Shabaka Hutchings/Britten Sinfonia/Paterson review - tangible exhilaration

Streamed live from the Barbican, London
A leading light of London’s jazz scene gave an extraordinary demonstration of his clarinet expertise, adding nuance to Copland and Stravinsky

If Aaron Copland enjoyed writing his Clarinet Concerto for Benny Goodman, he would have loved the chance to write for Shabaka Hutchings. Mainly on saxophone, Hutchings has been shaking up UK jazz with bands including Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors, and had been due to curate a weekend at the Barbican earlier this year. But here he was, performing to an empty auditorium as part of the online EFG London jazz festival, in a Britten Sinfonia concert showcasing him on clarinet.

And Hutchings contributed some extraordinary playing, most strikingly in the solo improvisation with which he followed his coiled-spring performance of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet. The music grew spiralling up into a syncopated dance full of little gaps, as if in search of a partner; then, for minutes on end, it was an unbroken stream, whirling around a central pitch, Hutchings’ cheeks puffing in a display of circular-breathing technique that will have had woodwind nerds in ecstasies and everyone else on the edge of their seat.

Shabaka Hutchings at the Barbican
‘A technique that will have had woodwind nerds in ecstasies’: Shabaka Hutchings at the Barbican Photograph: Mark Allan/Barbican

Watching him proudly was Joy Farrall, his former teacher. As the Sinfonia’s clarinettist, she set the tone of open-prairie innocence at the beginning of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which in its original lean-textured version kicked off the evening. As for Copland’s concerto – as Hutchings said in a useful prerecorded chat with the conductor Geoffrey Paterson – it’s not jazz but a reflection on it, to which a jazz player can bring their own animation. In Hutchings’s case that was a yearning insistence that tempered the easy flow of the first movement, a spirited if slightly smudgy cadenza, and, in the finale, a swerving energy, Hutchings throwing out the high notes like challenges.

The exhilaration was tangible even on screen: the Barbican’s livestream sound is vibrant but not too polished, with camera shots so close that if you doubted it was live you could check Hutchings’s wristwatch.

Live from the Barbican continues until 22 December.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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