Shabaka Hutchings at the ‘Peak of Intensity’

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Reed player Shabaka Hutchings performs with Sons of Kemet.

(Photo: Michael Jackson)

Cross is also a Critics Poll winner this year, having topped the category Rising Star– Miscellaneous Instrument for his brilliant work on tuba. In a phone conversation, Cross—whose leader debut, Fyah (Gearbox), was released in February—said he feels like the anchor in the band.

“It’s great working with Shabaka because people love to dance, so I play rhythmically, and we can all feed each other in that way,” he said. “It can be beautiful with the rhythms and horns and not playing for harmony. If I play dissonantly, Shabaka can go with or against it. I can play bass or the high register or just tonguing. I also tune in with the drummers at certain times, giving them phrases to play off. They take up so much of the sound.”

It was Hutchings’ idea to double up the drums to “not play rhythmically but have a conversation.”

Eddie Hick serves as the newest Kemet drummer. In an email exchange, he said there is a “matrix of conversations happening between all of us.” When it comes to conversing with fellow drummer Tom Skinner, he said, “We can vary our register and timbres to create space for each other or sometimes double on low or high sounds for a different feeling. Everyone is carrying the beat, so there’s a lot of freedom. Each of us has our own ways to break out. We can react and change gear in real time.”

In an email, Skinner wrote that this type of interplay creates a “more personal and spiritual level of conversation in the music.” He added, “We try to tune into the different frequencies and personality traits that have been passed onto us individually through the generations. Through doing this we can access a more intuitive way of communicating with each other collectively.”

While a Shabaka and The Ancestors album will be Hutchings’ next release, he already has begun work on the next Kemet album.

“There’s more composition this time to add orchestration into,” he said. “It will be completely different. A lot of it has to do with these deep-breathing exercises we’ve been doing before shows. We have more oxygen in our blood, so we’ve been more focused on the macro instead of the micro. It’s been a game changer.” DB

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July 2021
Julian Lage
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