Shabaka Hutchings’ new flute-focused album signals a radical evolution in his musical journey

Shabaka Hutchings’s albums under just his given name, first with 2022′s Afrikan Culture and continuing with Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace, mark a radical shift in the London-based woodwind player’s work. Beginning in 2009 when he joined The Heliocentrics for their collaboration with Ethiopian jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, Hutchings has established himself in projects infusing ‘70s spiritual jazz with a broad range of influences and a festive, contagious energy. In prominent groups like Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, his tenor saxophone contributes a bold footprint in both rhythmic interplay and melodic clarity. While two albums as Shabaka and the Ancestors hinted at an introspective direction, a much sharper break came with Afrikan Culture, driven in part by Hutchings’s shift from saxophone to wooden flutes.

Hutchings, who began on clarinet as a child, first acquired a shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute, in 2019, and when the world stopped with 2020′s pandemic, he played it frequently, and quietly, in London’s Richmond Park. He explained to the New York Times how this experience taught him that “when you’re in nature, your sound becomes smaller, and your dynamic range in small dynamics becomes a lot larger.” Examples of wooden flutes that he’s added to his toolkit include Mayan and Teotihuacan drone flutes, Brazilian pífanos, and quenas from the Andes.While Hutchings created Afrikan Culture in parallel to his saxophone-driven groups, the release of Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace coincides with a pause in these groups’ work to focus on this introspective flute music. Like his earlier work, this album draws clear inspiration from the spiritual jazz genre, with obvious antecedents like Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Pharoah Sanders. He now combines it with the floaty spaciousness of ‘80s new age flute albums by artists like Dean Evenson and R. Carlos Nakai—who plays cedar flutes that reflect his Navajo and Ute heritage. While both of these genres often relied on long, slowly-evolving tracks, Hutchings’s compositions here are generally short, with multiple tracks running less than three minutes.



Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace features support from guests whose backgrounds illustrate its breadth of ideas and influences. This ranges from jazz artists Jason Moran and Brandee Younger to rappers Saul Williams and Elucid. Fellow flute devotee André 3000, perhaps inevitably, guests on “I’ll Do Whatever You Want,” alongside electronic producer Floating Points and experimental music legend Laraaji.