Shabaka & the Ancestors

We Are Sent Here by History

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We Are Sent Here by History is the sophomore outing from London's Shabaka Hutchings & the Ancestors, who are all South African musicians. It is also their debut on Impulse, resulting in a hat trick for their leader: His other bands, the Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet, also record for the historic American label. Cut in Johannesburg and Capetown, his sextet -- Mthunzi Mvubu (alto sax), Siyabonga Mthembu (vocals), Ariel Zamonsky (double bass), Gontse Makhene (percussion), and Tumi Mogorosi (drums) -- haven't worked together since the stellar Wisdom of the Elders in 2016, but individually and collectively they've grown immensely while sticking stubbornly to an aesthetic that melds the new thing jazz to Afro-Latin and South African township jazz brought to England and the Americas by Hugh Masekela, Chris MacGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Louis Moholo, and Johnny Dyani.

Throughout his career, Hutchings has looked at the end times and what possibilities lie beyond them. Here, he and his musicians look at how we prepare, as a species, for extinction (the album was released in the heat of 2020's ever-spreading coronavirus). That urgency is heard right out of the gate with "They Who Must Die," offered in a six-note vamp by Hutchings and Zamonsky with clattering snares and percussion. Mvubu adds his alto to Hutchings' tenor as the pace picks up and Mthembu sings, shouts encouragement, and reads verse. Hutchings' short solo is based in blues as electric piano (courtesy of guest Nduduzo Makhathini) frames the outside as the tune that transforms into a chant. Hutchings quotes from Coltrane's "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" in his solo. Its balladic opening is quickly subsumed by modal South African jazz with post-bop and fusion overtones that swing. Zamonsky's bassline introduces a propulsive Afro-Latin jazz collision that is "The Coming of the Strange Ones." In striated cadences, the two saxophonists twirl around one another in the vamp, before adding a supercharged bridge in a dance with Makhene and Mogorosi. Hutchings' solo touches on Sonny Rollins and Pukwana in its folksy spiritual assertions. "We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)" is a cold look at misogyny through the ears and eyes of tribal chant, with an urgent flute -- think Archie Shepp's Live at the Pan-African Festival -- before Zamonsky introduces a theme and Hutchings runs with it on clarinet. "Til the Freedom Comes Home" is also set in '60s South African jazz as trance-like drums and bass frame raw, repetitive tenor and alto solos. Closer "Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable" is a hymn-like ballad for tenor, piano, and percussion. It touches on late Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders in its precise, smoky, solemn articulation. We Are Sent Here by History is final proof that Hutchings is a modern jazz prophet; he sees the past as merely a jumping-off point for exploration, not only in music but in philosophical concepts, cultural theories, and spiritual precepts as an aesthetic. With the Ancestors he goes further toward creating a holistic new jazz than with any of his other ensembles.

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