Over the last half decade, Shabaka Hutchings has established himself as a central figure in the London jazz scene, which is enjoying its greatest creative renaissance since the breakthroughs of Joe Harriott and Evan Parker in the 1960s. Hutchings has a restlessly creative and refreshingly open-minded spirit, playing in a variety of groups—most notably, Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, and Shabaka & the Ancestors—and embracing influences from the sounds of London’s diverse club culture, including house, grime, jungle, and dub. “The common theme in my career as a jazz musician has been wondering if what I’m doing is the thing that I should be doing,” says Hutchings, who studied classical clarinet at college at London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. “Me learning about jazz, how to play and interpret, was always a case of just trial and error. I think where I’ve come to recently is I’ve stopped trying to think ‘Is what I’m doing valid? or ‘Is what I’m doing part of the jazz tradition?’ and just see myself as a musician.”
Now 33, Hutchings first began garnering attention as a member of Melt Yourself Down, the “Nubian party punk” band led by fellow saxophonist Pete Wareham. Sons of Kemet (“Kemet” being the pronunciation of the ancient name of Egypt) marked his first group as a bandleader, and 2013’s Burn and 2015’s Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do, both released by the UK label Naim Jazz, received significant acclaim, including a nod from influential DJ Gillles Peterson. Sons of Kemet’s new album, Your Queen Is a Reptile, their first record for Impulse!, is the band’s most fully realized creation yet, powered by Hutchings’ blazing, incendiary saxophone, Theon Cross’ tuba blasts, which sound like funky bass lines, and the high-octane interplay between multiple drummers (a revolving cast that includes Tom Skinner, Seb Rochford, and Eddie Hick).