André 3000 in the Jazz Movement.

Around the midpoint of his performance at the Blue Note residency last Thursday, André 3000 took a pause to assess his musical instruments. He was hunched over a rug adorned with approximately a dozen different types of flutes, a symbolic instrument representing the profound creative shift culminating in his 2023 instrumental masterpiece, “New Blue Sun.” His posture exuded a sense of reverence, as if anticipating a moment that would guide him organically. The intimate audience in the New York club watched attentively as he chose a Chinese gourd flute with a distinctive, eye-catching sphere near the mouthpiece. Rising to his feet, he played a march-like pattern—soft yet compelling. Surya Botofasina, a core collaborator both on the album and the ongoing tour, added subtle synth layers, and the piece evolved into an improvised soundscape unique to that moment, gradually blossoming.

The true highlight of the show unfolded in the second half, as the band ventured beyond the confines of the album’s blueprint. André showcased intricate, busy riffs on a piccolo-sized flute in one piece and explored improvisational themes on a larger wood flute against the elemental pulse of percussionists and subtle synth accents from Botofasina in another. In a particularly inspired moment, André, known for hits like “Ms. Jackson” and “Hey Ya!,” surprised the audience by using his vocal cords in an unprecedented way. Prior to this, Niño had encouraged the crowd to contribute raw sonic material for the group’s next piece. Attendees enthusiastically offered whoops, hollers, and various mouth sounds, creating a cacophony that Mercereau sampled and integrated back into the audio mix, forming a warped ghost chorus blending with the real one. As the sound reached a busy, near-cacophonous peak, André approached the mic, leaned in, and emitted a deep, guttural growl – effectively punctuating the impromptu vocal catharsis and initiating a wild exploration by the full five – piece band.

The question of whether this can be classified as jazz, “spiritual” or otherwise, depends on the breadth of one’s definitions, and honestly, the answer may be secondary. What is undeniably clear is that André 3000 is allowing himself to be carried by the wind, responding to the same calling that led artists like Alice Coltrane to embrace the harp in her celebrated inner journey, John Coltrane to compose his renowned devotional suite, or Pharoah Sanders to communicate through his tenor in otherworldly tones. Each of these artists reached the mountaintop in their own way, just as André did in his earlier incarnation as a transformative rap genius. In the era of “New Blue Sun,” he is once again starting from the base camp. Regardless of how far he ascends, it is a rare pleasure to accompany him on this journey.