Shabaka and the Ancestors and the return to form of Impulse! Records

Impluse! is probably my favorite jazz record label of all time.

For the most part, my love for this label is an affection for a time capsule — the period from 1961 through 1976 when the label, led by Bob Thiele, was home to a singular cast of “astral traveling” musicians. The “House that Trane Built” featured, in no particular order (except the first): John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ahmad Jamal, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Archie Shepp, Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson and on and on.

Artists on Impulse! got freedom to swing for the fences sonically and spiritually. The productions were deep, clear and rich. The sound was typically avant-garde yet rooted in jazz traditions (see Coltrane’s era-straddling collaborations with Ellington and Johnny Hartman). If you look at record collections, a sign of good taste is often a lot of distinctive orange and black spines (often in a swath).

I first came across Shabaka Hutchings’ music through the release of his group The Comet is Coming and their album Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. I loved it and was thrilled to add a contemporary record with the orange and black spine next to my modest collection of old school Impulses! (grouped together).

We Are Sent Here by History by Shabaka and the Ancestors makes my heart beat faster. To me, the Ancestors octet not only evokes the “House that Trane Built,” it extends it. This record has many of the hallmarks of amazing jazz on Impulse! The bass (Ariel Zamonsky) strikes my ear first. It’s distinct, forward in the mix and as wicked as the best dub from Jamaica. Shabaka’s saxophone and clarinet are simultaneously driving and mysterious. The Fender Rhodes (Nduduzo Makhatini) adds heat to the cool piano (Thandi Ntuli). The spoken and chanted poetry scattered over the album remind me of the greatest Impulse! record (A Love Supreme).

The extension is the album’s embrace of Africa. African jazz has existed for a long time, but this record is more than Africans playing jazz. Its more like world-class jazzmen channeling Africa. This album contains entire worlds of music . I think I’ll learn something new on the 100th listen.

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