Over the past decade, the hard-blowing sound of Shabaka Hutchings’s saxophone has been a constant of the British jazz scene. Working through short, percussive phrases in the double-drummer group Sons of Kemet, laying out long, looping lines in the psychedelic jazz trio Comet Is Coming, or screeching in the punk-influenced Melt Yourself Down, throughout myriad formations the power of Hutchings’s playing remains immediate.
The intensity of that musicianship has taken its toll, since Hutchings recently announced that from 2024 he will be taking a break from the saxophone to focus on the gentle sonics of other woodwinds instead.
Tonight’s performance is his last on the sax and the program is apt: an interpretation of pioneering saxophonist John Coltrane’s 1965 spiritual jazz masterpiece, A Love Supreme. A half-hour suite that riffs on the syllabic rhythm of the record’s title, A Love Supreme requires communal unity to ground its repeated melodies, as much as it does individual virtuosity to soar.
Across his 90-minute set, Hutchings strikes this balance perfectly. Accompanied by an all-star band of contemporaries, featuring four drummers and two bassists, Hutchings launches into a full-throated blast of the record’s theme on his tenor sax, alternating between crisp lines and frenetic, finger-twisting runs. On Part Two of the suite, Resolution, he cuts free from form entirely, pushed by his quadruple drums to sing higher and higher until his sax is squealing between his hands.
There is power aplenty but Hutchings also excels as a bandleader. At one point leading all four percussionists in a polyrhythmic drum break, Hutchings pierces with blasts of a piccolo flute to bring them to Part Three: Pursuance. His Sons of Kemet drummers Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner provide competing waves of pounding grooves but Hutchings is nimble, dancing over the changes and closing on an unaccompanied sax solo that descends from a circular breathing stream of arpeggios into the gentle rustle of only his breath.
Here Hutchings displays both the force and tenderness of his instrument through moments of dynamic control and unfettered freedom. He might be sacrificing his sax, but Hutchings has already cemented himself as one of its great practitioners, promising only greater heights for his next instrumental pursuit.
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