Cape Jazz Piano, Vol 5, says it all: a CD Review

For anyone wanting to learn more about, or just listen to the tried and tested tunes from the Cape jazz legends, this album guarantees without disappointing. It’s perfectly listenable, even for those inevitable urban traffic jams as delightful tunes and rhythms spew forth from the comforts of your car’s (no doubt) excellent sound system. Designed and produced by Paddy Lee-Thorp and recorded at Milestone Studios in Capetown in 2018, rarely does an album harness the clear articulations and different styles of key pianists known to also ‘cross over’, from the Cape ghoema and musical inflections unique to this part of South Africa into other ‘genres’ of songs made popular by their highly melodic, soulful, and danceable content….yet stay true to ‘Cape jazz’. Let’s explore.

Jazz pianists were asked to play songs rated as ‘standards’ of the Cape. Most played at least one of their own creations which will have you melt away into their enticingly simple stories, even with reinterpretations.

Hilton Schilder, known for both his love and mastery of Khoisan instruments, teases with his two piano-crafted Khoisan Symphony pieces – the listener at first hears a familiar ballad-style which breaks out into rhythmic ghoema, and returns to the melodic soul. We return to the camp fire after the hunt.

Ramon Alexander stays true to tradition, again with ballad intros that break into a zesty Cape ghoema in ‘Club Montreal’ (written by Tony Schilder, father of Hilton). Alexander has always explored the emotions and musical depths of his musical gurus and this song perks with loving affirmation.

Ibrahim Shihab & Ramon Alexander

In his next presentation, ‘Kaapse Medley; Alexander plays his own piece, ‘Take Me Back to Capetown’, with that love for the rhythmic and soul-lifting Cape sound…yet, with a twist.

Mike Perry, known to have played with local legends of saxman Winston Mankunku and Robbie Jansen, has revived his ‘Green and Gold’ song, a tribute to the new South Africa, and the well-versed ‘Crossroads’ which depicts those township days announcing that freedom-is-here. These tunes are not just copies; they’re expressing something awesomely new about realities 20 years hence. Just listen.

But the real don of this album is Ibrahim Kalil Shihab’s (aka Chris Schilder, uncle to Hilton) medleys.   His popular and reinvented ‘Give a Little Love’, commonly voiced over the years by many Capeys, is refreshingly presented  as its author finds slippery and then defined routes to truthfully navigate this essentially beautiful tune of love, as bluesy as it is. A remarkable interpretation and so listenable. Likewise, his ‘All Through the Years’ continues to push his own sound into that contemporary style of improvising on the theme. Just listen.

This is why ‘Cape Jazz Piano’ is a collector’s item; the songs are ageless, ever storytelling, and ultimately danceable and celebratory…… yet still evoking newer messaging and sound styling.  I wonder in awe what Volume 6 might look like!

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