Serpentine Jazz, a gig and CD Review by Carol Martin

Straight No Chaser, a leading jazz listening club in Cape Town, featured an evening of free flowing improvisation with two unlikely instruments: a tuba and a …. serpent. Two of the European ‘Three Seasons’, pianist Patrick Bebelaar and Michel Godard on tuba and….serpent…., together with our University’s own saxman, Mike Rossi, and electronics percussion guru Ulrich Suesse, offered an evening of pops, whistles, rustles, nature sounds, and human traffic disturbances.

Patrick Babelaar (piano), Mike Rossi (sax), Michel Godard (tuba) at SNC

Patrick Babelaar (piano), Mike Rossi (sax), Michel Godard (tuba) at SNC

At least for me. I sat amused, chuckling out loud, sometimes confused, and almost whimsical as I watched Michel’s tuba-like serpent blow its lower register fantasies into the audience. Not your usual jazz standards. But I loved it, and thank SNC for being the place it’s meant to be: for musicians to feel free to experiment with and present the unusual.

Liking this evening’s musical drama on stage, I bought the Three Seasons’ album, named after them, which includes old-timer master drummer, Gunter ‘Baby’ Sommer. Well, wasn’t this another trip?!     Issued in 2014, “Three Seasons” sparks baroque and romantic classical idioms put to free style improvisation, with touches of India, Arab, and South African influences. I usually listen to an album at least twice before assessing it. But this one put me in a spin right away. If one can listen and discern carefully the difference between the tuba and serpent sounds, then your ears will be well rewarded.

The Serpent held by Michel Godard

A dreamy, muffled solo of the serpent starts this album journey repeating only a few notes, but skilfully and meditatively. When Gunter’s drums break into the next piece, I settle back, thinking I’ll have a nice hour’s meditation session. Hardly! A frenetic tuba awakes in ‘Morning Light’, followed by a thunderous drum and impressive serpent calls and runs in “Three for Jens”. Nine of the 11 songs on this album are compositions of the group. The familiar arises with a most unusual rendition of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” which is when I woke up from my meditative stupor. Completely jolted by my favourite on this album, “Inside Outside Shout”, I realised what entering a sweat lodge for a dose of shamanic self-purging is all about. I was getting purged. Again, the rustling of the serpent kept me spell-bound. Thank goodness, towards the end of this fascinating album, I was finding some resolution, coming out of my hideout with the melodic, mournful, and solemn “Days of Wheeping Delights”, with (I think) a beautiful tuba solo. But, it seems that brass horn serpent has soothed somehow. I just wish I was more aware of it during its live performance at SNC. Oh well, next time…..and there will be one!

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