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Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace is a meditative and becalmed solo debut from Shabaka

"Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace"

Release date: 12 April 2024
Shabaka Perceive its Beauty Acknowledge its Grace cover
10 April 2024, 09:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

A radical rethink of musical approach can be interpreted as a sign of knocked confidence or onset of staleness. The career arc of Shabaka Hutchings doesn’t indicate either of these things.

If anything, the London-based musician’s more recent output with The Comet is Coming, Sons of Kemet and The Ancestors (alongside high profile collaborations, such as last year’s Miles Davis-channeling London Brew super-session) has consolidated his position as possibly the brightest talent of the ongoing brit-jazz resurgence.

This makes the saxophonist’s decision to ditch the instrument he’s become synonymous for in favour of a variety of flutes (most notably Japanese Shakuhachi) for his solo debut even more of an unexpected curveball departure from the predictable script. However, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace waves goodbye to more than just saxophone, which Hutchings reportedly packed away indefinitely with two all-star shows in tribute to John Coltrane’s insurmountable jazz totem A Love Supreme in December 2023.

Hutchings’s London-based bands (especially the hypnotic electro-jazz hybrids of The Comet is Coming) have tended to emphasise sweaty physicality and intense dynamics, with Hutchings’s sax starring in an assertive, exclamatory lead role. With those bands now on indefinite hiatus, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace (featuring predominantly US musicians, including Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and harpist Brendee Younger) is a profoundly hushed and at times almost confrontationally contemplative offering. Tracks like the gently swirling (and deeply beautiful) opener “End of Innocence” celebrate the meditative spaces between the notes to a point where the ‘it’ the album’s title invites us to assess and appreciate could very well be silence, broken by Hutchings’s calmly pirouetting melodic flights and gently percussive note clusters.

Although most of the album was recorded in New Jersey’s historic jazz landmark Van Gelder Studio (the lab that birthed some indelible classics on Hutchings’ current label, legendary avant-jazz imprint Impulse!), it’s debatable whether this music operates within the generally acknowledged parameters of jazz. Granted, there are nods (wordless ululations that could have waltzed in from a vintage Pharoah Sanders epic, spoken word recitals emphasizing spiritual wellbeing and social history) towards the cult classics of 1970s spiritual jazz. More often, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace draws deep from the meditative moods of instrumental New Age music (genre’s founding father Laraaji guests). The Floating Points-assisted, gradually intensifying propulsion of “I’ll Do Whatever You Want” (also featuring fellow recent flute convert Andre 3000) isn’t far from the kosmische prowess of proto-electronica pioneers ala Ash Ra Tempel and Harmonia. Best of all, the quietly soaring “Living” and “Kiss Me Before I Forget” (featuring the vocals of Eska and Lianne La Havas) hint at a weightlessly disembodied, emotionally resonant ambient pop.

Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace isn’t an easy sell at a time thoroughly infested with quick thrills and instant gratification. Give it time to bloom, however, and these tracks are infused with plenty of the qualities referred to in the album’s title.

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