Much of the creativity being showcased in the jazz world is happening in the UK, and at the center of that musical community is tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. Born in London, he spent most of his childhood in his parents’ native Barbados. The diversity of the people and cultures of those two locales helped shaped his musical identity.
Picking up a clarinet at the age of nine, Hutchings would play along to his favorite hip-hop artists, including the Notorious BIG, Nas and Tupac. He returned to England to study classical music on the instrument and not only earned his degree but also a coveted spot in the Tomorrow’s Warriors program. Other members have included Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and future bandmate Theon Cross.
The much-lauded Sons of Kemet came together in 2011. With Hutchings now on sax as well as clarinet, the band was originally comprised of a stable of drummers Tom Skinner, Seb Rochford, and Eddie Hick. Oren Marshall on tuba (later replaced by Theon Cross). Rochford later left the group, but quartet continues to record and play live.
Sons of Kemet have been huge contributors to the London jazz scene, first releasing Burn in 2013 and Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do in 2015. Signing to legendary Impulse Records, the Sons released Your Queen Is a Reptile in 2018.
As is often the case in jazz, musicians splinter off into other groups, leading some and lending their talents as sidemen. Sometimes a concurrent project takes on a life of its own with a new member. Both Hutchings and Skinner joined Melt Yourself Down, a collective founded by Pete Wareham (also on tenor) in 2012. Other members included vocalist Kushal Gaya, bassist Ruth Goller, and percussionist Satin Singh. With Melt Yourself Down, Hutchings recorded two albums: 2013’s eponymous debut and 2016’s Last Evenings On Earth.
He started going to see the psychedelic/electronica duo Soccer96 with Betamax Killer and Danalogue the Conqueror. Showing up with saxophone in tow he sat in with the two one night. Betamax Killer described the performance: “When he got up on stage to play with us it, created an explosive shockwave of energy that stunned us all.” A few weeks later, the trio booked three days at a studio, and the result was The Comet is Coming, a psychedelic avant-garde jazz journey into the cosmos. The group released two singles in 2016, “Neon Baby” and “Do the Milky Way,” which eventually ended up on the Prophecy EP along with three other tunes, including this editor’s favorite “Star Exploding in Slow Motion,” which at just over 6 ½ minutes, is not nearly long enough.
Channel the Spirits was the trio’s first full-length release in 2016, receiving critical raves. More singles and EPs followed, with a new album scheduled for release in 2019 and a tour planned as well.
Yet another project is Shabaka and the Ancestors, which released Wisdom of Elders on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings in 2016.
The Comet is Coming has revealed plans for a new record entitled Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery to be released in March with dates in the UK, US and Europe. Time will tell what other delights Hutchings has in store for the future, and fans will be watching and waiting for more from this incredibly talented and versatile musician.