UK tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings might be the best known of the young players in London’s thriving West End jazz scene. He currently fronts three bands, the cheesy rock trio The Comet Is Coming, the Afro-Caribbean Sons of Kemet, and a project more deeply felt, a group of South African musicians called the Ancestors. Returning to Johannesburg to reconvene the group he first recorded with in 2016, Hutchings and company reach for a spiritual ferocity akin to Albert Ayler or late-period Coltrane. Yet Hutchings learned his instrument playing along to Nas records. As a result, he learns into the rhythm and occasionally runs low on improvisational steam. Compositions are based on the lyrics of the griot tradition (oral storytelling), and the best moments here feel as if something of import is being passed on. The meditative “Go My Heart, Go To Heaven” summons its power from Hutchings and band laying back. The opposite happens on the slow-building and ultimately hair-raising “The Coming of the Strange Ones”. For the most part, though, Hutchings, conversing with alto player Mthunzi Mvubu, finds a soulful restraint. The overall vibe is absorbing. Released in February, all tour plans have been put off. Until then, the power of History is something to behold.
Review by Jeff McCord