Coltrane’s thoughts on “A Love Supreme.”
Music is more powerful than the sword and this music is a tsunami of thoughts on justice and equity laced with various genres of rhythms.
Shabaka Hutchings' new album Afrikan Culture fits well in this space, a most welcome addition to jazz and its continuing evolution.
Hutchings leads Sons Of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, and Shabaka And The Ancestors, groups that in many ways define the version of jazz emerging in the UK. Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd also should be mentioned in this context with a long list of ECM musicians who came before them.
This new album is a divergence from the power saxophone that leaps forward in various other releases such as Your Queen is a Reptile, a 2018 release which celebrates strong women in a culture that often does not. Afrikan Culture melds Japanese wood instruments with the kora and mbira to an effect that isn’t entirely expected. The fear with Hutchings’ new album is that these self-composed works will fall into Windham Hill territory but instead these pieces call the past and the future to consider complex ideas such as “Call it a European paradox,” “Memories don’t live like people do” and the very beautiful “Explore inner space”.
Hutchings explains that he is using “shakuhachi flutes and a new technique of creating that I’ve been experimenting with in layering many flutes together to create a forest of sound where melodies and rhythms float in space and emerge in glimpses.” This is exactly what it sounds like but surprisingly without any hint of processed music. You may come away thinking it is a completely acoustic, light experience, except that the ideas behind it are much more interesting and call us back to listen, again and again.
Find the artists online:
Sons of Kemet
Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp