Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History
Mar 13, 2020 (updated Mar 20, 2020)
The longevity of jazz has been quite the story over the past 100 plus years, in its earliest roots as one of the only things African slaves had left of their heritage they were eventually ripped from as they cherished rhythm and relied on comradery. That humble art form eventually blossomed into one of the most successful musical art form: jazz music, which underwent several progressions through the big band, cool, bebop, post-bop, free, Avante-Garde, and fusion. All of which are worthwhile and exceptional versions of that singular art form. What made jazz so irresistible was the communion between the artists and the music, which wasn’t bound by somewhat lofty limitations of classical music but was something tangible and relatable. Unfortunately, after the 1970s, jazz music was somewhat pushed aside, although there were a few artists who continued to produce material, there was no overlooking the fact that jazz was experiencing a lull. However, know in the 21st century we lucky music fans are witnessing the comeback of jazz music. Surprisingly its not taking place in the country that originated, contrarily actually being revived in the United Kingdom, by Shabaka Hutchings who has over the past five years has had his hand in many modern jazz projects. From participating in the Melt yourself down! group to founding his own circle masterminded by himself, such as “Shabaka and the Ancestors” with their 2016 record “Wisdom of Elders” a cohesive and raw collection of tracks that were a breathtaking unification of African music and American Jazz, or his fantastic afrobeat band “Sons of Kemet” with their album “Your queen is a reptile” as they formed a rhythmically riveting unit of sonic candy that brought together the Caribbean and New Orleans music, and finally my most favorite of his projects “The Comet is Coming” the most exciting melding of jazz influence and electronic elements. It is particularly that project that I believe will bring jazz music back to the masses once more.
After fulfilling projects for his other two bands its time he returned to the ancestors, and he does just that with this new album “We are sent here by History”, released on the infamous Implulse! Records the very label that housed releases from the likes of Coltrane and Charles Mingus. As opposed to Wisdom of Elders, We are sent here is more streamlined and refined. The influence of Shabaka’s work can definitely be felt here as the rhythms are more lively and his playing not as meditative and wistful. Here his saxophone closely resembles post-bop but a rhythm section sounding very different than a post-bop section. Ultimately what I think this album accomplishes best is returning to a more traditional jazz era that dominated the 1960s while not giving up the group’s unique rhythms.
For one, I love the flow of this record, every track seems to flow right into the next, giving way for a pretty seamless listen. Take for example the opening track “They Who Must Die” a ten-minute jam with these winding sax solos, elusive Fender Rhodes keys, shouty vocals, and frenetic drums. As someone who’s favorite form of jazz is in fact free jazz this is just remarkable and incredibly satisfying. I love Shabaka’s signature sax style as well he doesn’t fill up the room like Coltrane with massive sheets of sound, he’s not aggressive like Albert Ayler, but has his own unique sporadic and fluid style. Track two lays out the narrative for the album through a spoken word passage revolving around “Music is the seed from which new worlds must grow”, while upright basses swell and a beautiful piano passage flows throughout. My only slight quibble with the album is the somewhat distracting vocals repeating phrases throughout as it is rather distracting. I don’t mind the spoken word passages as they provide direction for the narrative. Further journeying into the tracklist we are presented with powerful upright bass lines, emotive sax lines on “Go My Heart, Go To Heaven”, a slight change of pace with “Run, The Darkness Will Pass” with African drumming and shabaka’s switch to what sounds like a soprano saxophone. Free Jazz horn work “Beast Too Spoke of Suffering”, a sons of kemet sounding jam on ‘till the freedom comes, that boasts the best use of vocals, satisfying basslines and a general theme the whole band dances around with their respective instruments. Finally, the album is ended with “Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable” a fitting closing with its reflective sax solo and piano complementing.
In light of all that is presently being released, “We are sent here” is a massively, refreshing, stimulating, and hopeful release that is conscious in not forgetting the bands' jazz roots while taking leaps and bounds to present it to a brand new audience.
Mar 13, 2020
Mar 13, 2020
Amazing review for an incredible album! Bravo!!!
Mar 13, 2020
Had to check out the Jay record after waiting so long, but you have got me real excited to get around to this one! Great review
Mar 13, 2020
@Zach @Sosuke_Arima @TheBravesDH Thank You!
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