We needed this. We needed this heady, chamber-jazz chillness from UK jazz renaissance man Shabaka Hutchings and his highly finessed pickup band. I mean, just a cursory glance at the news headlines—the daily escalation of ecological doom, the catastrophic number of fatalities in conflicts all over the world, the totally compromised and corrupt GOP in lockstep with Vladimir Putin's interests, the astronomical cost of vinyl records—can make even the most well-adjusted citizen a neurotic wreck. So, yeah, we needed to get centered. And Hutchings and crew got the job done last night at Town Hall, without breaking a sweat.

Town Hall was the ideal place for flautist Hutchings, standup bassist Esperanza Spalding, electric bassist Burniss Travis, drummer Austin Williamson, harpist Charles Overton, and electronics manipulator Chris Sholar to cast their subtle spells. Its booze-free, church-y atmosphere facilitated focus in the crowd. And the enthusiastic applause that followed each of the 12 pieces was well-earned.

Backing up a bit, Hutchings established his lofty reputation as a saxophonist for high-energy fusion groups such as the Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet, and London Brew. But, in an almost unprecedented move by a successful musician, he quit the sax and began devoting himself to mastering several different flutes, most of them wooden, including the notoriously difficult shakuhachi (which I didn't see in his arsenal last night; he did bust out his clarinet for one tune, though).

Hard to believe he only turned to flutes in the last few years. Lisa Hagen Glynn

You can hear Shabaka's shift in approach on his 2022 solo album, Afrikan Culture, which trades in his previous fire music for one that's more about cool breezes. The challenge for Hutchings—who only started playing flutes in 2019—resides in translating music that's best heard on headphones into a concert that will engross a paying audience. He and his bandmates rose to that challenge while performing almost all new songs from an album coming out in the spring.

The show began with Hutchings's extremely poignant, forlorn flute solo. It's hard to say with certainty, but he may have botched a couple of notes, although they sort of sounded intentional and fortuitously added emotional heft, like a voice breaking under stress. The other musicians were solemnly shaking their heads in admiration throughout. Tears pooled in my eyes. 

Drummer Austin Williamson feeling the toms. Lisa Hagen Glynn

The next song featured Overton's harp and Hutchings's flute in slow, sensuous harmony, gradually intensifying with bass-y thrums from the former and darting sorties by the latter. By the third song, Williamson joined in with rimshots and mallet-struck tom-tom rumbles as Hutchings parped on his flute in a percussive manner. It took until the fourth piece for Spalding to participate, and her repeated two-note bass motif and wordless singing entered into a mesmerizing, ASMR-triggering dialogue with Shabaka's serene flute peregrinations.

One highlight came when Hutchings emitted mournfulness from a long, tubular flute, to which Sholar added delicate synth tingles and a moving Nina Simone sample from "Feeling Good." The piece surprisingly carried a Moody Blues-like orchestral grandeur. The gorgeous melody cut me deep. Another extravagantly expressive moment occurred when Hutchings conjured a fluttering flurry of tones akin to those from Jimi Hendrix's coda in "If 6 Was 9." And the beautifully otherworldly 10th song found Hutchings spitting the artful splutters of Kraftwerk's "Ruckzuck."

The band in its fullness. Lisa Hagen Glynn

The band really got crackin' on the eighth and most conventional jazz track of the night, with Shabaka's frenzied ululations pushing things into the mind-puzzling zone of Henry Threadgill. Following this, Hutchings delivered a longish monologue about his exploration of the flute family of instruments and its reverberations and the importance of audiences to his art ("Your energy is informing the music," he claimed). It was one of the most gracious and sincere examples of onstage banter I've ever witnessed. 

Throughout the 85-minute set, Hutchings and company created music of measured, minute gestures in which every sound hit exponentially deeper than its actions would indicate. They punched way above their weight—but with fists encased in velvet. Oh, we needed this.