Shabaka Hutchings has progressively become the world leader in the UK jazz movement as a bandleader through essential themes and unending innovation. Working as a part of psychedelic nu-jazz outfit The Comet is Coming, bandleader for afrobeat infused Shabaka and the Ancestors, and of course bandleader of Sons of Kemet, Hutchings is exploring all ends of music through various mediums in exciting and fresh ways unlike any other. Black to the Future is no less adventurous and spiritual as other phenomenal projects like their previous work Your Queen is a Reptile, the Ancestors album from last year We Are Sent Here By History, or The Comet is Coming's mind-warping Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. But let me catch you quickly - this is by no means a simple jazz album, so ignore that impulse before you go any futher.
Black to the Future is, evidently of course, guided by traditional jazz instrumentation. Hutchings is one of the most powerful composers and saxophonists alive today, and the addition of percussion and tuba certainly provide the backdrop to continue these traditions. However, Black to the Future is by no means secluded to jazz, and each often careening element make for something far more wide-reaching than something you can pin down by calling it jazz.
Although Hutchings resides in England today and was born there, his childhood was spent in the Caribbean island of Barbados, a region almost as close to South America and Africa as it is to North America and its inhabitants are mostly composed of African descent. The region may have been invaded by Spanish navigators and abused as a vessel for slave labor by the English, but it's by no means a North American product by composition.
The influence of the Caribbean and its cultural makeup feel like the genuine essence here, far less than the traditional idea we have of Western jazz movements. Full of afrobeat percussion, Latin swing, calypso rhythm, and even subtle inflections of UK grime and hip hop, Hutchings blends all forms of his own history into the music of Black To The Future. The saxophone is often the centerpiece of any given song here, given Hutchings' penchant for nontraditional usage of the instrument in his compositions, and we often associate the saxophone as a Western jazz bandleader staple, but the swaying motion of all other converging elements make its utilization vastly divergent from our expectations of Western jazz at large. This movement of Black to the Future holds true to this reality, denying any relevant thought that this is purely a jazz album.
In message, Black to the Future speaks to the wave of racism that permeates our conversations today but have existed for centuries before us. Composed following the BLM movement of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, the focus of vocal portions of Black to the Future speak to the Black experience. Bookended by two free form tracks featuring poet Joshua Idehen, Field Negus and Black both are full of harsh realities and calls for freedom and moments of rage. American poet Moor Mother, who was most recently collaborating on a hip hop album with Billy Woods, rappers D Double E and Kojey Radical, and vocalist Lianne La Havas all provide additional ends of the vocal portions of Black to the Future, embellishing the themes explored by Idehen to great effect. These portions help to highlight the pressing nature of Black to the Future - a feature of Hutchings' music from the start.
All these forms of diverse music come together to provide moments of anger, moments of pain, and moments of genuine celebration. Full of wildly performed instrumentals that can force your body into motion, and much like the Ancestors album from last year a deeply spiritual moment in music, Sons of Kemet force open the door for wide reaching invention and innovation, all with a constantly crucial message. That message is simple and right under the nose: Field Negus, Pick Up Your Burning Cross. Think Of Home, Hustle For The Culture. To Never Forget The Source, In Remembrance Of Those Fallen, Let The Circle Be Unbroken. Envision Yourself Levitating Throughout The Madness. Stay Strong. Black.
No matter the influence or the direction, Black to the Future is sure to be one of the most essential collection of songs of the year - much more a global experience than a jazz record.
Favorite track: Hustle