Artist in residence Shabaka Hutchings headlined Impulse! at NYC Winter Jazzfest which took over Manhattan's (le) poisson rouge on Monday night featuring a stacked line-up from across the acclaimed label's roster.
The remarkable NYC Winter Jazzfest always knowns how to bring the heat to the city in the middle of January and for this year's 20th anniversary, the fest continued to pull out all the stops, including Monday night's incredible show at (le) poisson rouge featuring the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Brandee Younger, Esperanza Spalding, and Irreversible Entanglements for a night that spanned the spectrum of the genre and paid tribute to some legends along the way.
Brandee Younger took to the stage to pay tribute to the music of Alice Coltrane, the harpist blending in some of her own work alongside the spiritual notions of the all-time great. Backed with a stand-up bassist and explosive drummer, Younger reached to the heavens as she plucked away at her instrument, channeling the greatness of Alice and transporting us all to a new realm. It was an enriching performance and Younger was transfixing behind the harp, letting the music carry her away while her band kept things firmly locked into place back on Earth. An epic drum solo was the focal point at one moment and it was a rapturous one at that, exploding with rhythm and pushing towards levels of cacophony before settling back down and allowing the rest of the trio to rejoin the euphoric tune.
Free-jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements followed Younger's set and with Moor Mother at the microphone, the band riffed-off into their politically charged songs that made for the most energized and enlivened performance of the night. Preaching the ideologies of a liberated mind and state, the group's revolutionary attitude gave a voice to the otherwise instrumental sets of the night and spoke for justice and equality. "Protect Your Light," from last year's excellent album of the same name, was an early tune that had the crowd chanting along with Moor Mother, as the band locked into tight grooves full of brash horns and woodwinds, and had the rapper/singer calling back to the crowd to build the hype for the show. "I don't usually talk to the crowd" Moor Mother remarked," but you all seem like you're here to actually see music and connect." The audience erupted with joy upon that statement and matched the vibes of the band for the remainder of the night. "Free Love" was another hallmark moment that saw the band operating at the highest potential, feeding off the rhythms from one another and teleporting the room into a new sonic realm.
As the London jazz scene has gained popularity over the past decade, there's perhaps no one more synonymous with the sound than Shabaka Hutchings. Whether leading the afro-jazz bombast of Sons of Kemet or the more psychedelic and electronic influenced The Comet is Coming, he's become a leading player in the city and one of the most sought after performers in the genre. So, when he announced that he'd be stepping away from his signature instrument, the saxophone, it signaled a shift in what was going to come next in the star's career. At NYC Winter Jazzfest, the artist in residence, Shabaka, debuted some of his latest work: ambient, new-age, flute-led jazz. Music not that all dissimilar to the musical stylings found on the album New Blue Sun, the solo debut from Outkast's André 3000. As he made his way to the stage, Shabaka was joined on bass by former Grammy winner for Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding as well as harpists Brandee Younger and Charles Overton. What followed were breathtaking journeys that drifted in and out of spiritual planes that seemed to ascend time and space. The meditative vibrations from the flutes echoed around the room, almost adding another texture and brilliant form of ambiance. The dueling harps were like a syncopated dance, each player complimenting the other and allowing time and space for the music to flow without building up too many layers. Spalding's bass reverberated with a velvety tone that gave it a grounding sensation, especially on the duet with Shabaka, playing wonderfully with the flutes and clarinets that he so effortlessly brought to life. Watching such an established artist show his cards on an instrument that's rather new to them (Shabaka only started on the flute in 2019) is a vulnerable thing, but one that highlights their true side as an artist. Witnessing Shabaka follow the music and let the natural curiosity inspire his path towards creation was stunning and gave much delight for wherever else he continues to explore.