Bassist Sean Sanby’s steps out of the candlelight into creative spaces: an album review

As viral clouds permeate our unsuspecting Sapien world, a sonic light of hope shines into our being. Bassist Sean Sanby wants us to realise our own potentials in his ambitious debut album, Out of the Candlelight.

“Most of the songs were written in high school, like in ‘Take Me Somewhere’, and during and after College,” he says during our chat.

“I had just gotten my driver’s license and was studying for those stressful exams; I just wanted to escape to somewhere, even though Cape Town where I come from is such a beautiful place. You know, in High School you rise in the food chain, but then when you enter College, you get knocked down to the bottom of that food chain and have to make your way up again. Like being thrown into the deep end, and needing to go somewhere…”

This song certainly took this listener off into ghoema beats and Moses Molelekwa influences. It appropriately ends this story-filled album.

After graduating from the University of Cape Town School of Music in jazz studies, and touring a bit with his band, even venturing to China for an 18 month tour with Matilda the Musical, Sanby became excited to find an explosion of original music in Cape Town among his peers. It was time to crack open his many compositions for public consumption. His sound is influenced not only by the great pianists, Molelekwa as well as Bheki Mseleku, but by Sanby’s childhood romps around South Africa with his family, camping as ‘Starscrapers’, a song describing a fairy-like twinkling of stars in open spaces. Other influences touched Sanby as he performed in various festivals like Italy’s Achevia Jazz Festival where he wrote ‘Letters Home’, a slow, whimsical nostalgia of missing home. This piece, as well as ‘Take Me Somewhere’, showcases the close synergy between Muneeb Hermans’ trumpet and Jesse Jullies’ tenor saxophone, both swinging with Cape rhythms and styles.

Other young musicians featured on the album have their time to shine: Bradley Prince on guitar, Brathew van Schalkwyk on piano as in ‘Give Me Time’, and Damian Kamineth on drums. They all grew up with Sanby as a Cape brotherhood that has allowed for collaborative experimentation over the years as they share their musical thoughts. “Dreamers” which enters half way in the album opens a waltzy dreamy temperament as the musicians dream up big ideas that might happen. Sanby believes in dreams; it’s part of pursuing that light of progress from the candlelight. “Rise and Fall” seems to give space to the musicians who effectively take turns at exploring that timidity that comes from moving in and out of sonic opportunities. A well-composed piece.

He gives about equal play time on the electric and acoustic bass. “I prefer to play acoustic bass on those African-inspired songs, like ‘Out of the Candlelight’, ‘Letters Home’, and ‘Take me Somewhere’. The acoustic bass has that natural sound, a wooden, weighted African sound and feel to it. The electric bass is more agile and allows me to paint more colours. You can get away with a lot more.” For instance, there was more chordal playing in ‘Starscrapers’ which, he felt, was not suitable for the double bass.

“I find it’s fun to adapt songs to either the double bass or electric bass. I sometimes bring to a live gig one of my basses to see how the song might come out differently because the instrument changes the feel and flow of the song. I explore what is the best way for the song to sound.”

The album was recorded and mixed in a few days, and as expected, has a different feel from his live gig launch where drummer Kamineth shows his soft and aggressive approach to the sonic life, as in the bouncy ‘Give Me Time’. Sanby’s upcoming album has songs already plugged in for “a more focused album”, he says. It will include more musicians collaborating, and should be a must-hear for fans wanting more from this spirited group of Cape Town friends.

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