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Breathe Open: Shabaka

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When Shabaka hung up his tenor saxophone in favor of bamboo flutes, the world reacted with a mix of admiration and puzzlement. Over the last decade, as Shabaka Hutchings, he had steadily built a reputation for rampaging fervor on tenor, fueling the fires of a new-breed London jazz scene. His remarkable new album, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace, drifts in another direction — more contemplative and interior, suffused with flickering calm. During this year’s Winter Jazz Fest, we caught up with Shabaka at Public Records in Brooklyn, and had a far-reaching conversation about this new direction, his motivations, and the challenge of making such a decisive pivot. Naturally we also talked about André 3000, another high-profile flute obsessive, and an eager new collaborator. You’ll also hear Greg and Nate reflect on this soothing new turn in the music often branded “spiritual jazz,” and what it says about our present moment.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music as a broadcaster, writer, host and musician. As a young child, he began absorbing the artistry of Miles Davis, Les McCann, Jimmy Smith, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Weather Report, and Jimi Hendrix via his parent's record collection. He was so moved by what he was experiencing that he took pride in relaying all of his discoveries with anyone who would listen.
Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.