PRIMORDIAL AND POLYRHYTHMIC ‘ANCIENT AGENTS’ is a PERCUSSION DELIGHT

Eclectic, exploratory with Afro-middle eastern medleys, a percussion-lover’s dream come true with udus (oval ceramic pot played with hands), a tabla, a box drum or ‘cajon’ (sat on and beat), a riq (Arab tambourine), the esoteric frame drum, and bells and rattles, this album and live performances are guaranteed to jump-start one’s wistful and primordial body and soul.

Percussionist Ronan Skillen (tabla and didgeridoo) and his cohorts are raising funds for their first ‘Ancient Agents’ album entitled just that. It’s important to get the variety of percussive sounds just right with amplification which made the group’s live performances in Capetown venues quite challenging, yet with profoundly real outputs.

Ancients concert at Nassau 16 September 2017: credit Gregory Franz

As expected, live performances capture the moment’s emotions and musical rhetoric as the musicians suss out each other’s attitudes-as-they-happen. Studio-recorded albums offer something a bit different; yet this album has managed to stay true to the innuendos and subtle rumblings of messages which Skillan’s quartet uses to successfully captivate the listener.

One of the most innovative percussionists from Europe, Fredrik Gille of Sweden, offered instruments not often heard, at least live, in South Africa: he sits on the cajon and taps away; his frame drum has resonances that defy pure, simple notes, conveying sliding note intervals, echoes, and pulled notes similar to the didgeridoo. His frame drum solo is magic to watch:

Fredrik Gille & frame drum

While the guitars carry the tunes, Skillen follows suit with his various small to large items, tapped, banged at times, or just clicked through the air, along with his consistently flawless tabla playing. But that sliding didgeridoo in shining metal does raise eyebrows….”Normally, didgeridoos don’t ‘slide’ as they are made of one long bamboo pipe”, Skillen joked at his recent Nassau concert at Capetown’s Groot Schuur High School’s auditorium.

Ronan Skillen & metal didgeridoo

However, his handmade didgeridoo is made of three metal pipes and a wooden mouthpiece. Simple. Hence the sliding note intervals complementing the slippery resonance and echoes of the frame drum as earlier noted. Pure magic!

This ‘Nassau’ venue is known also as “Jazz at the Nassau”, which offers occasional Sunday evening jazz concerts very popular to an established local crowd of jazz enthusiasts. The Ancient’s performance there reeked of earthy, low frequency, primordial vibrations coming from all the instruments, as though the instruments were deliberately designed for this quartet.

Listening to the Ancient’s recorded album, one is further engaged with their interpretations of ‘world’ sounds. The traditional mixed with the electric contemporary bring alive the magic of sound through breath, sentient percussion, and melodic strings – as physics meets with soul, producing very moving earfuls of sonic wonderment. For instance, a favourite track is bassist Joubert’s Middle Eastern-influenced “Kelefa” displaying a haunting bass solo, then the guitars crescendo into a quiet refrain with Gille’s percussion. The frantic pace begins again with Joubert’s exhausting bass runs, then a humourous play with our ears as harmony and rhythm produce erratic pulsations and expectations. A splendid piece!


Khota’s “Misir Wot” strikes Ethiopian pentatonic sounds with his acoustic guitar and creates wonders in his “Unearth” with Congolese Soukous and danceable rhumba beats. The two Ancients-designed songs, “Clouseau’s Dream” which opens the album, and “Ancient Agents”, highlight the polyrhythmic collaborations amongst the musicians, each contributing their own distinct signature.

The musicians come from diverse experiences – Reza Khota, a fan of alternative guitarist, John McLaughlin, has explored classical and improvisational guitar in a variety of forms, much revealed in his album, Transmutations, released in 2014. Bassist Schalk Joubert, a highly sought-after musician, has also combined South and West African music with Euro-Middle Eastern influences and continues his exploratory arts with well-chosen collaborators far and wide. Ronan Skillen who co-produced the eclectic Ancients’ album has professionally roamed ethnic geographies, including studying Indian classical music with Indian notables, and created his own versions of wind-percussion sounds with the didgeridoo.

Fredrik Gille, a Euro additive to this other-worldly collective soundscapers has experienced Arab Palestinian musical joy , and performed with Algerian, Tunisian, Swiss, and Latin groups. An enthralling expose of Gille’s photographic prowess in the Anna Pavlova Ballet Photography Contest 2017 made him a winner in the “Movement and Passion” category.

Be willing to be aurally transported to parts of the world, maybe not familiar to most, but recognizable, thanks to the continual cross-pollination which these South African and Swedish creatives are giving to their music.

Ancient Agents album was released in September 2017 in South Africa, and can be obtained through the website: www.ancientagents.com

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‘Lunar Jazz’ vibrations with Moon Songstress, Lisa Bauer, and quintet

The Moon Song Project engages vocalist and drummer Lisa Bauer and her favourite musicians in more musical exploration with the full moon, but with a familiar jazzy twist.  Inspired by her connection to the moon cycles, regeneration and the power of vocalisation, Bauer’s upcoming concert (Sat, 9 September) at Kalk Bay’s vibey Olympia Bakery, hosted by Slow Life, will feature her composition Moon Suite, other original compositions, and tunes by some of her favourite, unique American jazz composers and artists.

Her Moon Suite compositions, still in process, and crafted while eyeballing the temperaments of our Full Moon over time, promise to move the audience with ‘lunar jazz’.  Her stellar quintet of Andrew Lilly (keyboards), Mark Fransman (saxophones), electric bassist Max Starcke, and Andre Swartz (drums) will handsomely complement her sassy, soft yet forceful, vocals.

Earlier, her recently released single, A Life That’s Lead, makes a pun of a life journey sometimes heavy, but golden with rich creative outcomes. It also includes the rare combo of Bauer playing drums and singing.  Bauer’s debut 2011 SAMA nominated album, Finding a New Way, is a precursor to her ‘now found’ new ways to sonically nurture our vibrational selves. For that album, she drew inspiration from her musical experiences in New York & San Francisco.

Brought up studying piano, guitar, and violin, Bauer ventured into the drumming world at age 16 through formal training, and then into vocal jazz at the Universities of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch (SUN), particularly with the acapella group, Track Five.

Traditional jazz coupled with motown, funk, neo-soul and New Age characterise the soundscapes which Bauer so eloquently produces, both through her vocals nourished by years of study, mentorships, and practice, as well as through her well-picked band colleagues.   She is currently part of a collaborative art project, video installation and exhibition that investigates the highly contentious issue of fracking in the Karoo region of South Africa.  A jazz educator as well, she teaches drums and vocals in a formal educational institution and with private students.

While Bauer works on the pre-production for her 2nd full length album of moon songs, enjoy being lunar-stung by her performances around town.

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Mozambique/world Drummer Frank Paco’s ‘New Horizons’ offers dictionary corrections to Afro-World music

frank paco at drums

 

Spirit is deep, dark shadows real, and playful day-to-day appreciations of beauty sung – these are required in this eclectic Afro jazz collaboration featuring  Central, Eastern, and Southern African musical stories.

New Horizons FP walking

After his successful “Buyanini” album which pleased as another sonic,  Afro-centric smorgasbord journey,  Frank Paco’s visions grow deeper towards  new horizons, announcing that the world is changing with citizen awareness, hope, and joy amongst current and past dark shadows of  oppression and subjugation.  Let’s be positive – this is what his latest album, New Horizons, is all about, both musically and in its messages.

Frank Paco Art Ensemble New Horizons

FP Art Ensemble is a group of illustrious musicians called together by Paco’s unyielding appetite for the interactive, for inclusion. All have strong influences derived from their roots,  such as Congolese bassist and songbird Sylvain Beloubeta  (adds effective vocals in French as well), Mozambiquan percussionist John Hassan, the enigmatic style of vocalist Zoe Modiga,

02 Zoe Modiga with guitarist Keenan Ahrends

steelpans master Dave Reynolds, key vocalists like Amanda Tiffin, trumpets from Capetownian Darren English (now resident in USA) and Norwegian Hildegunn Oiseth, other guitars from local stalwarts Allou April and Keenan Ahrends, and several keyboardists, including the exciting Congo-Brazzaville pianist Nelson Malela and Capetown-seasoned Blake Hellaby.

Nelson Malela

Sax man Buddy Wells uses mainly a high pitched soprano saxophone, an effective additive to the songs’ emotional presentations.   As Paco says,  “the project seeks to instil a sense of pride in our ancestral heritage, promoting unity in our diverse cultural societies and to bring about awareness of the fact that there is a common thread that links us all, even though we speak different languages, have different cultural practices, but through music we are one.”

Nelson Malela

New Horizons reeks of West African Congolese, Mozambique rhythms,  local Cape jazz sounds, some swinging shoobee-doo-bee-doo put to Afro beats, danceable funk, swing pop characteristics in Paco’s samba beats;  melodic ballads supported by vocalist Zoe Modiga;  all with an obvious passion to spread the samba message in various ways.

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

The songs are stories about culture and history, presented in various languages of Mozambique (including Portugese), and in French and local languages of the Congos.    “Ancestral Footsteps” reminds us to honour our roots;  a call for peace and love in Mozambique in “Moz Blues”;   be light in spirit and discover life as a sweet melody, as cried out in “New Horizons” and “I Wanna Dance”.  More macabre songs talk about a man squandering his family’s money in “Tshelete” featuring Modiga’s vocals in wifely chastisement, and the unusual reminder about the treatment of slaves in “Madame  Desbassayns”, which carefully avoids lyrics and lets the soprano sax wail its sad message.  In “Grain de Poussiere”, Beloubeta’s forceful vocals suggest one should take life as a grain of sand, again, lightly.   The delightful swing of “That’s How My Song Goes” queries if you cannot change things, smell the roses!  There are those romantic beach songs, too, stylishly presented in “Red Moon Gazing” and the pre-party bounce in “Madrugada”.  It has to be Mozambique’s Indian Ocean beaches!

FP portrait

The awakened listener won’t resist gleefully singing along on a number of tracks, so it’s best that the album be played in the confines of a car where song breakout won’t startle the public or security.  But then again, why not broadcast?  There’s a carnival-esque  bounciness that morfs into danceable and smiley expressions as one self-absorbs into the songs. “Remembering Madiba” does just that as it mimics Mandela’s famous dance steps and rhythms.

Paco dedicates this album to his parents who nourished his talents so diligently. His several brother  siblings count amongst some of Mozambique’s leading musicians as well; this musical family knows well its cultural roots and futures  in pushing African and ‘World music’ forward.  New horizons indeed abound as the rising moon and sun bless the unforgettable musical soundscape that we so enjoy through Paco’s Art Ensemble.

FP at FoyerSessions Masque

See the FP Art Ensemble performs this Sunday, 3 September, at The Masque Theatre, Main Rd, Muizenberg starting 1830 hours. His band includes Peter Ndlala (bass), Buddy Wells(sax), Brathew van Schalkwyk (piano) and the rising star vocalist Adelia Douw.  Also, the Ensemble will perform  at the Masque in mid-October during the Muizenberg Jazz Festival which is a key addition to the annual arts, culture, and food Festival.

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JAZZY VENUES BUSTLE with female bands DURING WOMEN’S DAY WEEK IN CAPETOWN

A bustling, vibey Café Roux came alive on 9 August Women’s Day, as did the rest of that small side street in central Capetown. People who were unable to buy tickets to the sold-out concert featuring songbird Ernestine Deane and her all-female band were happy enough to jive their evening away listening outside. It was like festive summer’s eve in a little Italian village where Capetown’s (still) cobbled streets merged with the modern sounds of contemporary and original songs of a jazz calibre special to this city. Only it was a cold mid-winter’s night.

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

A ‘returnee’ Capetownian, Deane kicked off in style the Café’s Women’s Day celebrations after a hiatus away from the public music scene for a while, as she readjusted to her hometown after years away in Europe raising her family. She is known for her hip hop funky styles with Moodphase5ive in yester years, plus her 2007 album “Dub 4 Mama”. Her eloquent voice holds its own, while her satirical lyrics tell her story, often pinpointing the crass and ironic twists in life, to find that special bird in one’s ear chanting hope. Café Roux became almost raucous as the audience joined in with the tweeting ‘diridee’ bird sounds set off from the stage.

Deane, Terryl Bell drums; Carly Nauta violin; photo by Olga Callige

Deane, Terryl Bell drums; Carly Nauta violin; photo by Olga Callige

Women in the audience, particularly, participated in this ritual, seemingly already initiated into what Deane was joyfully, and sometimes comically, conveying. She warrants a separate interview with this writer about her music and message for the future. Her colourful band featured some surprisingly mature young players, such as Tiana Marwanqana on bass, 19 year-old pianist, Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane who is fast making her mark on the local scene, and drummer Terryl Bell. The violin of Carly Nauta added zest to Deane’s often bluesy, sultry, and whimsical vocals.

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

A bit about the Café….. Located at 74 Shortmarket Street between the popular Streets of Long and Loop in central Capetown, this restaurant opens at 4pm each day to cater to the after-work/after-hours chatty and hungry crowds of workers… who also stay on for the daily evening dose of live music. Originally established in the cozy peninsular Village Market of Noordhoek, Roux owners decided it was time to also establish in the big bad city for the urban fundis. Its menu is simple, offering light to gourmet-ish pizzas and inviting salads, and homemade pasta, along with a bar. This ‘sexy little sister’ branch (so called from their website) is run by the owner’s cousin, Vanessa Bisschop-Louw, and her husband Michael. Check them out at www.caferouxsessions.co.za; cell 061 339 4438; email: Vanessa@caferoux.co.za or Michael@caferoux.co.za. Its ‘Music Sessions’ are nightly, a mix of live performances to fit everyone’s particular taste in music, sometimes combined with standup comedy, or even dance. The venue is sure to please, as would Deane and her merry band wherever they may perform.

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The Women’s Day week ended with another enthusiastic mostly-female band calling themselves the “Language of Being” headed up by drummer, Terryl Bell, who composes for the group.

Terryl Bell

     Terryl Bell

Language of Being group
Last Sunday, they warmed the hearts of Kwa Sec Jazz in the Native Yards crowd in Gugulethu with South African Standards from local legends, now late, like sax men Winston Mankunku and Ezra Ngcukana. Because of the cold wind blowing outside, Kwa Sec lit up inside with a wood fire as patrons pulled their chairs in, chatted with strangers, and sipped their wine to this youthful band.

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

‘Language’ presented trombonist and sister, Kelly Bell, two sax ladies Claire de Kock and Georgia Jones, bassist Grant van Rooyen, and a star of the show, 19 year old pianist Nobuhle Mazinyane, who also performed with Ernestine Deane previously.

Claire de Kock

Claire de Kock

It was not surprising that the local crowd kicked in their dancing shoes to songs which emanated from Capetown’s townships, another respecting gesture of our young musicians honouring the elder legends who have left us so much. This writer made two new friends at Kwa Sec, known for its continual hospitable outreach to all who embrace the music of the Native Yards. Native Yards offers live performances about 2-3 times a month at various local venues.

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Marc Hendricks handles relational complexities with sonic lyrics and emotion: a CD Review of ‘Upright Citizen’

Sonorous melodies belie the hurt which underpin lyrics about love’s complexities – this sums up the remarkably ambitious debut solo album by  Capetownian singer/composer Marc Hendricks, his fourth album to date. Upright Citizen features a wealth of compositions written in past decades, whilst songwriter Hendricks pursued his other passion with medicine, as a paediatric oncologist.

CD Cover

Early 2000s saw the young/er Hendricks head back to his family ‘upright’ piano, hence the title of his album, to revise and reinterpret buried songs and to compose new ones, like “Like a Girl” which kicks off this album. In those past years, Hendricks wrote songs for other singers, like Judith Sephuma. But one single, Satisfy”, earned a SAMA nomination in the ‘Best Pop-Rock category in 2001.Fortunately, his mother kept her promise to her young children: they would grow up learning to play music on their dark wood, Ibach upright piano, expensively bought with meagre funds at that time. Mother, father and sisters all sang at home, and it was this musical DNA which stimulated Hendrick’s song writing during the maturing years.

Marc-206

The Motown rhythm ‘n blues jive of the ‘70s infused his youthful musical bent with those sounds fashionable to that hip era. His compositions have retained some of this influence in a delightfully contemporary way, while pointedly remarking about those age-old relational complexities – of trying to make sense of what love means.

Musical temperaments range from soft ballads to pop/rock, smooth jazz, and blues, all very listenable thanks to the dynamic talents of fifteen Capetown-based artists on the album. The Motown-esque ‘Do What You Say’, composed by fellow song arranger and album producer, Amanda Tiffin; the afropop ‘Never Forget’; smooth jazz in “I Fell Down”; a classical feel between viola and cello in “So It Goes”. This album is definitely NOT background music, or light music for dining. It’s for the listening heart. Each song tells a moving story with which we all can identify. The storybook unfolds with pianist and vocalist Amanda Tiffin who organized other musicians: Kevin Gibson’s drums; Dan Shout’s sax; a violin, viola, cello; William Haubrich’s trombone; a trumpet; Bridget Rennie-Salonen’s flute, and other backing vocalists. The orchestral tones nicely balance other ballad or pop arrangements, depending on the song’s message.

The stories are not just about the tired love woes scenarios. Hendricks’ lyrics convey meaning to the deep and often traumatic, emotional messages about relational manipulations and resolve, all amongst the burning reality that hurt does hurt. Then there’s always the hopeful ‘maybe’… Without giving out spoilers….here are some excerpts:

• “ Everytime you take me, I’m so afraid you’ll break me…. When you close the door, how will I know you’re really gone….. Will you be behind that door, and will I know you’re gone for sure, but maybe you’ll come back… I’d sell my soul for that….” (Someone Leaves The Room)

• “Beautiful broken complexity, honest and spoken, take what you see. Reckless devotion…… “
(Beautiful Broken) This is a beautiful soft ballad featuring Dan Shout’s sax wailing out the message.

• “so complicated…. we fed on the feelings when all of my reasons seemed wrong…. Your wisdom is wasted…. heavy with words….we trade our excuses, and blame has been shifted. Can we go back to the page…. where we burned…. Have we burned?” (Burned) Kristiyan opens with a haunting cello solo, maybe warning of things to come?
• ‘…do what you say, just don’t stay, don’t call on me. I’m done with you……I’m ready for anything… (Do What You Say) Self-explanatory with some wonderful sax runs agreeing.

• “Do you remember the moments you know…..take me back….hold me close…so it goes.” (So It Goes) This includes a very moving viola and cello duo which convey memories, sadness…..

Marc-421

Hendrich’s vocal capacity and temperament has to keep up with the pervasive emoting lyrics which he tries to present, admirably. Yet, the engaging, incidentally dismissive and often contorted and angry storytelling narratives will dominate over any vocal prowess. May the listener decide.

In real life, Marc Hendricks is a paediatric oncologist with Capetown’s renowned Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Importantly, his young patients benefit from his sonic therapies and fund raising concerts.

This CD was produced by Amanda Tiffin who also provided string, brass, and vocal arrangements.
See Hendricks’s upcoming concerts on his facebook and website pages.

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Slow Life featuring lyricist songster Marc Hendricks shakes up Olympia Bakery on Sunday nights

Slow Life logo

If you’re looking for live music of quality on an early Sunday eve, and a very eatable lamb burger downed with your favourite glass of bubbly whatever, Kalk Bay’s vibey hole in the wall Olympia Bakery gives space for about 50 people who end up pretty much knowing each other by the end of the two to three hour event. A small but adequate bar greets one coming off a side street where the chatty crowd spills out during the music break. This robust comradery, even among strangers, punctuates the sunset skies of this quaint Cape Peninsular village which overlooks fishing boats and fishy restaurants, antique shops, and outdoor markets.

Olympia Bakery frontage

Lively chats dim inside the dark entertainment hall as the featured artists take to the dimly lit stage. Singer and lyricist Marc Hendricks leaves his professional oncology duties behind to lead his exceptionally talented band through a range of very moving compositions off his debut solo album, ‘Upright Citizen’.

CD Cover

He’s been writing for over two decades now, supported by highly skilled fellow musicians in the jazz and classical genre. This Sunday gig saw him backed by fellow collaborator and album producer, vocalist/pianist Amanda Tiffin, drummer Frank Paco, bassist Shaun Yohannes, and guitarist Dave Ledbetter. This superb band deserves the best sound projection which still remains an issue in the small venue. It’s when Hendricks takes over the mic and can subdue the band with soft ballads that one hears his emotion-packed lyrics, stunning not so much in their delivery as in their messages.

This live gig kicked off with a ballad, followed by ‘Never Forget’ written for his father, followed by a reworked soft ballad ‘Beautiful Broken’ which speaks about the complexities of relationships, of being lost and found. As the evening progressed, Hendrick’s sometimes high falsetto voice tells one melodic story after another about events in his life. The venue’s sound system seems to get better. One hears different emotions: remembering a trip to Canada with his sister in “So It Goes”; a writing project with friends from France and England in “Running Away”; other love inadequacies in “Someone Leaves the Room”; then “Tear Drops” about his awful year of 2013.

When the break comes, one is already absorbed in this singer’s memoir of love woes. But are these woes his or mine, actually? I need some soothing. Where’s that small lamb burger?

As the second set concluded, I could only feel that this singer’s life had hit rocks, lows, and middle highs. If one listens to his CD, answers come that explain the perturbing, mellow, quizzical, and divulging messages in the lyrics. Ultimately, one tastes the truth, a common thread throughout this musical storybook, about betrayal, connections, and what makes for joyful resolutions. For this, the CD warrants a separate review by this writer on All Jazz Radio’s blog.

Slow Life, a creative music promotion initiative of Paul Kahanovitz, offers such engaging and poignant live performances using other venues around Capetown. But there’s a special vibe at the Bakery, a community spirit that holds its own, which can easily suck the unsuspecting into its creative space.

Olympia Bakery plates of food
Check the Facebook page for upcoming events which promise purely authentic South African entertainment.

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Errol Dyers: Your Music made even dogs dance!

Dear Errol,

Your transition to the loving world of spirit has left many of us gabbing and cackling about how to keep Cape jazz alive and appreciated, as you so eloquently tried to do.  Maybe you have not liked such terms as ‘giving tribute’ or ‘legacy’, attributed to you and your ilk, but applause and celebrations for your contributions to South African and specifically, Cape music, will continue.

ErrolDyersb

We’ve heard many ideas and suggestions flowing during mad chats after your passing about how South Africa must retain and honour its artistry for generations to come.  A common theme seems to run throughout:  preservation of one’s music through written charts, and archiving  written and digital materials for public access.  Your close musical friend, Hilton Schilder,  said in an interview:  “My father was a prolific composer, but I don’t have any charts or anything written down.”  Others have commented:  There needs to be financial assistance arrangements for  musicians while they’re living for emergencies,  illnesses, and the like;  South African and Cape jazz needs more airtime on the radio and general media  in order to counter the ‘dumbing down’ on youth ears of the  increasing American–and–other playlists congesting soundwaves through cellphones and other digital media. “The little ones get clouded by a certain mode of thinking, that it’s cool to jive to American music”, Schilder continues.  What’s needed is faithful observation, social responsibility, and interaction in both accessing local music, and generating appreciation for it.  Musicians must submit their performance sheets and materials to SAMRO in order to be paid for their contributions, cries singer/guitarist Tina Schouw, during a recent music memorial evening. We must be more pro-active!

Dear Errol.  You knew all this, and advocated for it.  But…are the journalists and responsible social media having their say? Fewer, if any now, newspapers and magazines are carrying articles or pages on the local legacies.  All Jazz Radio suggests, along with many others, that a collective blog is needed as a platform for informing, debating, and archiving about our Cape jazz legacies.   Arts journalism has now morphed into ‘celebrity’ journalism, as very well pined by journalist, Ryland Fisher:  “We need good quality and thoughtful journalism at all levels and in all media forms to which people can contribute.  In social media, it’s about numbers. But blogs can be updated as more like-minded people contribute.  There’s value in community strength.”   The same has been echoed  throughout the years by jazz journalist, Gwen Ansell, in her wordpress blog.  Lack of acknowledgments to local artistry IS a worrying trend. A few community radio stations, like Bush Radio and Fine Music Radio, based in Capetown, and a scattered few in other parts of the country, do sponsor worthy programs that offer local and international jazz.  But that vast majority of terrestrial stations subsidized with profits choose the obvious – the marketing of income-generating brands of artistry, regardless of quality or intention.

You were adamant about the importance of musicians choosing record labels that were truthful to the cause of artistic mastery and cultural expression.  And schools of music – all must offer a healthy balance that favours , and flavours, local heritage – Cape music – South African Standards  –  over the aping of American music, no matter how good.  Stories! You cried.  It’s about hearing those indigenous stories, and learning from them!

Dear Errol.  We know that even a dog danced at your Muizenberg concert – ‘Sugar’  shaked with your Cape ghoema jazz, and spread the word, as featured in your first album, ‘Sonesta’. What musical memories you have left to us today will stimulate more dancing and celebrations to make your legacy remembered, revered, and pushing artistry forward in these new times.

With love and great respect,

All Jazz Radio team of presenters and fans

30 July 2017

Sonesta -web

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Classical Indian sitarist Niladri Kumar explores  musical boundaries

'Path Bender' sitarist Niladri Kumar

‘Path Bender’ sitarist Niladri Kumar

The Indian classical sitar comes to Capetown’s Baxter Theater 29 July and to Johannesburg’s Lyric Theater on 30 July straight from Niladri Kumar’s home of Mumbai, India. These ‘Raga Ecstasy’ concerts are possible thanks to Inner Circle Entertainment which produces  Indian Classical Music concerts in South Africa. As one of India’s premier classical sitarists, Kumar is not so much eager to collect sitars or sit on their glory, but to highlight how the instrument can benefit others.

Training orphan girls to play sitar

Training orphan girls to play sitar

Coming from a prestigious musical family of means, his heart seemed always in tune with those less fortunate.  During the International Year of the Girl Child in 2013, he and his team trained orphan girls to play sitar and to perform.       He auctioned off a nearly 100-year old sitar he grew up with in order to raise funds for underprivileged musical prodigies in his midst.

PHOTO  With grandfather & father

Playing sitar from age 4, under the tutelage of his father (who was also a disciple of the famous sitarist, Ravi Shankar), Kumar remained loyal to his five-generations family history of sitar playing, while feeling his contemporary world demanding flexibility and change.  Kumar, thus, created the ‘zitar’, an electronic version of the traditional sitar.

Kumar playing with grandfather and father

Kumar playing with grandfather and father

 

“The scope of an instrument is never decided by the music.” Kumar refers to the sitar’s range of use in Hindi film music. Musicians’ sensibilities change, thus affecting how the instrument complements particular themes.   The ‘Z’ in zitar connotes the zany, edginess.  Hence, the electronic sitar evolves to a five string fusion of Indian classical with a contemporary international flavour.  Some traditionalists queried this upstart. But these how-dare-you sentiments were gradually subterfuged by the encroaching young global fusions of sounds, rhythms, and message.

While respecting tradition, Kumar admits that Indian classical music ‘needs a boost’.  What awaits our raga listening ear on 29 July at the Baxter Concert Hall promises to be awe-inspiring and highly entertaining musical feast.

Kumar with John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Eric Harland

Kumar with John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Eric Harland

* * * * * *

Ronan-Feature1

This writer (CM) and tabla/dirigidoo musician Ronan Skillen (RS) from Capetown had an awesome opportunity to Skype chat with Kumar, prior to his travels to South Africa end of this month.  Skillen provided an ideal complement to our discussions since he specializes in various ethnic percussion instruments,   and has, himself, studied in India under the tutelage of a notable tabla musician.  Kumar will be performing with the renowned tabla player, Vijay Ghate, who is widely acknowledged for his forays into fusion with well-known artists including the Jethro Tull band, George Duke, Al Jarreau , and Ravi Coltrane.  Ghate has lectured at Codarts University of Arts at Rotterdam as well as formed a trust called Taalchakra, which provides a platform to young and upcoming artists and supports for musicians in financial need.

………

Kumar says he will just be playing the sitar in his South African concerts,  and will explore with the audiences the world of Indian classical raga melodies and different rhythmic time signatures, or Talas.

CM:  Here in South Africa, we hear lots of other types of music.  Do you fuse your classical with other forms of music?

NK;  Yes, we explore these fusions, particularly in Mumbai which supports musicians collaborating with jazz and other kinds of non-Indian music.  This has been going on for at least 60 years now.  Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve played in unfamiliar territory of art other than the comfort of just having the tabla.  So it’s no longer ‘unique’ to explore these other sounds and rhythms.

CM:  OK, then maybe we’ll hear a little bit of jazz from you… (laughter).

NK:  The thing is, I don’t know jazz music.  I’ll explain with this short story.   I was preparing for an English essay exam and the preparation I did was to write an essay on the river.  The river is like classical music for me.    But at the exam, I was supposed to write about the elephant.  I know what the contours of the elephant looks like, what it eats, and what it does.  So I explained what the elephant looks like and how I walked it in the forest while it munches on the vegetation.  Then the elephant arrives at the river to drink, it falls into the river.  Then, I write the essay about the river which is what I prepared for!  So that’s how I play jazz, and that’s how jazz musicians play classical music.  So if you’re expecting jazz music from me, you’re in the wrong place!!  We tend to play what we know most about!

CM:  (laughter)  I’ll hand you over to Ronan whose home wifi username is – guess what?  ‘Elephant’!

NK:  Oh, my goodness!!

RK:  You know, it’s so bizarre! That story you just told.  I was just re-watching  the making of the  “Industrial Zen” album which features guitarist John McLaughlin and he told that same story on that DVD.  You had told it to him.  That’s so funny.

NK:  Because people tend to ask the same question….about playing jazz….. (laughter).

RK:  That’s a good answer because most people know that Indian classical music is improvised …

NK:  I think improvisation is more in the thought process, but not necessarily in the music, because it comes from so many different cultures and in that sense, it can only smell and feel different in different parts of the world.  But at the same time, it’s a valid question and a good answer, so we still have to deal with those 7 notes in our universe. And imagine that every emotion needs to be expressed through those 7 notes.  This narrowed down connection with musicians all over the world is amazing.  I don’t think any other trade can do that, to pinpoint such a connection.

RK:  You’re right. Because it’s like having guidelines – within that context (7 key notes) you’ve got to express what you want to say.  And it’s amazing.  You take the sitar, with its 19 strings, but you’re only really playing one string.  You’re exploring a contemporary version of something very ancient.  It’s also interesting how you bring in chordal progressions – wit those long reaches  …..  and I can see on the fretboard that you’re struggling to get them!

NK:  Yes, those chords.  In 1995, I was playing a concert in Mumbai at a very traditional music place.  All the traditional greats have performed there, even my father.  I was in my early 20’s and that was the first time I played chords.  The next day, a big article made the newspaper saying how sacrilegious it was for me to play chords because I had come from a great musical tradition of my father, so much more was expected of me.  This got me thinking because I had played a 2 ½ hour concert; yet, the chords had lasted not more than 30 – 45 seconds.  The writer’s critique of this small percentage of the concert took up over half the article!  So maybe I should increase the chord playing time in order to get an important front-page article from my concerts! (laughter)

This is our Indian music – we have to go through all these stages of exploring sounds and techniques on our instruments to appeal to the younger generation.  So, the journey of exploring boundaries has to continue, even in traditional music.

CM:  About that exploring boundaries….. Some people say that the sitar is always so romantic and so sad at the same time.  How do you take this sadness out of the sitar sound?

NK:  You don’t have to.  Why would you take an emotion away?  Our music revolves around the nine emotions which we call ‘navaras’.   Melancholy or sadness is one of these moods, or emotions, the feeling of having lost something, or missed out on whatever.  This is very much part of our musical evolution.  We are fortunate to be able to explore these diverse emotions, from happiness to actually making someone cry in sadness.  It’s wonderful .  Not many instruments have that range.

It also depends on the musician, which areas he wants to explore that day, whether the song is to be happy, or sad.  This is essential.  I see young people listening to music and dancing to it, finding it very groovy, and letting their hair down.  What about having a dance within you?  Without having to actually get onto the dance floor?  That dance within needs to have a range of emotions.

CM:  That brings me to another point.  Given your various generations of listeners in India, which groups tend to like your music, and which groups question what you’re doing with your contemporary music?

NK:  The senior groups tend to question, like your teachers as they technically know more and will always question you.  On the other hand, if the listener doesn’t question why I’m playing in such a way, then that listener is stagnant and thinks you’re not moving anything.  If someone in a comfort zone asks why, that means you have shifted something which is not the usual.  If that shift doesn’t happen in any form of music, then it’s not music any more.

CM:  Well, I look forward to hearing your ‘shift’ at your concert…….

NK:  Please don’t get stuck on the ‘shift’, because the usual is also good enough! (laughter)

RK:  Can I say you’re from a younger generation?

NK:  You’re very kind, Ronan.  I’m in my early 40’s.

RK:  Just listening to why you do what you do, I feel that in this modern world, to try to keep such a culturally diverse form of music alive, like with classical Indian music, is a difficult thing. I’ve been exposed to a lot of this music, and I love it, as abstract and as difficult as it can be to listen to …. You can have an interpretation of whichever raga you hear one night, and the next night you can hear the same raga performed by somebody else, and it’s completely different.

NK:  Exactly

RK:  …and in terms of India as a country with a culture so intact…. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in the world where music is being taken to such a level.

NK:  It’s also because such music has evolved over thousands of years …..

RK:  What I’m saying is it’s great to see someone as enlightened as you, taking from all the different ways and walks of life, and putting it into something that is currently contemporary music.

NK:  The light switched on my head from my musical family. (laughter)

RK:  Sometimes, I have also found how Indian classical music can be quite one-sided and closed off as well where you don’t access the tradition …. This is how it’s done, and this is the tradition…period.

NK::  But I would consider this necessary, where some form simply doesn’t change.  This is essential if you have to have your base in some form of tradition.

RS:  ….yes, to preserve it.  But what I’m getting at is the question Carol raised about the younger generation, that the more you’re able to draw upon the lineage and respect for the teachers and all who have distilled the music into what you know, and if you’re able to portray it in such a way that it’s going to reach everyone, and specifically the younger generation, that’s the key.  In today’s world, like you were saying, that dance inside….instead of the quick fix…  And listening to how you play and operate, in an interactive way on stage, I think you’re on that track.  It’s great!

NK:  I don’t do things which I don’t believe in.    The problem lies when you try to form someone upon somebody else’s success. That’s where the passion and commitment  get nullified.  You can’t copy.   Everyone has to have their own path. The only thing about Indian classical music is that sometimes it can become a bit preachy, that you’re telling the audience that this is the tradition, and this is how you do it, this way or the highway!  But I think rather than become preachy, let this music become a form for communicating with the audience.

CM:  You’ve given us a lot of food for thought, Niladri, and we thank you very much….

NK:  Oh, I’m so sorry about that!  Everybody’s on a diet nowadays!

CM:  We wish you could be longer with us as we would take you to a cave for recordings.  This is what Ronan and two other colleagues did recently, and recorded an album in a cave in their ‘Cave Project’.

NK:  Incredible.  You’ve got certain acoustic enhancements right there, like delays, all free of cost!  I’ve always wanted to play a concert in a church, and did so in a chapel in France.   The acoustics are incredible,  you have to alter your playing.  The sustain is so much longer and so different.

CM:  Well, we have lots of churches here, so you may want to change your schedule a bit!  And I also look forward to crying a lot at your Baxter concert!

NK:  Oh Oh!  (laughter)  But that’s how a musician’s schedule is.  Nobody want to keep us so we’re shoved onto the first available flight back home!

This interview will broadcast LIVE on www.alljazzradio.co.za  pm Friday, 21 July 2017, at 9pm  Central African Time, and repeats on Sunday 23 July at 5am CAT and on Monday 24 July at 1pm  CAT.

Computicket:  tickets for Niladri Kumar and Vijay Ghate concert are available for 29 July at the Baxter in Capetown and on 30 July in Johannesburg.

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COSY VENUES for LIVE JAZZ make Capetown winters hummmm

‘Jazz in the Native Yards’ series offers pleasant Sunday afternoon outings to hear the best of South Africa’s live music performed in Capetown communities’s back yards. Hosted by jazz-entrepreneurs, Koko Kalashe and Luvuyo Kakaza, residents in Gugulethu just outside of the Capetown business district, Sunday concerts feature some of the finest local musicians who pull in visiting international partners where available to join in the festive gigs.

Luvuyo Kakaza & Koko Kalashe run Jazz in the Native Yards series of concerts

Luvuyo Kakaza & Koko Kalashe run Jazz in the Native Yards series of concerts

The two men and their funding partners envision the best for both artists and live music buffs – provide platforms for up and coming artists which bring talents and entertainment directly into local appreciative communities.

Guga S’Thebe Community Center is one of these venues, just off the N2 national highway on the Langa turnoff.

Guga S'Thebe Langa auditorium offering outdoor snacks

Guga S’Thebe Langa auditorium offering outdoor snacks

Centered in Langa, the oldest Black community and one nearest to central Capetown city, its auditorium is well equipped with a sound system, and even a first floor room where a radio station, like the community station Fine Music Radio (101.3FM) can broadcast live shows. Drinks catering is permitted, too.

Drummer Dominic Egli

Drummer Dominic Egli

This happened when the inventive Swiss drummer, Dominic Egli, joined by his fellow Swiss bassist and saxophonist, and South African trumpeter/flugelhornist Feya Faku, a firebrand at improvisation, hit the stage in this cozy venue on Sunday, 9 July 2017.  Excerpts from their ‘Pluralism’ series of three CDs, the latest entitled “More Fufu!”, rocked the stage for two exhilarating hours.

Pluralism quartet. Credit: Atiyyah Khan

Pluralism quartet. Credit: Atiyyah Khan

The local crowd intermixed with other suburbanites from outside of Langa listened quietly with discerning ears and exploded their enthusiasm during breaks with cheerful talks, selfies and group photos with the musicians, and a little wine on hand to warm already bustling hearts. Supported by the Swiss fundor, Prohelvetia, this Pluralism quartet recently completed their six night South African tour, certainly with a bang at Guga SThebe.

Their usually sold-out gigs consist of a variety of African rhythms and sounds ranging from West African ‘high life’, aka ‘fufu’, to Sahelian Mali tuareg, to Afro-Peruvian, to local South African ghoema. Egli can open a song about Mali playing the mbira, and then swing into a very explicit African drumming sequence. His versatility is heightened by equally versatile fellow Swiss players who hover sonically around Faku’s horn which punctuates with rhythmic detail. ‘Fufu’, in French slang, means ‘crazy’. But as a common West African dish, often served with a slimy, chillied ochre soup, ‘Fufu’ connotes symbolically food for the soul that sustains. The latest Pluralism CD, ‘More Fufu!’ admirably follows through the Afro and fusion themes started in the previous two albums. It seems Egli and his group simply cannot run out of songs for us!

 

More Fufu! Album cover

More Fufu! Album cover

Faku had met Dominic in Basel, Switzerland. Out of their ensuing friendship came a song, “The River Crosses the Path” played on Faku’s endearing fugelhorn. You couldn’t hear a pin drop in the hall, as all were spellbound by his gripping delivery. The song had a gospel flavour, pensive, telling a story. You could hear the emotion. Egli then presented his first ghoema composition. Inevitably, the gig had to come to an end, but not without a standing ovation, an ovation applauding the pluralistic and interactive characteristics of this truly Euro-African band. By the end of this Sunday’s gig, the audience is vibey, greets each other, even if strangers, and one leaves this community center having made a friend or two.

Jazz in the Native Yards has hit the eager pulse for live jazz close to home.  All look forward to their offerings, come rain or come shine!

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LISTENING VENUES SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC ARTS- Rootspring at Novalis Ubuntu Institute, Wynberg, Capetown

Rootspring presented at Novalis Ubuntu Institute on 8 July, 2017, a dramatic full moon concert of serenity featuring singer Indwe on traditional Xhosa- bow, with an exciting percussion duo, ‘Intone’ made up of tabla and dirigidoo player, Ronan Skillen, and James van Minnen on skin and box drums and other percussion.

Intimate staging at Novalis Ubuntu Institute

Intimate staging at Novalis Ubuntu Institute

Singer Indwe

                        Singer Indwe in cave

Van Minnen’s thesis is that lower-frequency instruments producing sounds of earth and nature are soothing to babies in utero and outside the womb, and to pregnant women.

The two gentlemen came together recently to revive their 17-year history exploring similar soundscape interests:  van Minnen invited Skillen to come and play in a coastal cave north of Capetown. Not surprisingly, given the spiritual yin-yang balance of these two men, their musical purpose was to honour motherhood and femininity.

Intone percussion instruments  Intone percussion instruments

Ronan Skillan & dirigidoo in cave

   Skillen exploring dirigidoo sounds in cave

Supported by neurological research, he says such sounds would favourably activate the baby’s brain waves with pleasant resonance from the cave space and acoustic instruments. The two-CD album, called The Cave Project: Meditations and Lullabies, was thus recorded over a three-day period in this found cave. Fascinating and explicit photos and videos on the making of this unusual sound project are worth digesting, at http://rootspring.co.za/the-cave-project-lullabies-meditations/

3-in-a-cave

                              3-in-a-cave

The music is about human connections, meditatively explored from the roots of our being. The Novalis evening was choreographed with standing candles lighting the prepared round stage in the middle of this oval interior. The audience seating completed this roundness. The building’s dome facilitated the excellent acoustic sounds from voice, bow, and percussion instruments with minimal amplification. To enable a cave decorum, pre-recorded sounds from inside the cave – birds chirping, bats flying, water rustling – accompanied the live performance, creating an extraordinary ambiance of serenity.

The Institute is known as being a quiet, meditative space for courses and workshops of a developmental nature, hosted by various NGOs and community groups. This writer has enjoyed many full-moon evening meditations in this spiritually uplifting space. This full moon evening on 9 July was nothing short of magical.

James van Minnen & Ronan Skillan outside their cave

James van Minnen & Ronan Skillen outside their cave

Rootspring Conscious Music is the brain-child of its Producer, the well-known musician, Jonny Blundell, whose music label promotes ‘world music’ by local South African musicians with ethnic bents. He was drawn to The Cave Project because “it features musicians playing instruments that are generally traditional ethnic instruments. It also appealed to us because of the unusual combination of musicians and certainly because of the unusual location! Recording in a cave was a first for us.”

The Cave Project: Meditations & Lullabies is available from www.rootspring.co.za

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SAMA 2017 winner Nduduzo Makhathini’s ‘Inner Dimensions’ (2017): Reflections & Prayer

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 for Best Jazz Album

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 for Best Jazz Album

SAMA 2017 rewards another son of the African soil with Best Jazz Album (‘Inner Dimensions”), but this isn’t about ‘jazz’ only. Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini’s 7th album to date continues to haunt us with the inner workings of what our soul journey to higher, spiritual dimensions should look like. He seems to know, in a deeply ancestral and real life, way. [See my interview with him below.]

Album cover of "Inner Dimensions"

Album cover of “Inner Dimensions”

This 11-track album, recorded in Switzerland in May 2016 with Swiss colleagues (the Umgidi Trio) Fabien Iannone on double bass and drummer Dominic Egli, along with a 7-person choir (the One Voice Vocal Ensemble), exudes innovative techniques meant “to go deep within the inner realms of our souls and find those melodies that bring about harmony, healing and hope for all people,” according to one of Makhathini’s YouTube interviews. By reaching the inner, we can than reach the outer universe everywhere else.

To do all this, Makhathini and his cohorts have developed artistic styles to accompany his sometimes contemplative, zesty, and freely unconfined runs on the piano. The range of styles include early South African jazz motifs, contemporary gospel and jazz choral, funky liturgical, accopella harmonies, indigenous African chants to Spirit, and freeflow improvisation.

What is different from his previous albums is the inventive use of vocals and choral orchestration alongside acoustic improvisation of his trio. These styles have successfully pushed ‘jazz’ to another level, what Makhathini calls God’s hand touching every soul that encounters this music. Appreciation of Spirit is tantamount, as in ‘At Your Feet Oh Lord’, a prayerful beckoning for blessings, which starts the album, and ‘Mama Africa”, pronouncing deference to Mother Africa’s ancestors. In “Sobantu”, referencing live jazz oozing from a vibey township near his Pietermaritzberg home as he was growing up, Makhathini displays his vast understanding of chord structures and changes as the same tune is repeated but in different 5ths and 7ths. As he deconstructs chords into singular runs that regroup back into chords, this song becomes reminiscent of early South African jazz styles of the Sophiatown era. Here, like legendary pianist Tete Mbambisa on his ‘Black Heroes’ album, Makhathini wants to guard and retain these sounds proudly produced by earlier maestros of township jazz during the apartheid era. Choral and gospel arrangements are diligently presented in “Lift Those Voices”, and in “Alphinah” where choral harmonies morf into a solemn, moving liturgical presentation backed by the trio’s playful jazz style in ¾ time, almost as a sing-along jaunt with a gospel twist. The album ends with three very differently styled Movements: I – about Compassion with English lyrics sung by the chorus which flows directly into Movement II that features the melodic mbira, traditional chants, and KhoiSan sounds emanating from this inventive concoction of voices and percussion.

Drummer Dominic Egli

Drummer Dominic Egli

Surprisingly, this second piece was composed by drummer Egli, a European who has captured superbly the dynamics of traditional South African sounds of the soil. The third Movement called ‘Freedom Chants’ breaks from traditional beats into a ‘free jazz’ vocal and trio mix. One is moved into another ethereal realm, maybe the final ‘nirvana’ in attaining spiritual awakening.
Thus, the most inner of all dimensions of our human existence is touched and elevated.

My clear assessment is that Makhathini’s ancestors are not angry; rather, they keep pushing their son’s consciousness one step further, something we can look forward with his subsequent recordings.

&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&

I chatted with Makhathini about his album and his reflections on winning the SAMA award:

CM: Does your SAMA award put pressure on you now to do other things in promoting music, etc?
NM: It’s great that one can be recognized in that kind of way; but some of these awards mostly belong to the record label, and not necessarily to the artist. So I went to the SAMAs more as a record label owner as I own my own private label, Gundu Entertainment, co-owned with my wife.

CM: When you become an award winner, you may be asked to do various things, like lead a band, or give workshops and master classes, etc. How do you feel about that? Wouldn’t these activities detract from what you want to do creatively, like write and perform your music?

06 NMakhathini

NM: That whole development thing has always been with me. Even now, in my teaching at Tshwane University, I’ve been putting an emphasis on mentorship beyond the classroom, and how lecturers can inspire students further who feel they don’t have opportunities. For instance, I always thought I came from an insignificant city of Pietermaritzburg and wanted people who could mentor me. So if I can contribute to mentoring others in any way, I’m willing to stretch beyond playing the music . I recently did a TED talk, and am presenting papers at different universities on different subjects in order to expand beyond the piano. But it gives me more inspiration when I play my music – when I have more to say through my compositions, or just as an improviser. Then there’s a lot more I can project in the music as opposed to just playing the instrument. It’s great when we all can contribute to this communal consciousness and create something beautiful out of it!

CM: You’re producing many albums now. How is this?
NM: You know, it’s because I see in this country a great need for healing, and I talk about it. People think talk about healing is boring, so I try to push it to a less superficial level. This idea of democracy was initially a pre-mature wish here, even with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other events that centred around these notions of freedom. But I think of this freedom and truth at three different levels:

One, the physical level of physical brutality when people were beaten up and shot. Then there is the brutality of the mind which conditions you how you think about yourself, where you think less of yourself, feel you don’t belong, or don’t have a voice or say in anything. Then there is this third level, and more dangerous one, what bra Zim Ngqawana called the ‘vandalism of the soul’. If you’ve been brutalized by the first two, then it’s necessary that the soul be in a safe place to help correct or survive from these brutalities.

So in the work that I do, we think of our ancestors as souls, and they are often angry at having died not being fulfilled on earth, or not loving themselves. ‘Inner Dimensions’ was trying to tap into who we are. Even in pre-colonial times, did we have a name as Africans? What was our story? Now, our identity is trying not only to capitalise on the idea of ‘blackness’, but also on the idea that if you contribute to yourself, then you contribute better to the pages of consciousness, and towards this new idea of a humanity with a collective consciousness. But sometimes we forget that the building blocks for a healthy society are focusing on the inner way enabling us to make contributions to ourselves, our families, and communities and expand to become the universal message. So look at these small building blocks of consciousness in order to think in more universal contexts.

CM: Do you think this album is your best so far? And which album is your favourite at this point?
NM: I don’t have a favourite album. Each album has a special narrative; they become like different chapters with messages which are connected. No album is ‘better’ than another. ‘Inner Dimensions’ is one of the few albums where I use vocals and choir orchestration. It was also recorded in Basel in Europe which meant I had to connect with my ancestry in a different way. We believe in the African soil, so from a foreign land, trying to make those spiritual connections in a deep way meant I had to do a lot of meditation to make sure I was connecting to what I believe in.

At Native Yards in Gugulethu/Capetown April 2017

At Native Yards in Gugulethu/Capetown April 2017

From the album liner notes, Makhathini’s prayer calls to God: “…may your beauty be found in every space in-between the notes….” and “….may your invisible hand touch your people as they experience each theme on this record.”

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Zoe Modiga’s “Yellow the Novel”, a story about self-awakening: a CD Review

'Yellow the Novel' album cover

          ‘Yellow the Novel’ album cover

Twenty-three year old songstress, Zoe Modiga who hails from KZN, South Africa, has launched her debut album containing an ambitious and seriously orchestrated series of her compositions which highlight her sense of self-awareness and being-true-to-oneself. We are ever-changing, as portrayed in nature’s Four Seasons, about which her band members eagerly chat on brief tracks, sparing about their favourite colours.

Often on South African stages with various other jazz bands and notable artists,  Modiga has absorbed multiple influences that have now enabled her to branch out with her own band, which include these notables, most recently heard on the Capetown International Jazz Festival stage in March 2017. It is therefore no surprise, yet still remarkable that she has chosen to market her talents in this introductory album with two disks containing 23 tracks, all but a few being her own compositions. There’s much to talk about in her ‘Yellow’ album, yellow being her favourite colour, which connotes peace and love for her. One clearly hears these messages as band members participate in various playful banter which confirms more their comradery and joy in this music project, rather than any meaningful messaging. It’s not clear, however, why her two discs have these verbal breaks which, for me, broke the flow of the increasingly engaging musical mood and temperaments which the songs offered.

Ms. Modiga hails from Kwa Zulu Natal, and completed her Jazz studies at Capetown’s South African School of Music. Other successes found her 8th in The Voice SA competitions, a winner of the 2015 SAMRO Overseas Scholarship Competition for singing (Jazz); and a vocal score in the Oscar nominated movie, Noem My Skollie, scored by her highly talented pianist, Kyle Shepherd. Other band members, like bassist Benjamin Jephta (Standard Bank’s 2017 Young Artist in Jazz) and pianist Bokani Dyer (Standard Bank 2011 Young Artist Award for Jazz, and recipient of the Samro Overseas Scholarship prize in 2013) feature in ‘Yellow’.

 With guitarest Keenan Ahrends

With guitarest Keenan Ahrends

‘Yellow the Novel’ is just that – a musical story with careful lyrics full of information, set to jazzy and melodic tunes. The listener is beckoned to listen carefully. Modiga sets the pace in Disk 1 with a lovely short African ballad, ‘Balele’, and then swings into the upbeat poppish ‘Abounding Within’ about our hidden peace morphing into jubilation. Yes, calls for peace feature abundantly in her two discs, in spite of low points. The song resolves into a slow meditative mood with the horns’ repetitious long notes. One learns how her sextet, with thirteen alternating musicians, eagerly follows her mood and direction without overpowering.

 

The novel unfolds musically, like a dramatic story, with forceful lyrics that advocate confidence, persistence, and hope. Modiga uses voice-overs and loops effectively to mimic a chorus. This is why her Disk 1 is uplifting; musically, she touches on a variety of improvisational styles, allowing the band to explore their own reaches. They introduce Track 8’s ‘Autumn’, again, with a carefree cacophony of mostly incoherent chats about their favourite colours. One muses, hearing the various South African accents from these mainly Capetown-based musicians.

03 Zoe_Modiga

Modiga occasionally falls into a vocal scat which calls out to the spiritual, such as in the melodic “Healer”, not requiring heavy messaging of a social nature like in her other songs. The power of God’s love is again recognised, as in the haunting “Love (Yahaweh)”, when the world seems hopeless. This love translates into how Modiga loves different kinds of people in “Would They” (get along well?). Recorded voice overs are effective here as the song queries if, in fact, saints and sinners, who are just ordinary people, could ever get along well with each other. A song for thought, indeed. An inspiring guitar carries this tune well. She is not ‘Alone’ as she takes chances, like everyone else, echoing her vocals through loops and repetitions, sometimes sarcastically because the world is asleep. This message returns at the end of Disc 1 with ‘Shake the World’ and a plea to get into your lane and wake up! This appropriately ends a winter season as the listener awaits for Spring to arrive in Disk 2.

Modiga breaks from English lyrics to pay tribute to the vernacular, particularly, to the legendary Winston Mankunku in his song, “Yakhalinkomo”, in a lovely arrangement with the guitar effectively adding a ballad mood. Sensuality and emotion punctuate other vernacular songs, like the moving “Inganekwane” referring to fairy tales and myths we live with. “Nantsi Ntsepe” offers lots of vocal chorus characteristic of morabi with a beautiful sax solo.

04 Zoe

*(*(*(*(*(*(*(*

Not all is rosy as a novel enters conflict zones. Disc 2 opens with a mournful philosophical bent about our worldly delusions and the life-is-not-rosy confusions we live with, hiding our inner tears, in “And so it goes”. Lyrics again dominate the musical novel , with Winter having seemingly carried stories of woes and depression, like in “One Litre Deep”, a folksy satire, maybe about what dark winters can do to spirit. Hope resurrects, however. Spring explodes yellow flowers, like in “Dandelion” which, as a relief, doesn’t echo opinionated words of caution, but rather soft scat vocalisations by the singer in a childlike, carefree manner. Modiga ambitiously tries a wide range in her vocals, sometimes wandering erratically ‘off key’, as if dazzled by the emotions evoked by this intricate song. One wonders, should dandelions be that complex? Answers come in the last track,“Yellow”, which now explains what self-realization means, after hard work, an awakening of confidence hummed nicely by trumpet and piano, bringing the ear back to the spiritual and calm. It is a breath taking piece!

Disc 2 lyrics are softer, less contentious than those in Disc 1, implying that out of struggle comes yellow, aka peace and love. Modiga strongly believes in perseverance, and lives it, building her talents through festivals, working with distinguished musicians in South Africa, and meticulously studying her art.

05 Zoe

Having blessed a prestigious CTIJFstage recently, and slated for the upcoming National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in June 2017, Modiga is well on her way to extending her yellow hopes and loves that can impact on the South Africa’s jazz music industry. It’s rewarding to see her perform live; her songs speak directly to the audience with slinky, individualistic projections of who Zoe is. And her yellow cape is truly stunning!

Musicians that feature in the two-disk album are: Benjamin Jephta; Bokani Dyer; Claude Cozens; Frank Paco; Keenan Ahrends; Kyle Shepherd; Ludwe Danxa; Marlon Witbooi; Revan October; Robin Fassie Kock; Romy Brauteseth; Ruby Crowie; and Tim Mosh.

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Resonance for Peace in ‘Tales of Life’ by Etuk Ubong: A CD review

Tales of Life seems taller than life. Nigerian jazz trumpeter Etuk Ubong’s thoughtful album of his compositions speaks to not only Nigerian ancestral spirits, but also to the beauty of peace which our world could promote better through our humanity. Ubong’s ambition is to bring truth to music, sonic storytelling being one way. Young Ubong does just this, and exceeds expectations as he ambitiously, even conservatively, continues to explore reflective soundscapes and rhythms, in this, his second album, released in February 2017.

Tales of Life Album Cover

Tales of Life Album Cover

The opening piece, “Battle for Peace”,  honours hope, love, and peace. The drums speak with eagerness and forward-thinking, even coercion as the three horns introduce the theme of this album. All seem to cry for peace. It’s an energetic beginning, honouring what’s good.

Etuk Ubong - media

  Etuk Ubong – media

Ubong plays a staccato trumpet with a breathiness reminiscent of the early Miles Davis whom he emulates. His revealing solo in “Drawing Room” gives testimony to the serious practice he has undergone faithfully over these years of performing and perfecting his instrument along with the moods and emotions that can go with it.  Likewise, he pairs nicely with the piano of Timothy Ogunbiyi with the off-beat drums of Benjamin James, as in “Genesis”, a piece that displays obvious talents of Ubong’s bassline.

His provocative sounds are clear, simple and thoughtful, improvising to be understood. In ‘Story’, he continues his telling, like a yoga massage.  The drum silhouettes with a steady undercurrent, and the piano ends this story the way it began, pronouncing that the healing has been done.

In ‘Suddenly’, midway through the album, Ubong continues to unfold his tales with the same haunting off-beat drum and announcing piano that enters/exits, then re-enters, changing tempos and moods. This arrangement allows for a special layout by drummer James that charms. But when Ogunbiyi’s piano takes over, things become meditative and wondering. There are sudden outbursts of hyped up tempo and emotions, like questioning the purpose of life, then a whimsical return to the basic theme. This is a beautiful reflective piece, and my favourite on the album, as well as the longest song.

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This questioning leads to the boppish ‘Tales of Life’, again with Ogunbiyi’s punctured piano treble runs. The long notes of Ubong’s horn are unwavering, bringing out the melancholic undertones which characterises this album. Some notes deliberately go off-kilter, synonymous with life’s sometimes erratic journey. As in life, one must learn to listen attentively.  “The Earth Meditation” brings the listener back to reflection with the soothing near-silence of Ubong’s fugelhorn.

Ending the album, and befitting a son whose mother passed away too early, ‘Uyai Mi Margaret’ is a beautifully orchestrated song honouring Ubong’s mother, Margaret, as well as all women of this world. It’s a soulful vocal chant that adds meaning to this wonderfully inspiring album.

‘Tales of Life’ displays obvious growth of Ubong’s talents as he journeys his music far and wide, between South Africa, Nigeria (where this album was produced), and soon-to-be other worlds. Stay tuned as this innovative jazz trumpeter brings his African influences to his intriguing improvisational styles.

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Tango Improvised with Afro-Cuban: a Fusion Feast with Escalandrum of Argentina

The recent Capetown International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) was given a special treat – a resurrection of grandmaster Astor Piazolla’s ‘New Tango’ with a special twist by grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla who loves the Afro-Caribbean claves rhythms set to a Tango mood.

Daniel 'Pipi' Piazolla, drummer

Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla, drummer

Grandfather Astor Piazolla has been considered as Argentina’s most celebrated composer and bandoneonist of the ‘New Tango’ which did not include a singer, but wedded improvisational jazz and classical music together.  Two generations later, grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’  Piazolla and his merry Escalandrum sextet band have put aside the traditional bandoneon and violin of former tango years, and added singer, Elena Roger, and a three-horn section plus drum kit.

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017

         Escalandrum 

Their intention is to promote the sounds of their city, Buenos Aires, which reigns with the tango, but continue to fuse the delightful urban swing with some complicated improvisation techniques, particularly using the sonorous, multi-ranged bass clarinet, a rarity in contemporary jazz.  Pipi says his grandfather hated the dancing that went with his-day tango.  “People should listen, not dance, to tango,” Pipi agrees.

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They love their city of Buenos Aires as well as sharks.  “Escalandrún” is the Argentinian name for a sand shark, the favourite marine animal of the Piazolla family who fish sharks.  One song performed at the Jazz Festival was composed by drummer Pipi to honour sharks.  It was a stunningly haunting piece with the bass clarinet making sonic images of whale and dolphin calls, low rumbles conveying feelings of dark sea depths, and other primordial sounds, even imitating the dirigidoo.

Escalandrum performing at CTIJF 2017

Escalandrum performing at CTIJF 2017

Their performance at CTIJF this year was their first on African soil.  ‘Pipi’ felt there were so many similarities between African rhythms and the tango that they hope to continue more collaborations as Escalandrum perfects their own new age tango improvisations.

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017 Media Conference

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017 Media Conference

During my interview with the sextet of large and well-built men, Pipi explained that in 2001, when a crisis in Argentina caused many to leave the country, he and his merry men stayed (his musical buddies formed Escalandrum in 1999);  they felt the pressure to change the folkloric tango and offer uplifting music for their depressed fellow citizens.  Hence, an emphasis on the milonga 5/4 odd meter beats.  “We were more socially inspired than political because the country wasn’t stable. We searched in ourselves; our ages influenced us:  when young we just wanted to play bebop, but as we grew older the mind opened up to other inspiring rhythms.  Everybody was running away, but we wanted to stay here.”

We talked about why Escalandrum was fusing more with Afro-Cuban music.  “The Latin milongas go well with our own folkloric traditions in Argentina:  the chacarera and malambo rhythms in 6/8, the sambo in ¾, and as jazz musicians, we love rhythms.”  Then, why did they move away from the accordion?  “The bandoneon is more difficult to adapt to the improvisational jazz approach which we want to move forward.  In Argentina and particularly in Buenos Aires, we are a melting pot of cultures so we don’t stick to one traditional sound, but branch out and absorb others which have influenced us – like African, North American, and Cuban music.  The bandoneon has actually saved our music, and made it original, but there is other original music we can continue to produce. “

And what was that about Mozart, I asked?  “A festival producer wanted us to bring our interpretation of Mozart in Piazolla form to a festival, as an art form.  Those people interested in classical music were willing to let us be free with our presentations, which is good.   We brought on one of our best classical musicians who also was our teacher and also taught my grandfather, and we performed with only two microphones – very stereophonic.  It was one recording with no mixing, and is available.  It was quite a challenge, however, to play Mozart and Piazolla together!

CD 'Piazolla plays Piazolla' Album Cover

CD ‘Piazolla plays Piazolla’ Album Cover

Escalandrum’s Latin Grammy-winning album, “Piazolla Plays Piazolla”, explains so eloquently and sonorously the dimensions and styles which their contemporary music is using.  Produced in 2011, the album is excitingly polyrhythmic, thanks to the many clave beats grounded in Afro-Cuban/Caribbean varieties.  Each band member has composed songs and infused his own sounds to make this album multi-spirited and innovative.

‘Tanguedia  1” sounds like an angry retort against the flimsy tango dancing people, unsupported by Escalandrum’s style of tango.   “Fuga 9” implants a classical flare which contorts into horn-pronounced  resolution,  followed by a boppish piano trio which seeks to calm down the protesting horns.  This is a well improvised piece, full of jazzic twists that return to the fundamental Piazolla beat.

“Romance del Diablo” starts with low key bass clarinet paired with melodic saxes morphing into a surprising ballad honouring the devil.  Here, the horns spell diabolic images romancing themselves, a winner!

It’s this fusion of the at-times cacophonic improvisation (as in ‘Buenos Aires Hora Cero’), mellow ballad moods, and standard jazz bop, which permits the re-entry of that notorious tango rhythm into the sonicsphere,  that keeps one’s ears eagerly plugged to the band’s conversations.  “Adios Nonino” does this nicely, resolving into a beautiful, almost mournful, song.

One learns the wide range of the bass clarinet, so expertly played by Martin Pantyrer,  which successfully establishes frameworks for both mood and message.

Martin Pantyrer plays bass clarinet & tenor saxophone

Martin Pantyrer plays bass clarinet & tenor saxophone

The beats keep changing between 5-4 time, then the clave 3-2 time, and so on, but the fundamental 4/4 time sounds come from Pipi’s clave, that five-stroke pattern that is at the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms. The album ends with a stunning drum solo by Pipi in ‘Libertango’ that fuses, again, with the basic tango sound and seems to heal and free up the spirit.

Escalandrum sextet

Escalandrum sextet

Pipi explains what influences him:  “The Uruguayan–African influences have molded the Milongo and  malambo mixtures which are heard, such as the  5/4 time. Also, every night I watch YouTube music videos to find something new and interesting. Then in the morning, I try to practice what I heard and explore different sounds.”  Pianist Nicholas Guerschberg says he tries to find new music and ideas and styles so he can play different originals.  The latest project is to combine Mozart with our tango!”  Escalandrum’s latest album,  “SesionesION:Obras de Mozart y Ginastera”, recorded in mid-2016, was released January 4, 2017.

 

'SesionesION' Album Cover

‘SesionesION’ Album Cover

They do sound like friends who have hung out together since youth, who decided to put their talents together into a band in 1999.  Escalandrum has traveled extensively since, winning awards as they merge the Argentinian rhythmic styles more and more with the Afro-Caribbean Latin influences.  Hence, sounds of conga, son, mambo, and salsa spice up their forward-sounding tango and other globally-influenced rhythms.  This is rhythmic excitement at its best!

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Jazz – Wine – Food – Comedy: a Soul Cleansing

Love wine?  Love it more:  pair it with that food for the soul – jazz – complemented with a good dose of belly-shaking comedy, all which works up the appetite for that 3-course delectable meal from award-winning chefs where different wines are paired with the different dishes on offer.

12289647_923882977704178_750311950479883073_nComedian Lindi & Hassan'adas

MmWHaaaa!  Now that’s an afternoon to follow the annual Capetown International Jazz Festival as festive spirits literally spilled over into Sunday jazz brunches, wine tastings, and the like.

It’s not just about that wine bottle, or that particular jazz band, or about that colourful starter at table.  It’s about experiencing, moving the culinary and emotional juices to realize what wholesome healing can take place and what wonderful memories can endure into the week ahead.

Wines

Sip by Sip does just that by creating opportunities for marketing South Africa’s finest wines and addressing the ‘new age’ needs of various wine aficionados who wish to combine taste experiences.  Not just good taste in the culinary, but in music and entertainment.  “A voyage to enchanting places, and encounter with remarkable people, and the delight of good food and cultural experiences,” is Sip by Sip’s visionary purpose, and delightful it is.

Da Capo Wine Estate

Da Capo Wine Estate

Thanks to Sip by Sip’s event, “Sunday in the Vines”, I was honoured the experience of imbibing wines from Italian cultivars with my 3-course meal at the Da Capo wine estate, high up in the Hottentot Holland mountains of Sir Lowry’s Pass in Somerset West, Western Cape.  This event ‘paired’ with the annual Jazz Festival, particularly for those who couldn’t attend the festival but could benefit from one of Capetown’s finest jazz band, on this day being “Hassan’adas”, a vibrant combination of Mozambiquan and South African musicians of the highest quality. Da Capo is owned and run by the Bottega family of Italian descent, hence the marketing of fine Italian wines of the Idiom brand.

Views around winery

After winding up through some 4 kilometres of mountain scenery on a tarred road, one arrives at the estate’s restaurant which boasts almost 360 degrees of luscious mountain and sea views. Da Capo is the most southern winery in the Western Cape, with high exposures to wind, rain, and sun, all which have created a certain ambiance for the Sip by Sip event.  I walk into the event hearing the high-pitched soothing contralto voice of the band’s lead singer, Jaco Maria, ringing magically in the air back by an inviting percussion. I am handed a glass of the bubbly, a carbonated white wine (champagne?).

Comedian Ndumiso Lindi

Comedian Ndumiso Lindi

After the performance, the entourage of invited guests and others, coming from corporate, business, and individual worlds, go to the ‘comedy’ hall for a genuinely funny 20 minute celebration delivered by comedian, Ndumiso Lindi (aka Roosta).  He certainly offered well-heeled and slick digs at current political and ethnic struggles in the country which didn’t depress, but rather elevated one’s tummy to overall shakes and gaffaws – a delightful pre-lunch appetite booster.

Upstairs in the Idiom Restaurant, our palates received delightfully succulent dishes paired with the Da Capo varieties.  And fine they were:  the Whalehaven Pinotage Rose served with my beetroot salad starter,

Beet root soup & Whalehaven Rose

Beet root soup salad & Whalehaven Rose

Mushroom ravioli with goat cheese & hazelnut

then the white Sangiovese 2013 served with the elegant mushroom filled ravioli.

Mushroom ravioli with goat cheese & hazelnut

Succulence continued with an Amaretto Coffee Tiramisu for dessert, followed by wine tastings downstairs.

Sip by Sip plans to focus on South African wines as it manages events that promote also the other talents of the Cape, namely jazz, chefs, and of course, comedy.  But plan for a whole afternoon out with friends or family, as the entertainment flows through the hours. Besides offering quality-sourced wines and accessories, and a wide range of other services, Sip by Sip events are designed to create memorable experiences through wine tours and tastings, and wine, food and culture pairings.

 

What a wonderful way to showcase the quality and authenticity of South African creative talents. Even if you don’t or can’t drink wine or alcohol, the events are sure to entertain through multi-dimensional experiences with the culinary and the cultural.

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Parlato and Washington: TWO AMERICAN JAZZ ARTISTS FROM DIFFERENT ILKS…..

Post-CTIJF 2017 Notes from the Underground #1

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

They grew up in the same city of Los Angeles.  They both studied ethnomusicology at the University of Los Angeles. Both come from musical and artistic families who supported their artistic growth. The common thread of rhythm, sensitivity, and intelligence punctuates their exceptionally unique sounds. Yet, their styles of improvisation are as different as their own ethnic backgrounds and communities.

Gretchen Parlato at CTIJF 2017Parlato 1-1

Songbird Gretchen Parlato’s quiet, whimsical and careful emoting style  vs  saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s protesting, raw but enlightening sonic outbursts in his choral, orchestral, and improvised music on the large Kippie’s stage of the Festival, she on the listening stage of Rosies.

Gretchen Parlato

Parlato hisses, clicks, and hushes into her microphone while clapping gentle beats with her hands, supported by husband, Mark Guiliana’s off-beat clickety clacks on basic drums.    Born into a richly musical family in Los Angeles, CA, Parlato has cultivated musical dimensions from multiple sources who have lavished praise on her, like American jazz musician of note, Wayne Shorter:  “There’s simply no one out there like Gretchen Parlato.”

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Her performance on the Rosies Stage at the Capetown International Jazz Festival 2017 brought sighs and awe to a highly charged crowd which gave her a standing ovation after her riveting and rhythmically enduring concert. We floated home after her last ballad, a catchy ditty that rang in the head for days.

In her Masterclass, offered a day before her performance, Parlato stressed the three levels of analysis she uses to characterise and deliver a song:  On a more basic level is the emotional, with the tools to feel and indulge the impulses, messages, and tones of a song. “Examine what the lyricist or song writer is trying to convey in the music and what emotions affect the listener or deliverer of the song.” At the middle level is the technical, how a song is constructed, what techniques are used to deliver the song. “Ask yourself: what process did the writer go through to write the song.” At a higher level is the spiritual, how the song connects with others, and what higher thoughts or consciousness are realised because of the song’s delivery and message.  She had started her Masterclass with a 10-minute unspoken meditation to introduce the audience to her process of creating. That mellowed all.

In chatting with Parlato, she explains her stylistic technique with humble recommendations:

I asked: what did she want to convey in her songs, whether written by her or by others?   “Every song I perform is an extension of my personal connection.  There should always be some work with a song about ‘the story’, but also a personal injection, about what is genuine and honest for me.”

She has sung on some 70 albums and produced four of her own. And what is genuine and right for her now?  “Every album is a portrait of what’s happening in my life.  The last album “live in NYC” contains love songs that question our life, the meaning of life, our existence, why we’re here.   I wrote these songs with what was for me a twist of irony and sarcasm, but someone else might interpret them differently.  I think that’s good – to allow the listener to have their own interpretation.  A song I sang five years ago, if sung now, would come from a different place in my life experience, and be expressed that way.”

Parlato 4

I found Parlato exudes a strong confidence with herself.  “It comes from being honest and true to myself.”  We discussed what suggestions she could give to those female singers coming from marginalized backgrounds, for instance the Black South Africans musicians, in how to project themselves with honesty and confidence?

“Everyone has pain and pleasure in their life, at different degrees and intensities. One should do soul-searching to find out who they are, their background and history, and find out what their talents or gifts are. Find out what their learned behaviour is, does it come from their parents, or from some event that happened that caused a change? Then try to write about it, in poetry or words. I recommend journaling.   I journal so that I can record that stream of consciousness that flows…….It just might turn into a song, or just bring out some truthful thinking about oneself.  This is about getting comfortable with yourself, and your agency.  Everyone has something to share, whether it is sorrow, or tragedy, or something uplifting. This is when confidence comes, when you see that truth, and you’re willing to share it.  Then your song becomes helpful and therapeutic to others who hear it.”

Parlato’s music is very polyrhythmic, so she explained where that comes from. “Yes, my high school, Los Angeles School for the Arts, exposed me to the different arts, with a West African drum teacher, teachers from the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department where I studied later, with Javanese ensembles, and many other groups. Then, at UCLA, I pursued the cultures and rhythms through music and dance.”

Kamasi Washington

On the other large Kippies Stage, saxophonist Kamasi Washington exploded with his 10-piece band, including his own brother, Rickey, on a delightful flute.

Kamasi Washington at CTIJF 2017  Kamasi Washington at CTIJF2017

Washington’s three-album The Epic (Brainfeeder label) stirred up critics’ charts and listeners in 2015, and contains his own compositions in collaboration with a variety of artists ranging from choral to hip hop to orchestral to electronic grooves.  Indeed, an epic fusion.

The Epic album cover

The Epic album cover

As we chatted, he explained his epic three-disc album : “ I wanted the album to speak my own mind for a change.  I had always been playing other people’s music.  I wanted something that was completely me, to put it all out there at once. There were some consultations about the songs with masterful musicians, but because the musicians were close friends, I could run with it freely.”  Thundercat, the electric bassist, is one of Washington’s top five musicians he applauds, as he led his Masterclass listeners to understand what influenced him to ‘break away’ from other mainstream jazz and make his own fusions with a variety of hip hop, R&B, and choral genres.

Washington humbly presented his wish to know South African musicians better, citing Hugh Masekela as a big influence on his early musical years.  “My father used to play Hugh’s records over and over, and I grew to really dig him.  This opened my ears also to other Africans, like Fela.”

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

As an African-American, Washington confirmed a desire to spend more time with Africans (aka indigenous or ‘black’) on this continent because he felt a connection. “I listened to the kids outside this hotel playing drums and dancing.  My African-American culture comes from here – it is African culture.  I feel a connection.  My dual connection is to Africa and to my own community – I think about troubles here in Africa as being similar to ours at home.” He says he learned a lot from the Academy of Music of Alexander High School in Beverlywood, Los Angeles, “but it’s in my home area of Watts (which experienced serious riots during the 1960s civil rights marches) where I hear the rhythms, language, tones, and emotions from my people, and where I feel free to express myself”.

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

What messages, i.e. political, is he trying to convey, if any, in his music?  “I guess music and politics are intertwined.  I don’t force the music either way, just infuse it with my views on society. I don’t see myself as a politician, but I have strong views on how the state of things should be or currently is. I don’t present anything directly political, but try to infuse my thoughts and sensitivities into a song.”

And how does he see jazz education in American black communities, mentioning how ‘decolonizing’ of curriculum is now an important issue in South African arts, in the curriculum, and in learning processes?  “We call it ‘institutionalizing’ which has caused lots of problems with the arts, with equality issues. Schools in urban African-American communities don’t have music programs at all.  And where music is taught in the other schools, African-American music isn’t necessarily taught. That’s why I’ve stayed close to my cultural community of Watts. Our other issue in schools is to obtain instruments, just to be able to have classes.  African-Americans grow up with music in churches where there’s some instruments, but our schools don’t have the instruments for teaching and learning.”

The CTIJF 2017 event was all the richer because of these two incredibly innovative artists and their bands.

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The unique Blue Note at Sea Jazz Cruise haunts the Caribbean

From 4 -11 February 2017, this maiden voyage of the ‘Blue Note at Sea’ out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the third back-to-back jazz cruise for some 6000 like-minded passengers organized by Entertainment Cruise Productions (ECP), a slick and well-experienced company having run over 60 full ship programs all over the world for decades. Named after the sponsoring jazz record label, the Blue Note cruise was hosted by the Blue Note Records President, Don Was, and program-managed by the very personable bassist, Marcus Miller, with interviews conducted by the fusion saxophonist extraordinaire, David Sanborn.

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

 

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Obviously, the artists featured on this cruise were all Blue Note labelled who could easily promote the brand. They were not only dons in their own jazz genre over the ages (aka decades) in American jazz circles, but were buddies, having mixed and matched their talents with various band configurations that promoted their own individual creativity over time, domestically as well as internationally. The offerings for 7 nights constituted one long well delivered type of ‘jam session’ starting from 5pm each day and lasting until well after 1am, as performers moved from one stage to another, remarkably (by the organizers) with very little overlap in schedules. Most bands borrowed each other’s artists, almost incestuously. And most performers could stay on the ship during the whole cruise with the exception of one or two. The only ‘oh-shucks’ moment came when four artists had to leave the ship early in order to travel to the Los Angeles-based Grammy Awards ceremony where their nominations translated into awards. These were, not surprisingly, multi-Grammy award recipients: Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, pianist Robert Glasper (USA), singer Gregory Porter(USA), and singer Lalah Hathaway.

Lalah Hathaway

Lalah Hathaway

Chucho Valdez on stage

Chucho Valdez on stage

A major import to this USA-based cruise was the exciting London-based Ronnie Scotts’ House Band which featured the thrilling singer, Natalie Williams, who unashamedly took late-nighters through energetic jam sessions in the appropriately named ‘Revelations’ Lounge. They also kicked off the music at day 1 disembarkation at the pool side,

Natalie Williams at poolside

Natalie Williams at poolside

What swelled for the following days and evenings were not the seawaves, but the swing, the cool sounds of jazz all over the ship. Another ‘house’ band which entertained, but incurred unfortunate time conflicts, was the Celebrity X Summit House Band led by South African-born, New Zealand- resident, Andrea Lisa who sang as well as played guitar. They offered youthful bursts of improvisations, a bit of rock and pop, and danceable songs that pleased the seasoned crowd.

Rubbing shoulders with the artists before and after their gigs, and taking selfies with these celebrities was permitted, but not interviews, at least formal ones. This is America’s music industry – one must work through the musicians’ agents. Nevertheless, Marcus Miller was easy to find wandering the ship

Program Manager Marcus Miller

Program Manager Marcus Miller

 

and availing his friendly self to passing chats with passengers, as were other artists when their time and energies permitted. Most, however, remained a bit hidden from the masses, and for due reason, many preparing for their daily gigs.

Energy is key on an event-filled cruise like this. Sleeping ‘late’ might mean missing a morning shore excursion in San Juan, or opportunity to just walk around on the sands of Haiti’s Labadee island (exclusive only to cruise ships) and enjoy the sea breezes. One might forsake those hefty lunches or dinners in order to slip away for a power nap (on the beach or cabin bed) that recharges for the evening rackets.

Most cruises offer choices of activities, but for the music lover, the jazz never stopped.

The Horns talk to us

The Horns talk to us

Marcus Miller, Dave Sanborn, and Don Was held interviews with featured musicians which took the listener to realms of the artist’s creativity not well known or previously broadcast.

The youngest on board, 23-year old saxophonist, Grace Kelly, held her own amongst these legends with grand poise.

Besides individual interviews, instrumental groups had their say, my favourite being the drummer group made up of the indomitable Greg Hutchinson, Miller’s drummer, Greg Bailey, The Bad Plus’s energetic drummer, Dave King, and the awesome Billy Kilson.

The drummers talk to us

The drummers talk to us

Sanborn’s conversational style steered the chats well, inserting his own multi-layered experiences playing with the various musicians. Bountiful stories emerged, adding dimensions of wit and depths of learning about what jazz and improvisation in the music industry is all about.

Day 1 set the pace with a blue-skyed Saturday, Feb 4, as the 2100 passenger Celebrity Summit left the Fort Lauderdale port to slowly steam eastward first to the Bahamas, then on to Puerto Rico. I didn’t have time to gape out of my ocean view cabin as there were other things to do, like listen to live jazz! As I got into the elevator, I tripped over Gregory Porter’s little boy wallowing on the elevator flour and heard Porter’s sonorous voice announce to fellow passengers how ‘this naughty boy’ is giving him a hard time!

Gregory Porter by poolside

Gregory Porter by poolside

Porter excused himself as he and child exited the elevator and wished us all good times! Later, I reminded Gregory how we met at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival a few years back, something he well remembered. What I recall back then, as I sat at his rehearsal led by conductor and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, was the band waiting some 45 min for Porter to arrive! Apparently his manager was not informed of the exact time of this important rehearsal for that evening’s performance!! Oh well….. Noone would have known!

During disembarkation at 4pm sharp, the poolside was bustling as the Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars kicked off the 7 day festival. Boy, did that set the pace! I took some videos of that fun bash, took free celebratory drinks on hand, then popped down to the Rendezvous lounge for Joshua Redman and his group – it was his drummer Greg Hutchinson that blew me away.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

He later played with the Peter Martin’s trio. At that point, after this energetic set, I didn’t care where I was going…..I was just going with that jazz flow!! The Greek-born, Ecuador-resident Captain Alex told us where we were going in his comical and zesty way. He was clearly into the vibe as well. Robert Glasper’s trio came on next at the main Celebrity Theater stage at 9pm.

Robert Glasper on stage

Robert Glasper on stage

Thanks to Glasper’s usual comic wit and not too subtle digs at his own fame and fortune, we enjoyed his self-toasting and, at times, roasting. This evening kick-off was just the beginning of evening sessions happening throughout the week which witnessed artists whimsically indulging in comical presentation about their often erratic mis-notes and fancy feelings about their own artistry, all in the name of entertainment. And it was.

 

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Around 10.30pm, I wonder up to the 11th floor’s Revelations Lounge which becomes the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club at sea, a small intimate venue for good listening and interactions. The Cuban trio of Harold Lopez-Nussa were performing, his brother on drums and a younger up and coming double bassist blowing me away. Boy, was this place humming with its blue ceiling lighting and purple hues that matched my jersey. Yeah, it was air conditioned and ‘chilly’, maybe around 20 degrees C, in spite of the warm(er) air outside. The cocktail booklet greeted my table with $10 drinks. Lopez’s melodic piano and his percussionist sitting on his box drum pounding away with a soft salsa was a welcomed change from Glasper’s philosophic and intense solo piano. By 11pm I was already on overload – but bassist Marcus Miller and Grammy-award singer, Lalah Hathaway, were just starting on the large theatre stage!

Lalah Hathaway on stage

Lalah Hathaway on stage with saxophonist Alex Han

What would the rest of the week be like, I pondered nervously, wondering if my age and beauty could keep up with it all!! It was a very sound sleep that followed after midnight. I was reaching the beginnings of my musical nirvana….

See more photos at: www.bluenoteatsea.com/gallery-2017

Sunset clouds

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Pianist Kyle Shepherd’s sonic scaffolding continues to enthrall: an Interview.

Grounding a song with left hand pounding out the steady chords, while the right fingers tickled lines, chords, and pearly runs up and down the heavily microphoned piano, the listener was carried through soundscapes of the Kyle Shepherd Trio’s vast repertoire once again.

Kyle Shepherd

                        Kyle Shepherd

On 25 February, Shepherd trio fans experienced another jolt as this 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year pianist, Kyle Shepherd, and his very loyal double bassist Shane Cooper and drummer Jonno Sweetman raised the Reeler Theater roof again at Capetown’s Rondebosh Boy’s High School.  Coopers’ intense plucks and plunks dialoguing with Sweetman’s clackety, forceful drums exploded into crescendos of delight as the trio maneuvered through old and new Shepherd compositions.

You could tell, see, hear, and feel these peers listening intently to each other. They had to; and have done so for the past 9 years.  That’s the make-up of these three masters of their craft as they collaborate, offering their individual sounds. Shepherd’s newer compositions crafted a lot of behind-the-beat, and in-front-of-the-beat, and delayed, punctuated beats on several songs, playing around with off beats that are becoming common in his forward-looking musical journey.

Kyle Shepherd trio in Japan, May  2016

Kyle Shepherd trio at Straight No Chaser; credit: Gregory Franz

The 94-minute session was only interrupted when the pianist looked into the audience, and apologized for the lights still being on.   They were quickly dimmed.  The thirsty pianist also had to ask for water which might have embarrassed the stage organizers somewhat.  But maybe not.

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

What Shepherd did not tell the audience, even amidst the cameras and sound recording equipment strewn across the stage, was that this concert was the second and final recital required for completing his Masters degree!  It would be submitted digitally as a video presentation.  But even if the audience knew this, I have no doubts that their applause, standing ovations, whistles and cat calls of appreciation would have been less intense,  for this concert was very special, indeed, a culmination of a decade’s worth of hard work, commitment, and growth in developing talents.

Kyle 1

I caught up with Kyle before his concert:

CM:  We live in a strange world where artistry is being stressed out. Some artists are more political than others.  Listeners don’t want to hear about politics either, preferring to listen to music to relax. Yet some artists are message-givers, like Gregory Porter, who writes his own lyrics.  What’s your message now?

KS:  In the beginning of my career, I focused on my ethnic and traditional background.  After the first 3 albums of this, I felt I had to move on towards more global sounds and transcending borders more.  I think borders are human fabrications. I discovered this after traveling for 10 years and meeting people from so many different places around the world, only to see how common we all are.  So the music I’m writing now reflects these realizations I’ve gleaned over the years.  I don’t feel the strong pull to create cultural music of the past.

CM:  Are you saying that perhaps your music is moving into, what some would say, is an ‘intellectual’ mode?

KS:  I think a little bit.  It had to happen a little bit. But it’s not purely intellectual.  I had to start combining other elements.   Now, the sound is more expansive, but in a concert setting I can go in between these two worlds, and can play just Cape cultural music for 30 or 40 minutes if I feel like it. Or, if I play with Xhosa or Zulu musicians, I feel very comfortable with their type of sound….playing Mbaqanga for 90 minutes or more.  Now, with my trio, we have metric challenges in the compositions, but for me, it’s what music I’m feeling in my heart that counts.

CM:  You’re starting to touch on style, and I was wondering how or if your band members are influencing you.  How do you collaborate?

KS:  We’ve been together for 9 years.  In the beginning, for the first 3 years, I had a singular vision on the sound I wanted to create.  I was studying all these cultural influences from South Africa, like what Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana and Winston Mankunku were doing, and I wanted to combine these with my jazz style.   And then, I hit a ceiling – from lack of inspiration, and that necessitates a whole different type of research.  I started this research with my band members because Shane and Jonno came from a totally different cultural and economic background to mine.  So the type of music they were talking about on our planes and buses wasn’t the type of music I grew up with.   I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, thankfully!  I realized that if I want to expand my scope, I can start with the people they were talking about…. Mostly rock musicians.  Rock wasn’t a sound I knew at all in my upbringing.  My Cape flats life – we listened to R&B, soul, smooth jazz – stuff like that.  Then I started listening to RadioHead smashing funk and rock, and loved the energy and found the spirit quite akin to what we as a trio do in jazz…..sometimes frantic, sometimes crazy, really energetic.  So that’s what we do but sonically on a much smaller scale!  So Shane and Jonno influenced me in that way.  I felt like writing music for all of us and keeping everyone’s musical personality in mind.  The emotional investment in the sound becomes like their own stuff. I found we are all connected on a much higher level as I wrote for them.

CM:  I notice that you seem to prefer the acoustic piano, yet have played the electric piano with other groups, like on Claude Cozen’s “Jubilee Jam” album.  Is that so?

KS:  I have no aversion to the electronic instruments at all –  I have a few keyboards at home.  I use the electronic more with the film and documentaries I’ve written for because I love the analog synthesizers.  If I could afford it, I’d have a room full of Moogs.  I love sounds and the analog ones.

This sound is coming back into contemporary music , like Radio Head, and the Little Dragon. They’re all using analogs now and  I love synthesizers.

But when I think of the trio,  I think acoustic, since we’re all playing acoustic. If others are playing electronic bass, for instance, I can play electric piano.  But it comes down to the sound you want to create with the individual band members.

CM:  Sometimes you put things on the piano strings – like cardboard or paper  –  to get a specific sound effect, which may alter the traditional acoustic sound…. But you convey a message.

KS:  Yeah, I like doing that.  It’s almost like using the analog synthesis without the wires.  As you know, I play a lot of other instruments. But I find that sonically, the piano is very one-dimensional. You plonk a note and it stays as that note.  With a bass or saxophone, you can bend notes.  So I like to create other textures using what we call ‘prepared piano’ which means putting things on the strings to get sound effects.

CM:  Cultivating the traditional instrumental jazz idiom, however it’s done, is a lifelong mission.  But you are now delving into the world of film scoring.  Is this because there are more opportunities in this genre, particularly here where there is a growing film industry in South Africa, or is it something you like?

KS:  On a practical level,  I had to make a decision.  Here in Capetown now, there are no more jazz venues to play at, whereas for years I had gigs 4-5 times a week with no problem.  I could pay the bills and perform.  Now, the film opportunity came.  I love film, my wife’s a film buff, and her father is a film director.  So we take note of the cinematography and the score – we’ve always done that.  And there’s composition in film.  It’s not just compiling pre-recorded music for film; it’s actually intense composition.   At first, I wasn’t sure it was for me, but when I got to the end of my first film scoring which was for Noem My Skollie, I felt that this was something I can do, that I would like to do.

CM:  Your songs were featured in other films, like Action Kommandant, about Ashley Kriel….

KS:  Yeah, those were already pre-recorded.  But for Noem, the songs were originally composed for the film.  Again, I loved the idea of Noem My Skollie because the sound you can operate in is so expansive – from orchestras to crazy sound module stuff which I love.   If I could do one or two films a year, I’d be very happy.  My ideal life going forward is doing both:  performing and film scoring.

CM:  You write poetry. Are you interested in writing lyrics for songs?

KS:  I used to write counterparts to my compositions, but not any more.  I used to read live as part of the performance.  It’s not something I’m particularly interested in doing now.   But if I compose something, and there’s an inspiration for a text, then that’s cool.

CM:  Interested in playing any other instruments?

KS:  (Ha ha ha!).  My practice routine now is …..  my music is heavily baseline driven.  I play this odd-metre repeated chords with my left hand, while with the right hand, I tap out on the snare drum for 30 minutes.  This helps to develop rootedness  and stamina of my left hand while also keeping the grooviness going.  You have to be groovy when you play drums, there’s no other way!!!  So that’s my practice thing, playing odd-time signatures and repeated patterns with the left hand but playing drums at the same time with a drum stick in the right hand. It’s also fun.

I had struggled to make practice fun which is part of the challenge!  After ten years of playing, you have to make fun.  Otherwise, it’s just mechanical.  I tell my private students this all the time.

CM:  Are you interested in teaching?

KS:  I’m finishing my  Masters degree at Stellenbosh University. It was funded by the British Council. I focused on half performance, half research  – an orthography of my own process of composing and improvising, and interrogated Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana’s process as I know it from their work and writings.  This opens up new opportunities, perhaps, for education and teaching, but I don’t see myself there yet.

CM:  There was a time when you were collaborating with another group in a festival – with the Beatenberg  band.  In terms of the future of South African jazz, is your music remaining in the ‘jazz’ genre, if that’s what you want to call it? Many ‘jazz’ musicians renounce the description, saying  “I just play music”!

KS:  Yeah.  I feel the same.  We can’t take improvisation away, because the way we phrase is jazz.  But now there’s so much influence from contemporary music  in what we’re doing, from classical music to ethnic or primitive music .  I can’t call it just one thing anymore.  But festival producers and record label producers – it helps them  to catalogue ‘jazz’.   The different textures and emotions and themes all piled into one sound – is hard to define.

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit:  Seigo Matsunaga

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit: Seigo Matsunaga

CM:  Speaking about emotions.  I found a quote you made that referenced ‘emotional disposition of a character in a scene’,  ‘sonic scaffolding for those emotions’,  – you’re using very poetic words here – ‘emotional anonymity’ ….

KS:  I had to learn how to write when doing my thesis – that was a big thing, to write properly!  What I meant by ‘emotional anonymity’, when I wrote my solo works on my own albums, there’s a deep emotional investment in it – like an emotional rollercoaster.  But what I like about composing for films is that there’s the requirement to just tell the story; my own emotions fall by the wayside, they don’t count.   By ‘emotional scaffolding’, I mean create the sound, the spine of what’s being seen.  What you see on the screen falls onto the sound.   The music is a very important part of filmmaking.

CM:  You would consider yourself to be a very visual person?  You’re driven by visuals.

KS:  Yeah,  I think so.  When I see star performances by actors in films, it tells me what kind of sound I have to produce, what I have to compose.  For me, it’s a welcome release from having to compose something solo or concert music because you have none of that emotional pictorial context.  All that content, all the narrative is coming from you, by yourself.

CM:  Have you considered doing slides and visuals put to your music?

KS:  Right now, I’m collaborating with a photographer.  We’re doing a performance on 11 May at the Youngblood Gallery in Bree Street.  I’ll work with his photo projections.

CM:  Anything else?

KS:  I went through a really bad period with the closing of venues in Capetown for gigs. It really depressed me.  My plea is do something, who’s going to help us musicians?  Traveling has become very difficult with prices so high.  Also, my trio has lost two possible performances in the U.S. because of the change of government there now, and the sponsoring organizations are not sure of funds coming in to support jazz/music efforts.  One in New York, one in Washington DC.

But with the film prospects in South Africa, the future is looking brighter now with many film productions in Capetown and a lot more funding is becoming available.  So there’s something to do there.  As a composer, I’m quite excited about that.  But as an artist, I would love to be able to play in concerts and gigs with my trio, with appreciative audiences, and with different collaborations – through jazz and also composing for visual media projects.  That’s what I’m working hard towards, where I would like things to go.  It’s like I’m at the beginning of my composing career!  It’s like ten years all over again.  You know, when my first few albums were released, I was flying all over the country doing gigs and launches, driving to radio stations to deliver my CDs, etc., essentially doing the leg work to promote my music.  Luckily, with the digital age, things have become a bit easier to promote oneself.  But now,  with my composing career, I’m doing the same thing, just not physically.

@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@

In an announcement made on Thursday, 16 Feb 2017, Kyle Shepherd, who composed the film score for Noem My Skollie / Call Me Thief, was nominated for South African Film & Television Award [SAFTA] for Best Achievement in an Original Music Score in a Feature Film.  In a major feat, the film scored 10 SAFTA nominations including Best Feature Film & Best Director (Daryne Joshua).  The original soundtrack of the film is now available for purchase, worldwide, on all major digital retail platforms via Gallo Record Company.

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Jazz trumpeter, Feya Faku, knights drummer Jeff Siegel’s Quartet in kingly fashion in “King of Xhosa” CD.

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff 'Siege' Siegel, drums

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums

American drummer, Jeff Siegel, has discovered and gleefully responded to the beckoning African sounds from a musical ‘king’ of the Xhosa people in South Africa, trumpet and fugelhorn wizard, Feya Faku. For those who know him, Faku is known to carry himself certainly in a kingly, but humble, way with the various peers he has played with around the world. As special artist on Siegel’s latest album, “King of Xhosa”, he has indeed knighted Siegel’s Quartet with stunning applause and African sound dimensions that are very special. Both musicians have benefited as teachers of jazz in their respective countries which might explain how the multi-faceted songs landed in this album, with lots of sharing of compositions amongst band members: Erica Lindsay presents her sonorous tenor saxophone on most tracks; pianist Francesca Tanksley keeps the pace, sometimes with a heavy bottom clef or whimsical treble runs, as in her ‘Prayer’; and bassist Rich Syracuse, also a professor, holds the backline tightly, with percussionist Fred Berryhill filling in with samba and other African rhythms.

Xhosa-cover-web

This eclectic album, released this January 2017 by Artists Recording Collective label, starts and ends with Africanness, thanks to Faku’s praise vocals in the beginning ‘Totem’ and Berryhill’s percussion at the end song ‘Umngqungqo (Rhythm)’. In between, the album boasts a mosaic of impressions: open sonic spaces of the South African countryside with Faku’s fugelhorn brilliantly invoking spiritual calling and elephant roars, as in ‘Call to Spirits’; post-bebop tributes to struggling musicians, as in Tanksley’s ‘Life on the Rock’; unattended heros, like Faku’s teachers who gave so much towards cultural growth in others, as in the duo, ‘Courage’ and ‘Unsung’. The latter soulfully presents that familiar Faku touch strengthened by an eloquent Siegel drum solo.

But it’s the prayerful, spiritual nature of mood and message that grabs as Faku weaves his horn’s melodies through solemn chats with Lindsay’s saxophone, as in the thought-provoking ‘Prayer’, which is Siegel’s favourite song on the album.

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Faku continues to develop his spiritual soundscape by wandering mournfully through “Ballad of the Innocent”, a beautifully crafted piece by Siegel written after the Brussels bombing. It speaks to a need for reflective quietude so that humanity can realize peace and hope for a better world. One hears the pain and struggle for this through Faku’s sensitive manoeuvres as he reverently enhances the mood through conversations with the tenor saxophone. His familiar signature tone is heard also in a ballad-soothing, ‘Inner Passion’, which both Faku and Siegel agree all musicians must have to drive their musicality.

Siegel’s drums set the pace in ‘Gotta Get To It’, an upbeat message after a lilting slow ballad. One hears Coltrane influences from saxophonist and educator Lindsay who penned this piece, which explains her love for bop. The sax and trumpet make carefree play, frolicking very nicely over the keys and rhythms. Once appropriately woken up from a musical slumber, the album intersects with fast beats dominated by Siegel’s skilled percussive direction, like in the salsa inspired “Erica’s Bag”.

Francesca Tanksley

Francesca Tanksley

Feya Faku not only boasts a distinctly clear and relatively uncomplicated sound with clean runs and tonation on his instruments, but also continually activates his intuitive ears which enable him to collaborate with so many other greats. He cannot be ‘compared’ with others; his uniqueness, both in musical mechanics, spirit, and technique can best be measured by the honesty of delivery he gives to so many of his albums. This album shines with Faku’s integrity. And it’s Afro-fusion has rubbed off on the Jeff Siegel Quartet in very special ways.

"King of Xhosa" Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

“King of Xhosa” Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

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SABC Studios brings live Jazz from the diaspora: Trumpeter Darren English excites!

On Saturday evening, 14 January 2017, the Sea Point/Capetown SABC Studios came alive, even with few people, fans, robust jazz fanatics, family members – to hear and watch the gentle, yet extraordinary, person of trumpeter and drummer, Darren English. Born and bred in Capetown, this now Atlanta-based young music wizard followed his organizational mentor, radio broadcaster Shado Twala, to present a two-nighter of his music before he returns to USA next week, and showcase his Capetown band which offered equally awesome gifts to us listeners.

Darren English at SABC Studios 14 Jan 2017; courtesy: Diane Rossi

Darren English at SABC Studios 14 Jan 2017; courtesy: Diane Rossi

Soft-spoken Darren, dressed in tie and jacket, looked reassured and in control as he swung his band through careful improvisations on some jazz Standards as well as his own compositions featured in his first CD with Hot Shoe Records, entitled ‘Imagine Nation’.

Even though Darren cut his album in the USA (2016) with American musicians, he allowed his stage mates to shine their talents throughout, never dominating the conversations. This humility seems one of his stellar characteristics as a team player….to bring out the best in others.

Mark Fransman. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Mark Fransman. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

The thoughtful and expressive piano of Mark Fransman was immersed throughout. Double bassist, Benjamin Jephta, highlighted his own presence by vocal scatting his scales with precision. A stunner was drummer, Clement Benny, who just wouldn’t give up. I felt his drums were too aggressive in the 2nd song of the gig, but his handling of a basic drum kit was quite riveting, generally. In one song, Clement joins in a quiet gospel-ish ballad by tapping with an empty plastic water bottle on his symbols. Now there’s another soundscape!

Bass: Benjamin Jephta; drums: Clement Benny; trumpet: Darren English. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Bass: Benjamin Jephta; drums: Clement Benny; trumpet: Darren English. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Darren’s own trumpet stayed mainstream and managed to hide impulses to shimmy into fast runs heard on his CD, which was a studio recording. Fortunately, live gigs like this one offer other ways to showcase songs, musicians, and musical emotions.

A welcomed short break to digest the first hour’s arousing offerings prepared us for an exciting and different second set. A trio emerged for the first few songs, this time with Darren on drums with a highly improvising piano and adjoining double bass. Darren enjoys this new physicality, one can hear, as he showcased his other talent, drumming being his early start at home as a pre-teen.

Shado Twala organizer and MC.  Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Shado Twala organizer and MC. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

The evening displayed not just how young talent can grow with multiple types of musical experiences as Darren has witnessed from his jaunts through many States of USA, but how other seasoned local musicians can add value and loyalty through peer growth. Such events also show fan and friend loyalties when people like jazz festival organizer,

Rashid Lombard greeting Darren

Rashid Lombard greeting Darren

Rashid Lombard (of ESPafrika), and Twala, the event organizer, and former teachers and mentors Professor Mike Rossi and Fred Kuit, show up …. At least on this Saturday evening.

With the scarcity of regular jazz ‘clubs’ in Capetown, the SABC Studios with its excellent sound system and comfortable seating should be used more often to support jazz and music culture which so many of us are thirsty for. Thanks to Shado Twala, who works in the building, for organizing this event!!

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