When London-based tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and his group Shabaka and the Ancestors opened the 13th annual Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge on Jan. 5, they preceded Pharoah Sanders, one of their primary influences. As Hutchings developed coiled rhythmic motifs into a syncopated climax, Johannesburg-based Ancestors vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu repeatedly intoned the rallying cry “We need new hymns—we need new songs,” culled from the band’s 2016 release Wisdom of Elders (Brownswood). It was clear that the “new songs” were very much in the tradition of Sanders, without getting subsumed by it. Attesting to that, the 76-year-old spiritual jazz progenitor had Hutchings sign the album at the end of this interview.
The 32-year-old British-Barbadian saxophonist, clarinetist and composer sat down with JT for this lightly edited interview in the New York City club’s green room before the set. He ruminated on his other buzzed-about groups, Melt Yourself Down and the quartet Sons of Kemet; the festival’s social-justice mission; the Afro-Caribbean diaspora; and what he perceives as a London jazz renaissance.