Author Archives: Carol Martin

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.

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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. By Carol Martin

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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“Take Another Five”(2016): The Mike Rossi Project takes Odd Rhythmic Improv Journeys. By Carol Martin

The great jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, and reconciliation leader, Nelson Mandela, both men passing on 5 December one year apart (2012 and 2013 respectively), are memorialized in this latest album orchestrated by Professor Mike Rossi of Jazz Studies in the South African College of Music, University of Capetown. For students and professionals alike, or even for the timid uninitiated, it is a study in ‘odd’ rhythms* built upon Rossi’s publications which feature works in 5/4, 7/4, and 9/4 ‘time’. Pleasing sonic innovations abound.

Album cover by Capetown artist, Beezy Bailey

Album cover by Capetown artist, Beezy Bailey

Melodies ooze as one journeys through samba-scapes to infectious New Orleans dixie to memories of youth in the family barbershop, continuing on to an Italian village that hand makes the Rampone & Cazzani saxophones which Rossi so diligently markets, then to everyday life in South Africa since Rossi’s arrival in 1989. Resting in South Africa, Rossi gives tribute to South African-born wife, Diane, in a song which references ‘uncommon’ bebop performed in his doctoral recitals after they married. A quirky trip with a Czech orchestra performing a Peter Farmer concertino rounds out this multi-rhythmic compilation of Rossi compositions plus others’. Excitement abounds in every piece.

With a stellar band lineup of four horn players, plus baseline, the album threads through impressive and mostly clean solo scale runs, some challenging part harmonies and chats between the horns, and the skilful piano backup of Andrew Ford whose Nut House Studios recorded the live segments of the album in April 2016.

Mike Rossi at The Crypt

Mike Rossi at The Crypt

Besides Rossi’s various Rampone saxophones, plus clarinet and flute, Willy Haubrich’s trombone excelled in both range and technique. Likewise, guest artist Darren English, a young Capetonian trumpet wizard, fresh from United States gig runs, leaves one spellbound with his endless confidence. National Youth Jazz Band trumpeter/flugelhornist, Marco Maritz, shows great promise as well. The solid drums of seasoned Kevin Gibson predictably complement well. The double bass of Charles Lazar remained quieter and more layback in what essentially is a horn-dominated album.

The first track, “Take Another Five”, elegantly follows on the Dave Brubeck ‘Take Five’ tradition of 5/4 time, and was motivated by a tour with son Darius Brubeck’s band after the deaths of both legends. Rossi’s world tours with the likes of Darius inspired other Rossi tunes, like “To and Fro” with some fast and fearless runs by all three horns in sometimes erratic unison. The 9/4 samba rhythm supported by Gibson’s faithful drumming is dizzying, and further executed by English’s unrelenting scale runs. The rare flute adds rhythmic harmonies, but not enough.

A Rossi favourite Billy Strayhorn piece, ”Lush Life”, features his tenor sax in a careful, slow sonic duo with Ford’s relatively steady piano. Then ‘Nicholas’, a tribute to Rossi’s godson and written in Rossi’s family barbershop offers lots of clean solos with Ford’s tinkling piano, a conversational trombone, and lovely horn arrangements, all remarkably orderly. Rossi solos on the altello saxophone which gives out pleasantly rich and full-bodied tones.

Enter a New Orleans flavour in “Seven from Heaven”, Rossi starts out on clarinet that teases and moves to tenor sax, followed by a funky bop that connotes a New Orleans funereal romp that morfs into a joyful Dixie swing commemorating the deceased. The party has begun! Another tribute to the hand made saxophone craftsmanship takes us to Quarna Sotto, Italy, in “Quarna On My Mind”.

Darren English

Darren English

It’s like listening to villagers chatting: English’s breathless trumpet solo is followed by Rossi’s tenor sax which is followed by Haubrich’s chatty trombone which is followed by….. The horns then regroup in this challenging piece, and produce a fluid and pleasing resolve. Having said that, all three horns must run together again in “Beauty and the Blues”, through tidy harmonies, distinct trumpet statements, and phrases spewing boppish appeal. One of the few double bass solos by Lazar, hardly audible, breaks up the excited horn wah wahs which still remain subtlety enticing in their three part harmonies. What sounds like a difficult piece turns into a sensitively crafted and well-rehearsed soundscape engaging to the ear.

Haubrick, Maritz, and Rossi at Native Yards, Gugulethu; Dec 2016

Haubrick, Maritz, and Rossi at Native Yards, Gugulethu; Dec 2016

The saxophone remains supreme. “Lament for N.S.M.” presents Rossi’s (New Saxophone Music) tribute to the peace and harmony (of the sax) that can refine our madly rushed lives. Likewise, “Saxophone (s) Plus One” breaks with tradition again: Rossi plays his four saxes creatively dubbed to the often percussive electronic backing of Ulrich Suesse with whom Rossi collaborated in their 2008 album. Here, sax versatility hums with verve and pizazz – if one likes the atonality of electronic wisps.

“Lady Di”, dedicated to wife of 26 years, is a study in chromatic language set into various recitals, publications, and teachings on meter shifts over time, starting with Rossi’s doctoral incarceration from the mid-1990s at Boston’s Conservatory of Music. Trade offs are bartered individually as each instrument spars for recognition, particularly Rossi’s tenor. Then the song becomes melodic as horns frolic amongst themselves. A delightful tempered piece.

The album ends on a different note: a previous recording of Rossi performing, with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, a piece by Peter Farmer entitled, “Concertino for Tenor Saxophone and Orchestra”. As a symphonic guide to the sax, this piece which comes from a hymn expresses what Rossi might applaud as transformative and introspective ‘’odd time” with a bluesy feel, or some such thing. Whatever the analysis, this album features innovation, exceptionalism, and what this writer simplistically would call, “just good ole unconventional jazz”!

The Mike Rossi Project: Take Another Five is dedicated to Dave Brubeck and Nelson Mandela and
features Andrew Ford (piano), Kevin Gibson (drums), Charles Lazar (double bass), William Haubrich (trombone) and Marco Maritz (trumpet & fugelhorn) with special guest Darren English (trumpet). Mike Rossi plays baritone, tenor, alto, altello, and soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute.

Publication 'Odd Times"

Publication ‘Odd Times”

 

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Jazz Pianist Blake Hellaby blazes into “New Beginnings”: An Interview and CD Review

A relaxed Leigh-Ann met me for the first time as she and her husband, Blake, finished their lunch at La Vie Restaurant on Beach Road in Sea Point, Capetown. I had heard her for the first time at their “New Beginnings” CD launch at the Nassau (Groot Schuur High School) several Sundays ago, as she opened their set with two mellow Christian songs which have inspired both of them in their personal and musical journeys.

 

Blake and wife Leigh-Ann Hellaby at CD launch 27 November 2016

Blake and wife Leigh-Ann Hellaby at CD launch 27 November 2016

In 2013, Blake was selected to be part of the Standard Bank National Youth Band, The Standard Bank Schools’ Big Band, as well as The Miagi Youth Orchestra. He has performed at The Oslo Jazz Festival, The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Jo’burg Joy of Jazz Festival, The Grahamstown Jazz Festival, The Young Euro Classic Festival in Berlin, and at Jazz on The Rocks – Titties Baai. He has also toured Burgundy, France with The Delft Big Band.

I spoke with Blake and Leigh Ann about their musical journeys, life together, and what makes them tick.

CM: What do you mean by ‘New Beginnings’? You had mentioned at your concert that your songs were inspired after experiencing some travails of life before your first son was born.
BH: Yeah, I was in a bit of a personal mess in my late teens that caused me to suspend my University studies in music for about 2 years. Family problems, my own smoking and drinking bouts, a child – all these made me wake up and find a path out of a little hell I had created. I wasn’t a Christian at that time, but meeting and marrying Leigh-Ann helped me to see a way towards a higher goal, and find God as my salvation. I started going to her church, and became involved in their musical program.   Our first son two years ago struck a ‘new beginning’ for me, and us.

CM: Then you continued with University?
BH: I continued with jazz studies as that’s the type of music I really wanted to pursue, instead of classical which is what I grew up with. I was influenced by so many South African musicians who were making their way with their craft, like Kyle Shephard, whose own spirituality drew me inward to find my own voice. I attended his concerts at Grahamstown a few years ago and was just blown away with how he handled his piano. He is someone who shows great integrity in his music, and discipline. Likewise, I listened a lot to the late Moses Molelekwa who, like the late, great Mbeki Mseleku, died before his time and left such a wealth of creativity behind.

The late jazz pianist, Moses Molelekwa

The late jazz pianist, Moses Molelekwa

CM: What other musicians have influenced you?
BH: Kenny Werner, saxman Michael Brecker, Keith Jarrett – these all have a very spiritual bent to their playing and thinking.

CM: I often ask to what extent a musician wishes to engage with social activism, at different levels, depending on one’s time and concern about certain issues. Do you have a message in your music about current affairs or social/political issues about which you would like to make a statement?
BH: I try to read a lot, and particularly like my fellow jazz saxman, Buddy Wells, who writes his own blog about economic matters. I am very concerned about ethnic and racial inequalities in this country, as someone who has mixed ethnicity – my father being English and my mother being a local ‘coloured’.

Blake Hellaby

Blake Hellaby

CM: How does this affect you?
BH: I’m curious how other people look at me – am I ‘white’ or a ‘coloured’? Many think I’m white, yet I my music is made up of all sorts of South African and African influences and rhythms. I really hate racism and will work to get rid of it where possible. It has no room in one’s spiritual development. My music seeks to attract all peoples, regardless of their backgrounds.

CM: How do you plan to promote yourself?
BH: I need a manager now. I simply can’t practice and compose and focus on my art while trying to promote myself in the business. Earlier, I had released an album under a U.S. label, and some songs became quite popular here, and were played on the radio. They were more pop songs. But that album isn’t available in this country now.

CM: I wonder if you could develop some Christmas songs that pertain more to South African realities.
BH: We were just talking about that! Yes, there is a need for more indigenous Christmas songs that don’t talk about snow and reindeers and Santa Clause! I agree, we should work on that.

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New Beginnings band members

New Beginnings band members

Blake’s CD launch of “New Beginnings” convincingly displayed his own and his band’s talents when they performed at the Nassau on Sunday, November 27. One song not on his album was a tribute to the late piano maestro, Mbeki Mseleku’s “Monwabisi”. This was lovingly presented with its funky groove and listenable drum and bass duet. However, along the way during the well-executed offerings, the sound system’s bass amplification produced irritating loud hums which threw off concentration. This is surprising for the Nassau, known as a comfortable listening venue, to make these mistakes.

New Beginnings CD Cover

New Beginnings CD Cover

But the CD itself contains jewels of sound, starting off with reference to his family background in “The First Hellabies in Africa”. A familiar few bars of Abdullah Ibrahim’s famous ‘Mannenberg’ sets the scene for England-comes-to-the-Cape where his British father fell in love with a ‘coloured’ girl. The song contains memories and rhythmic changes to connote ethnic realities, flowing between bebop to ghoema, all woven with a bit of salsa. Nice piece. “Me” has, again. a salsa feel with horn duets and a subtle piano improv , again in the minor key. Hellaby displays prowess with chord structures as he unrolls his personal statement. One hears some sadness, wandering (by the sax), different rhythms, many conversations. A delectable piece.

Hellaby appropriately honours fellow jazz spirit, pianist Kyle Shepherd, with whom band members grew up during their respective Cape schooling days and professional boost into the music world. “For Shepherd” is just that, a big ‘thank-you’ for mentoring sounds.

Several songs remind us that God helps fulfil: “He Who Loves Us” is a clear message of what spiritually rules us. It’s in a minor key which one can associate with the interior, hidden, even dark, elements of our soul. A bass solo melodically overrides a piano staccato. Likewise, “Thank You For Listening” has a slow funky gospel-ish groove with lovely, elevating trumpet, guitar, and sax solos. This is a jewel of a song. “Take Me To Church” also suggests how to turn one’s life around through a spiritual purpose driving the process. This happened to Hellaby so he knows.

“All That Surrounds Me” starts with human activity sounds and moves into a delightful arrangement of guitar tinkling around piano phrases. Drums keep pace nicely with Hellaby’s various changing themes. “Noonku” is a restful lullaby with synthesizer, written for youngest son, Daniel, who reminded his family that ‘new beginnings’ meant chasing renewed possibilities. One can hear little Daniel’s advice.

This album is a gem that needs a following. It’s copyrighted by Under the Influence.
www.blakehellaby.com

THE BAND: Marco Maritz | Trumpet & Flugel Horn
Zeke Le Grange | Tenor Saxophone
Bradley Prince | Electric Guitar
Sean Sanby | Double and Electric Bass
Lumanyano Mzi | Drums
Blake Hellaby | Piano, Electric Piano, Organ and Synthesizers

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Two Capetown jazz venues shake up Sunday afternoons for avid listeners!

Jazz in the Native Yards is a cosy outdoor space in a pub seating about 50 people who view a performing band taking up about the same amount of space. Its address suggests ‘community’, a residential heartland amidst Sunday outers who play or stroll in the streets of Gugulethu.

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

Last Sunday, a riveting quintet of three Johannesburg-based musicians headed by double bassist, Viwe Mkizwana, with the innovative trumpet/fugelhorn of Ntsikelelo Mcwabe, and fellow saxophonist, Malysi Masia, along with two local Capetown musicians, Blake Hellaby on piano and drummer Claude Couzen, impressed all with their daring improvisational styles, expressive solos that elicited appreciative whistles, and general professional comportment.

Viwe Mkizwana band

Viwe Mkizwana band

There is no street named ‘KwaSec NY 138’, and you’ll find it difficult to see ‘no 52’ if you want to read. Your ear will guide you. Just keep the car windows open and you’ll hear the jazz oozing out of this small corner house which is a bar by night. The young smiling fellows in their bright yellow jackets beckon you to park. You’ve arrived. It’s Sunday afternoon, and immediately the smells of meat braais from the super popular Mzoli’s restaurant down the road hit the nostrils hard. All your senses are kicking in. You are welcomed at the narrow doorless entrance to the venue where the upside down wine barrel announces an entrance fee – ‘R60 / R40 Pensioners & Students’ plus a small leaflet listing upcoming Sunday gigs. Stacked chairs unfold for some sort of seating arrangement under an outdoor ceiling. The afternoon sun rays hit the band straight on if there’s no large umbrella for them. Someone takes your drink order. Listeners are listening, smiles on their faces, identities from far and wide, and local. The band is already hot, not amplified but pleasantly acoustic, and already you’re tapping away, head swaying. The beat is on!

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

Who performs at Jazz in the Native Yards? Obviously, locally resident musicians, like Marimba extraordinaire Bongani Sotshononda and his capable group, or trumpeter Fezekile Reginald Tempi, known familiarly as ‘Blackey’, and others. These Sunday jazzy afternoons are sponsored by Concerts SA (a joint Norwegian-South African collaboration to promote the arts) and are comfortably receptive to all sorts of music lovers. There seems to be plenty of room for all.

Upcoming Sunday gigs at Native Yards are:

27 November Chapterz and McCoy Mrubata (guest)
4 December McCoy Mrubata and Paul Hanmer
11 December The Mike Rossi Project

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A TOUCH OF MADNESS on Nuthall Rd in Observatory is a welcoming restaurant, which seems like a home with various rooms for eating and lounging. One room contains the band with seating for about 30 people, meant to be more for listening than eating, although the bar provides the imbibing arts for the thirsty seekers. The outdoor veranda provides fresh air and a perfect proximity to the band’s sounds.

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

The venue’s Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening gigs offer fine and seasoned jazz bands for the week’s listening as well as a common menu of eats and snacks. Local resident owner Olivia Andrews and her husband rescued the venue after it was closed for some 8 months, and hopes to provide some sizzling sounds from far and wide, like the Thursday night Irish band, and also another night of poetry. Just the thing for Observatory’s vibes, which love the fringy and alternative.

Ramon Alexander, piano

Ramon Alexander, piano

As I walked in last Sunday afternoon, the familiar improvisation style of Ramon Alexander’s piano sung to me, as did the drums of Annelmie Nel and bassist Chadleigh Gowar. Classically trained percussionist, Annelmie, admitted she has ‘crossed over’ to jazz drums now, and has joined the highly underrated pianist and winemaker, Alexander, to strut their jazz stuff through the Cape.

The latter, managed by a visionary studio-owner, Leonardo Fortuin, and his entourage are supporting a fresh jazz venue in Kraaifontein called ‘Joostenberg Vlakte’ which is appropriately situated for the northern suburbs crowds eager for listening venues.

In the meantime, House of Madness also hires out its rooms for parties at R150 pp which includes a meal and drinks. What a nice cozy hangout for a party celebration! Restaurant contact is 021 447 4650.

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Pan-African Live Jazz sizzles at Grahamstown: A CD Review by Carol Martin

This is mixed African music at its best. ‘Live at Grahamstown’ features a world-renowned South African duo of multi-instrumental specialist Pops Mohamed, and his faithful side-kick, Dave Reynolds on steel pan and acoustic guitar.

A Traveling Pair - Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

A Traveling Pair – Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

In this live performance at the 2015 Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown, they are backed by another impressive array of world-class musicians: Capetown-born Tony Cedras adds rhythm and texture with his accordion, guitar, and trumpet; Mozambique-born Frank Paco is no stranger on the percussion and drum scene; and Congolese singer/songwriter Sylvain Baloubeta punctuates all songs with his electric bass and falsetto vocals. In fact, all musicians sing and harmonize on this exciting album which melds African indigenous sounds and rhythms with contemporary expressions and improvisation.

Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

All musicians carry not only highly experienced musical weight but a faithfulness to fundamental African beats and bites that they have grown up with. The album moves from earthy messages to past and present blessings to the inevitable spiritual conclusions of life. How better to do this than with blended accordion-steelpan-kora sounds of the soul. Cudos go to Pops Mohamed who wrote the musical score for the South African-made film, The Whale Caller, which recently won an award for Best African Film at this month’s Johannesburg Film Festival.

‘Hands in the Sand’ starts the journey with lovely mellow harmonies from all musicians, almost like settling into their early mission to create harmony. To realize mission, one needs to dream so here enters a brief introduction of the kora, which swings handsomely into a South African swing in ‘Ons Gaan Huis Toe’. Cedras’s accordion presents that familiar morabi sound, steadied by Baloubeta’s electric bass. One feels the home-grown texture of this danceable song.

Dave Reynolds with Tony Cedras, accordion

Dave Reynolds with Tony Cedras, accordion

Throughout the album, Mohamed speaks poetry, both literally and musically. ‘Welcome to the Future’ starts with the soothing relief of the rain stick and his vocals, with earthy undertones held nicely by Reynolds’ equally calming steelpan. This is truly a peace song for the future, for unborn babies, referencing a list of sterling world leaders who have delivered. It’s a refreshing memorial to what can be, as it welcomes the next song on the album, ‘Spirit’. The band manages to engage the audience as they clap into the future, accompanied by a profoundly spiritual buzz from Cedras’s accordion which brings on more applause. More Khoisan vocals and poetry from Mohamed at the end adds further release of the spirit.

Now, we are only half way into the album, and already sniffing a touch of nirvana.

A ghoema swing takes off by Reynolds in ‘Malay Jam’ and awakens that dancing spirit. This moving piece reeks of Cape rhythms, as does ‘Breakfast Ghoema’ as the Reynolds and Cedras swing their way joyfully and energetically to start a new day.  Have we entered nirvana yet?

The album ends with two songs, ‘‘Never Again’, with Mohamed’s African mbira with the Cedras accordion and vocal harmonies which spin the listener softly and delightfully onto another sonic plane. A soft duo of Kora and steelpan in ‘Song for Jos’ brings closure to this eclectic and ambitious album, transporting the listener to another part of Africa, with fond memories about what talents abound among touring South Africans and their pan-African bands.

Reynolds with bassist Sylvain Baloubeta

Reynolds with bassist Sylvain Baloubeta

This album is a winner! Don’t miss its launches this weekend:

Friday, 11 November – KMA Soiree, Hout Bay (021 790 4457 bookings)
Saturday, 12 November – Blue Bird Garage, Muizenberg (evening)
Sunday, 13 November – Guga S’thebe, Langa (afternoon)

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Nigerian Jazz Trumpeter, Etuk Ubong, remains consistent and focused: An Interview

As I was clearing out old files and articles, one caption hit my eye hard. “Exodus of Cape Town’s Jazz Giants” by Ayesha Ismail started: “Jazz greats are leaving Cape Town in droves because they can’t earn a living in the city once regarded as South Africa’s capital of jazz.” That was published in September 1998 (Sunday Times Metro) ! Yet, jazz schools of music, like the U.C.T.’s College of Music Jazz Studies, has experienced a steady influx of overseas and African talents seeking degrees and interactions with South Africa’s music legends. One such determined soul is 24-year old trumpeter, Etuk Ubong, from southern Nigerian, who already has notable experience to his name as well as incredible discipline and commitment to his art. His quartet of young South Africans is one of five bands which will compete for the ESP Young Legends award to perform at the 2017 Capetown International Jazz Festival. His album, ‘Miracle’, can be heard on https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Etuk%20Ubong.

Etuk Ubong - media

Etuk Ubong – media

I caught up with Etuk on 10 October 2016 before he left for Nigeria to resume his life and goals there. It seems consistency and focus is this young gun’s mantra. Oh, and ‘hard work’. He sounded mature and seasoned, having weathered the disruptions which his University (U.C.T./Capetown) politics were affecting. It’s hard to study and get ahead in a foreign academic environment when the indigenes upset academic progress which eager students from other disruptive African countries so badly seek. Etuk chose to leave those protests behind him, for now.

We chatted about his personality, and mentors like Victor Ademofe and Femi Kuti, son of famous late shrine leader Fela Ransom Kuti, and his own emerging form of music which he calls ‘Earth’ music. “It’s got attitude, spirit, and voice.” His other gurus like Clifford Brown and Wynton Marsalis have helped groom his sound as well.

CM: What makes you tick, and go for improvisation? And why jazz?
EU: Just passion and love of the sound of music. It’s about the message and how to integrate it and reflect it in my music. I studied music at an early age so I got my freedom early. I considered music is about love, bringing people together and making them smile. I love the Coltrane and jazz, but I see myself creating another sound.

CM: What’s so special about your music that comes from Etuk?
EU: Attitude, spirit, and my personality: essential factors are about love, obedience, loyalty, and being humble. Making sure things go right.

CM: It sounds like you had a good childhood.
EU: Yeah, I got this discipline from my parents and my four sisters who were all around me growing up. Also, my parents were hard working – my father was a driver who would get up at 5am to go to work. Same with my mom, a trader. I was a teenager when I took up this trumpet, thanks to my Mom who said this would be my future! She got me to play in our Church band. I didn’t take it seriously for a while, just played around. Then I started practicing from 5am before walking to school and would continue the practices after school until 10pm. My tutor, Victor Ademofe, was a God-send. He was like a Godfather and taught me a lot about life as well, so I got that food and solid orientation from him. He’s also very talented and disciplined as well. He changed me.

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

CM: Some musicians are activists who use their music for a cause or to get their message across. Are you an activist of sorts?
EU: Yes, I grew up to love nature, and I never liked the way my country’s economy was going or the corruption surrounding our leaders and the way they were acting. I used to say that I’m going to get to a level where I was going to fight for justice and to eradicate this corruption, and stand up for what’s right. I grew up with like-minded people and wanted to address these corruption issues growing in my country.

CM: How were you going to do that?
EU: With my music, with my power, with my soul. I read this book about Fela Ransom Kuti who said a lot in his music and life. He referred to Malcolm X whom I then studied. Fela was making sense by presenting his perspectives on politics at that time. As a teenager, I read about his legacy and structure, and what he was trying to fight for. He made sense to me.

CM: So you were doing things that other teenagers in your home weren’t doing, it sounds like?
EU: Yeah, none of my friends liked what I was doing and thought I was just lazy. After high school, they got involved with jobs, making money, buying clothes, etc. But I just kept practicing trumpet.
I don’t mind going back to those days as I prepare to return home to Nigeria. I’m so grateful that I had learned something about hard work, diligence, commitment, consistency, focus, and of course, my culture. This is what keeps me going. Back then, my parents tried to discourage me from going into music. My father actually grounded me, wouldn’t give me money, and sometimes would lock up my trumpet! [Etuk laughs] He didn’t want me to identify with some of those musicians or artists who smoke and take drugs, but he didn’t see the other side to what I wanted from the music, and I knew where I wanted to go.

I told my parents I was playing on TV and that I was going to travel on tours. They didn’t like this, but gradually could see I was playing well, even as a teenager, started to show me respect. Now, they’re my number one fans!! I wish my mom was still alive; she would have been crazy about my success now. For my second album, I’ve composed songs for her in a high life form which she loved. My Dad is supportive now, as are my sisters.

CM: Are you interested in teaching?
EU: Yeah, I’m doing this in Nigeria. I try to reach out to the youth to impact them.

Etuk Ubong Album Cover 'Miracle' (2016)

Etuk Ubong Album Cover ‘Miracle’ (2016)

CM: What influenced your album songs?
EU: ‘Miracle’, ‘Prayer’, ‘Reading in the Dark’, and ‘Thinking’. They’re all my compositions. I had studied classical music in Lagos, and played in Femi Kuti’s band. But when I put my own band together, I wanted to play my own music. So my songs came out in different places, and at different times . I just wrote the music but never gave the songs a name, until I had to record them. The song names came to me while I was in the bath! I thought of what Nigeria has gone through, its struggle for Independence and all, and that’s how I got those names….’miracle’, ‘thinking’, ‘prayer’. It was like we in Nigeria were reading in the dark, when things were obscure and uncertain , and then thinking how to develop ourselves as a nation,

CM: Are you thinking of becoming politically involved? I think I’m driving to that! I need to study history, learn more about where I’m coming from in general. So I’m trying to read as much as I can now.

Here’s a fiery artist to watch as Africa broadens its reach with interesting jazz initiatives having those special cultural flavours.

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Kenyan jazz pianist Aaron Rimbui overcame odds to excel

It was no small matter, at age 14, to suffer second degree burns from a gas explosion, and over months in hospital, to reconstruct the functional parts of his body, including his hands. Pianist Aaron Rimbui from Kenya had started with drums as he simply couldn’t finger the piano keys. But he overcame, and now rates as one of East Africa’s top jazz artists, as well as a radio host on Capital Radio in Nairobi.

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

On 21 September 2016, Rimbui joined Nigerian double bassist, Amaeshi Ikechi, and South Africa’s master drummer, Ayanda Sikade, for an impressive two-set performance at Johannesburg’s premier jazz club, The Orbit.

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

This is a tight group, careful in their relational manoeuvres with each other. Relatively little known, yet energetic bassist Ikechi, who says he’s been living in South Africa for the past 10 years, never shied away from telling it how it is. His best plucks accompanying Rimbui’s piano string tapping presented a most rewarding aural funk from such songs as ‘Karibu’. Rimbui made no secret about his scarred hands as he introduced himself and his band, saying that healing and recovery of his ability to play piano was solely a gift from God. Supported by his actress wife, Rimbui attests to his spiritual rehabilitation, through music, soul and jazz he listened to throughout his youth. “I am a born-again Christian who happens to be an artist.”

Aaron Rimbui

Aaron Rimbu

Rimbui, also a composer and producer, has travelled widely and performed with other notable African musicians, such as Kora winner Eric Wainaina and the world traveled Sauti Sol, South African legend Hugh Masekela, and with Nigeria’s afro-beat sensation Sean Kuti. His several albums have boosted him into the international talent pool of African jazz artists

“I am self-taught, never studied music formally. It’s a God-given gift,” he says. Rimbui apparently had been offered scholarships to study music in the USA, but lack of funds prohibited him taking that route.

“I met Ayanda and Siya Makuzeni from South Africa at this year’s Safaricom International Jazz Festival in Kenya where we chatted and discovered our common threads. Ayanda invited me to Johannesburg in April where I joined Benjamin Jephta on bass at a gig at the Orbit. And now I’m back, enjoying the Joy of Jazz, and reuniting with my South African friends, thanks to the Orbit’s owner, Aymeric Peguillan, who invited me to perform. I chose Nigerian bassist, Amaeshi Ikechi, because of his energy, sound, and confidence.”

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

Next week, Rimbui will be recording an album with this trio, and a stunning trio at that. From what I heard at the Orbit, the collective and individual styles, nuances, listening skills, and musical comradery of these three will produce an unusual album with mixtures of mainstream bebop, Afro-funk, and soul ballads all tinged with experienced improvisation.

His 2016 album, Deeper, is available on iTunes.

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SKYJACK fuses and dialogues: A South African/Swiss collaboration

Three South African musicians, all previous winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, and two well-known Swiss musicians offer an exciting and emotion-packed album, long overdue. This group has toured together in Europe and Grahamstown since 2013, and have finished their jaunts in Capetown last weekend.

skyjack-musos

Energetic drummer Kesivan Naidoo is now home after a finishing his Masters degree at Boston’s fine Berkelee School of Jazz; bassist Shane Cooper continues to grow his sometimes esoteric double bass styles with various groups of musicians, both local and international; pianist Kyle Shephard brings his extraordinary improv renditions to the aural table. Swiss tenor saxophonist Marc Stucki and trombonist Andreas Tschopp are no strangers to Grahamstown’s National Arts Festivals or to South Africa, generally. Tschopp has been on a three month residency in South Africa. Thanks to Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council and Concerts SA, they have launched their album here in South Africa with packed-out audiences.

Skyjack cover

Skyjack cover

The first song, “Taffatala”, sets the tension for the rest of the album. One hears Ethiopian chords in pentatonic scales with rumblings of elephants, or are they giraffe herds, and the characteristic spirited drumming of Kesivan Naidoo which comes through loud and clear throughout the album.   Cooper states he resonates more now with African music and jazz idioms, particularly from Mali, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, as in this first song.

“Anonymous in New York” starts in a minor key, following on the Ethio-jazz tradition, but with a contemporary jazz mix of urban aloneness and Tschopp’s extended trombone voicings which sometimes sound mournful, then joyous and meandering.

“Grandmere Dasant” starts with a welcomed shift into Shepherd’s characteristic Cape ghoema beat which is immediately dominated by saxman Stucki who runs a small jazz club in Berne, Switzerland. Each musician adds his chat to the ghoema, with Naidoo’s drum signature ever-present.

Stucki’s ‘Black Box’ has pianist Shepherd conversing with both sax and trombone in a slow ballad. “Flying Without Leaving the Ground” suggests its title. Is there hesitancy or joy that spirit can hover and lead us? Some interesting chord combinations by the horns present wonderment. Then, surprisingly, the take-off happens as Shepherd’s keys up the tempo, propelling the melody into a sonic but terrestrial boom. Naidoo drums keep up the pace.

Slowing the pace comes “Sakura”, another minor key, contemplative ballad. It’s sadness comes across through Tshopp’s clear trombone chorded with the tenor sax, and an almost funereal drum praise.

A very moving piece in this album, for me, is “The Last Rainbow Doesn’t Fade”, again submerged in alternating minor and major keys, with a samba beat mixed with a bit of ghoema and other South African beats. Half way through, the tempo changes with Shepherd’s danceable Cape sound ….and the beat goes on with each musician nourishing the song.

An impressive and emotional end piece is “Freedom Dance” featuring recordings of Nelson Mandela expressing his hope for peace and harmony in the future. It contains his “….for which I am prepared to die” speech as he entered the free world fighting all the way for a unified and dignified democracy for the nation.

This is a wonderful album which shows the individual expertise and soul of each artist, brought together by a common thread of trans-nationalism and cross-culturalism. One can’t really determine whose composition is playing as the songs fuse each musician’s creativity. This is marvellous fusion.

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Soul Groover BOB JAMES meets hip-hop times: An Interview at Joy of Jazz 2016

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

Maestro pianist of soulful funk and smooth grooves, the inimitable Bob James performed eclectic grooves and soulful conversations at his late night gig on opening night of Standard Bank’s Joy of Jazz Festival celebration, 15 – 17 September in Sandton, Johannesburg. He was supported by his stellar cast of seasoned musicians, particularly by his enigmatic Cuban double bassist, Carlitos del Puerto, whom everyone seemed to eye.

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

Son of Carlos del Puerto, a world famous bassist, 39-year old Carlitos sustained energetic and joyful playing that explains why, at age 17, he was named Best New Jazz Artist at the International Jazz Festival in Havana, Cuba. James’ guitarist, Perry Hughes, and a long-time friend and collaborator, set the audience on fire with his masterful bluesy runs. The band delivered the expected – ages old funky soul grooves echoing the classic Bob James who, at 77 years of age, shows no signs of stopping.

I caught up with James by his hotel pool the morning after that gig.

CM: One view of jazz is improvisation on folk music. Where do you see jazz going world-wide? How is the ‘soul groove’ moving forward?

Bob James Sept 2016

Bob James Sept 2016

BJ: In my time, jazz represented something unique because the art of improvisation was at the root of the instant creativity emanating from the unpredictability of jazz. A very personal expression grew out of this, and this is the most important aspect of moving jazz. I hope this continues. And socially, what jazz represented at that earlier time is different now. Jazz was the most daring and anti-establishment form of expression back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The blacks were bursting out angrily about how they were being treated socially in America. The musical expression is different now because the hip-hop has taken over that daringness in confronting social issues in a way. I think hip-hop people are being influenced about what jazz used to be as they end up sampling and using jazz in their music. I’m very lucky because some of them used chunks of my 1970s recordings, and these samples entered their own expressions. I wasn’t directly doing it, but the music resonated with these hip hop artists. It was a fringe benefit for me for their discovering how jazz could move their own expressions. I think there’s hope as long as we stay open to the fact that we won’t be reliving the Dizzy – Coltrane worlds, but other revelations founded on the jazz idiom.

CM: Many jazz artists love to come to South Africa, and they love the music here. What’s so attractive about South African jazz?

BJ: We strive for a groove and we know historically that black artists know how to swing. Here in South Africa there’s a special way rhythms lock in, are danceable, and this is culturally-driven. I respond to this immediately. One elementary school I visited yesterday that offers jazz education performed for me and I was blown away by the artistry and quality these kids showed. They were confident and played naturally in a way in which some of our [American] musicians would like to play, but they simply don’t have that groove in them, no matter how much they might practice.

CM: Sort of like some of our opera singers here who are black, because the singing style comes from their indigenous African musical heritage.

BJ: Yes. You can imagine what I went through, as a white guy in the 1950s – 70s, playing a funk soul groove, inspite of the racial prejudice prevalent in the US at that early time, and trying to get accepted. I had to deal with this and develop confidence. Fortunately, I lived near Detroit which had an active jazz scene back then, so I was able to play with a lot of jazz players there. Also, when I moved to New York City. I got enough encouragement so that several people gave me that badge of acceptance which led to my joining Sarah Vaughn’s band as her music director. I toured with her for quite a few years, if not decades.

 

 

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Thanks, AJR, for saluting our women musicians!

Salute to all you South African women musicians out there – inside and outside South Africa – as AJR celebrates your Women’s Day today!! I have been listening to wonderful artists in the ‘jazz’ genre (since that’s my narrow niche) and applaud AJR Eric Alan for broadcasting women artists all day today! What other radio station in RSA is doing this, I wonder?

I’d like to also salute a few artists in particular. But there are so many; please forgive me if I left out other notables. Andreas Loven’s latest album, “District Six”, contains double bassist Romy Brauteseth’s exceptional bass scats – her vocals as she plucks away. She is going far, performing with all sorts of domestic and international artists, and is far away as we speak – in Europe on tour.

I think of those Sisters in Sound (SIS) mentors of yesteryear who contributed their skills to the up-and-coming, one mentee being Spha Mdlalose who is growing her art. Lisa Bauer, drummer and vocalist, mentored and taught. Her February 2015 single release of “A Life That’s Lead” provides magic in her art, as does her earlier album, “Finding a New Way”. Other SISs remembered are saxophonist and educator Ronel Nagfaal whose pianist daughter, Nobuhle Mazinyane, recently joined the National Schools Band 2016 during the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Monique Hellenberg, pianist and vocalist, graciously gave her time and energy to the SIS program, also.

So many other fabulous women artists: musical families of the Willie sisters – bassist Chantal and singer Denay. The Standard Bank 2016 Young Artist for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni, trombonist and vocalist, featured nobly with her own compositions and arrangements at the NAF. Other young artists making their mark are singer Zoe Modiga, trombonist Siya Charles, and pianist Thandi Ntuli whose debut album “Offering” offers some interesting South African beats and twists.

Not to forget those South African women established elsewhere in the world. Norway-based saxophonist Shannon Mowday is cutting an album with brother Hylton and Dad Bob; London-based pianist/singer Estelle Kokot continues to ripen – listen to her “The Sound of You” album. Her solo tour in South Africa called, “The Jazz Feminine in Africa” kicks off in Johannesburg on 12 August. Her Capetown performance is on Wednesday, 17 August, at the Rosebank Theater. Asia-based songstress Brigitte Mitchell, who has played with the greats, offers delectable sounds in her latest album, “Let’s Call It Love” released in Japan in March.

There are so many others. Thanks again to All Jazz Radio based in Capetown for broadcasting such a generous tribute to many South African women jazz artists!!

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Mateo Mera Band – Rocking over Bridges, Heights, and Continents at SBNAF 2016

Mateo Mera sits cross-legged on a mat, resting his Sitar on his bent leg, as he opens the set with a Sitar solo, sung in his best gentle voice.

Matea Mera playing Sitar. Photo: (Cue/Dani O’Neill)

Matea Mera playing Sitar. Photo: (Cue/Dani O’Neill)

What followed was a raucus few songs in not-so-light rock with his quartet’s three guitars blazing. While this seemed like a quirky and unlikely contrast with the viewer’s expectation, the group rather skilfully switched tempos, as well as instruments as they moved through Uruguayan, Indian, the 1970s/1980s American pop rock. Their second concert at Grahamstown’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival 2016 on 6 July drew sold out crowds again, thanks to the group’s sponsorship by the Uruguay Embassy in South Africa, Nikki Froneman Arts Management in partnership with NAF 2016,  and hosting in Johannesburg by UNISA who provided workshop and performance opportunities to these zesty young musicians. I particularly liked their inventive interpretation of a BeeGees song, “You don’t know what it’s like to love somebody” as they swung into American-styled rock. Their concerts pulled songs from their first album, “Sobre los Puentes y Las Alturas” (Over the Bridges and Heights) cut in 2013 but published in 2015.

Matea Mera on lead guitar. Photo: Cue/Dani O'Neill

Matea Mera on lead guitar. Photo: Cue/Dani O’Neill

Full of humour in their performance, the members pranced around the stage, taking sips from their water bottles and swopping instruments and places. Mateo’s highlight was playing guitar and harmonica simultaneously while kicking (backward) a drum with attached cymbal suitcase for percussive effect. Here he excelled in delivering a soft ballad. This was followed by a Beetles’ song by George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”, played with a ukulele, after which Mateo jumps around to the piano and vocalizes with the band a heavy rock song (unfamiliar to my otherwise jazz ears). This was mostly a rock concert, and the Sitar was, unfortunately, forgotten after the first song, but the bands versatility in delivering different fusions of rock was appreciated. The set ended with the drummer swopping his drums for the mic as he swung the band into an exciting and physical rap. This ‘rappatoire’ brought instant whistles from a rock-oriented audience, along with a standing ovation.

I caught up for a chat with the band before this performance. Matea puts me at ease immediately as he enters the room and offers me a sip of Uruguayan tea with a chuckle. As I looked down at the greenish brown herbal mush in a brass pot and sipped from a brass straw, Matea enthusiastically remarked, “This is for energy!” Indeed, they had it. This group of 30-somethings chuckle throughout their encounter, each calling out answers to any questions and volunteering information freely.

Drinking tea with Matea Mera band, 6 July 2016 at NAF 2016

Drinking tea with Matea Mera band, 6 July 2016 at NAF 2016

CM: What is special about South Africa?
The Group: There are great musicians. They don’t make one mistake. They were really professional, like Roland Moses and Sakhile Moleshe, the singer. He is like a Uruguayan rapper. We all have a lot in common.

CM: You seem playful and also serious at the same time. What social issues concern you in your music?
The Group: We are goofy and laugh a lot. We’re a sun of another time. But we talk about violence against women, the street life of gangs, and people in difficult circumstances, in our songs. The world has no borders now and I can be anything in the world. We are not just from a country but live in the world. We would like to spend more time in South Africa working with musicians and learning more about your history, particularly those aspects of colonialism and apartheid which were similar in Uruguay.

CM: You say you are a fusion band.
The Group: We call ourselves a rock band, but we actually would like to do more jazz and improvisation. We love fusion, and mix everything. We travel to other countries and find out how to mix our music, like using flute of Bolivia. We love to do special things so we are identified as doing special sounds.

CM: Where did you study or learn your instruments?
The Group: In the house of a master – there’s not a structure for studying in institutions. It’s private study. There are limited numbers of students. You don’t have to go to school to be a good musician. In Uruguay, everybody plays guitar. The government has funding to enable a student to study with a particular professor.
Mateo – I learned my sitar in India with a master. I take several trips to India in order to learn and buy the right instruments. It’s hard to find Indian players in Uruguay.

CM: What kind of groups would you want to work with here in South Africa, if you had an opportunity?
The Group: Percussionists. All of our Uruguayan percussion came from Africa. Our ‘cueros’ percussion is special, too, and goes like this (demonstration).

CM: Why do you want to move more into jazz?
The Group: On stage we are always improving. If we are excited, we absorb the energy of the audience. People loved our first show in Grahamstown. They told us we should play in a theatre without chairs so people can dance.

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And yes, their rocking music is danceable! I hope this zesty group returns to RSA soon. Huuummm…..funding………

Mateo Mera – voice, sitar, guitar, keyboards, bass suitcase
Gonzalo Díaz – voice, bass guitar
Rogelio Lago – drums
Rodrigo Baeza – voice, guitar, sax

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Toon Roos Quartet’s rag doll effect – a highlight performance at NAF 2016

Here’s a Dutch saxophonist who really made me just melt away like hot putty in my seat! At times, I wondered if I had died and gone to heaven. Toon Roos and his band looked like ordinary chaps who might play ordinary jazz. Nope. Roos’s own aura reverberated around the stage as he pulled off inventive, and sometimes quirky, arrangements to certain tantalizing American jazz standards that spoke about the important…..love…..

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

Known for playing lyrical and funky jazz that grooves to the moment, Roos took us on an escapade into unfamiliar twists and turns. “I Fall in Love Too Easily” spoke reality; Dutch bassist Hein van de Geyn, now an implant on South African soil, slid his bass lithfully into what seemed as hopelessness. I came out as a wobbly rag doll. “Straight No Chaser” displayed masterful arrangements, but “Body and Soul” turned a sleepy ballad on Roos’s tenor sax into another blanket-hugging rendition, again with Hein’s double bass solo exuding the mellow, the expressive, and always the gentle. As many musicians do, Roos wrote “Fading Star’ for a relative, his mother long passed, and offered a beautiful slow ballad in tribute. My dollishness was awakened with the last song by Roos boasting a happy and melodic Brazilian beat. Could improvisational jazz be any better?

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

Roos has played with the greats of Joe Zawinul, John Scofield, Toots Thielemans, Steely Dan, Ravi Coltrane, and Art Blakey. The list is endless. No wonder he’s also a funk master, having a vocal project with drummer Manu Katche who also plays with Sting and Joni Mitchell. Eleven years ago, Roos and his Quartet performed at Capetown’s North Sea Jazz Festival. The man has credentials, as do current band members. He’s been compared to Saxophonist Wayne Shorter by contemporaries, but Roos is really beyond comparison. I would fly to Europe to hear this man again, but more credentialed and less raggedy dollish.

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Ancestral routes in jazz – a journey with Siya Makuzeni, Standard Bank Young Artist 2016 for Jazz

This Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2016 started her first concert with an epic vocal scat, the likes I hadn’t heard from her previous songs (by others). Thirty three year old Siya Makuzeni, who hails from East London, skillfully fused her Xhosa sounds with some basic other roots of bebop and improvisational contemporary jazz. Her appearance at Grahamstown’s annual SB National Arts Festival 2016 offered her a first opportunity to present her own songs, constructed in careful refrains that cut across musical harmonies and genres. Hard to describe, but her adept band of three horns, including her own trombone, and rhythm backline including the talented Thandi Ntuli on piano seems ready to boom boosters into the South African jazz cosmos. I was relieved to see another female artist on stage, too.

Siya Makuzeni on trombone: NAF2016 CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

Siya Makuzeni on trombone: NAF2016 CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

I caught up with Siya for a chat on 1 July. I wanted to know what internal juju had been working on her creativity, and I think I got some insights.

CM: Your primary school teacher he told me that you were not very musically inclined or active in those young years. Perhaps it was the people you were working with later who gave you a boost. What was that spiritual bone that sparked you internally to blossom?
SM: I knew something was there, but I’ve never figured out what it was. Music has always been about how I understood life. Even before and during primary school, I was in choirs and learning the recorder. Music was always milling around me at home. My parents had introduced me to such a diverse arrange of music at home. It wasn’t called ‘folk’ or ‘rock’, but just a variety of music. Maybe that inspired me as a child, wanting to emulate my parents. They were a huge influence on me then.

CM: You were blessed with supportive parents. And what about now? Any other relatives or ancestral spirits that pushed you into some spiritual realm?
SM: Oh gosh! Wow! I’m sure that has existed. I haven’t tried to interrogate that. I remember going home where my family had a ceremony. One of my older aunts mentioned that I’m on the ‘right path’, that what I’m doing is like a vessel, healing as I go forward on my journey as a musician. For me personally, I’m still trying to figure that out. I definitely draw from that ‘right path’ and use music a lot to draw inspiration in terms of grounding myself, being on stage……

CM: It would be interesting to pursue that, and draw out from the archives of culture the influences on you. Let’s talk about your own music which is rooted to your own cultural background. There’s something primordial and ancestral about it. What is influencing your choice of song, lyrics, rhythm of your own making? You’ve performed others’ pieces, but with your own voice and interpretation. Now, you’re on your own journey.
SM: I really have to think about it. Many different factors are influencing me. Start on the musical level. Look at my loops: They’re very rhythmic and polyphonic and extremely Xhosa-centered harmonically which has helped me to choose which harmonies I want. I studied jazz, but when I was here at Rhodes, I studied ethnomusicology and this spurred me on to adopt a non-western approach to music. So since 2001, I don’t believe that this approach has left me.

There was also a sense of needing constant change, pursuing something that keeps going forward, that keeps the reel rolling. If the pathway becomes stagnant, then I become frustrated. Because of that, and as I try to grow my career, I look at collaboration as a huge part of my creativity. It has enabled me to do my own stuff. This ties in to finding and mixing genres that have common grounds, trying to flip things up on their heads.

Siya Makuzeni on vocals:  NAF2016 CuePix/Tamani Chithambo_30JUNE16

Siya Makuzeni on vocals: NAF2016 CuePix/Tamani Chithambo_30JUNE16

CM: Speaking about genres, there is melody, refrains, and lyrics. There were two songs you performed last night that you were singing which sounded like ….there was a fine line between scatting and the language. I found that quite intriguing. Also, you do a lot of scat in your songs. Few singers want to scat. You’ve pursued different types of scat and the language fused with it. Where does that come from? Was that deliberate?

SM: Probably. Also, I might not be aware of it because I’m in a space where it’s so natural. When I decided I wanted to be a jazz vocalist, I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. These were my biggest surprises; I’d never heard a voice being used like that before, and I found it completely fascinating. I was also dumbfounded to see how they used their voice like an instrument. This was completely new to me. At that point, as I was transitioning from the trombone to vocals, I could see the similarities between the instrument and the voice. And then discovering these women!

CM: That’s what you’re doing, going beyond lyrics and into the instrumental voice.
The machine you were using – the vocal lyrics pedal – what has enamoured you about that little box? Why are you using that?
SM: Possibilities! Possibilities! Endless possibilities! And as someone who needs constant change, I use it because it allows for this change. I had used a foot pedal for a number of years. I found myself in situations, also, where it was difficult to collaborate with other vocalists on the same song. I had used it in “Prisoners of Strange” band of Carlo Mombelli and the pedal allowed me to explore more with vocals. I listened to other avant guard women singers who were pioneering the use of vocals in different ways, like screams and seagulls and that kind of thing.

It was already an interesting journey, but when I realized there is so much to add harmonically, in terms of using modulation for effects, things you might not be able to do with your own voice, that’s where these explorations happened. So I just said, “I can back my own vocals.”

CM: I guess backing vocals and choirs are traditional in some older jazz forms. That little box gives you different ranges of the same note, harmonically.
SM: It gives a six part vocal harmony so you can really go crazy. You also have the opportunity to put it into the key that you’re working with.

CM: Have you thought about a collaboration with Lwanda Gogwana (trumpeter) since he has pulled from his ancestral roots also?
SM: That would be quite interesting as we both are revisiting the Xhosa traditional songs.
CM: I think of jazz as being improvisation on folk music in a society. Everyone has songs.
SM: Totally.

CM: Regarding your performance last night, I noted in the 6th song that you seemed to deliver a sense of anger in your voice, in your presentation. You show emotion……I felt there was a protest, a pulse you wanted to get across, maybe a sadness or disappointment you wanted to get out.
SM: Not really. It was a moment, when spontaneity took place, and I guess I seized that moment.
I was emoting, yes, but I was having fun. I think what was interesting about that moment was ….right at the end I was doing the vocal percussive thing…. After the growling….. and thinking, geez, I haven’t done that [type of vocal] since “Prisoner of Strange”. This was just a revisit to what I had done before, but this time with my own music.

CM: That’s great, then. To take that moment and go with it! That’s creativity.
Where do you go from here?
SM: Huuummm! Good question. We’re all trying to build dreams. I’m excited, but I can’t say I ‘know’ what’s going to happen. I do hope to tour with my new sextet as much as possible.
We’ll release an album before the end of this year. But really build on the sound, and use those opportunities, like at festivals, to go and visit other musicians. Or find a way to link up with other musicians around the world as a stepping stone for this band to be around in years ahead. The band is like family; we are all committed. This is my first jazz band.

Thandi Ntuli at NAF 05July 2015:  CuePix/Tamani Chithambo

Thandi Ntuli at NAF 05July 2015: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo

Another band I’ve had is more of cross over rock. Now, this is my first jazz band and one where I don’t have to fight musically and where people are personally committed. I’m excited for that and we’ll see what happens.

CM: Do you still collaborate with Carlo Mombelli and Marcus Wyatt as you were doing?
SM: I had to take a break. I just didn’t have time. Of course, we’re all family, but I needed my own time and space to create. That was a very tough decision to take a break from them.

CM: How could you encourage more women to find their creative talents in jazz?
SM: It’s very subjective and personal. To excel in this industry, you have to have balls. I learned this at a young age by being thrown in to the experiences, like with this Festival which I’ve attended for a long time. So because of this, coupled with my determination, it has worked out for me.

But you have to seriously have guts for these live performances!
I also think that if girls are encouraged at early childhood development stage, you would see a difference, and more activity from them as they grow older and enter the industry. More confidence. There’s simply not enough going on to make music accessible to kids at such a young age, so if we could fix that, we’d see a lot more active females.

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Let’s watch this young lady flourish with future events, festivals, and live gigs! HAVING THE EXPERIENCE/DEEP END + DETERMINATION AND GUTS = success.

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NAF2016: A Bassist stole the show…..Trio Corrente from Brazil

Always smiling bassist Paulo Paulelli stole the show, only half way in, with his tongue-in-cheek clicks, hisses, boofs and other oral sputters and percussive grunts  on his willing double bass at Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival. He was left alone.  It was only the second show which kicked off the NAF’s annual, vibey, and highly successful Youth Jazz Festival, as some 350 music students from various educational institutions around South Africa descended on the Diocesan Girls School facilities.

Trio Corrente from Brazil

Trio Corrente from Brazil: right – P. Paulelli

The Brazilian jazz ensemble, Trio Corrente, blessed the DGS Hall with highly entertaining offerings, from soulful bossa nova to funky, clickety-clack choro rhythms, to just plain improvisational frolics that brought laughs, cat-calls, and a standing ovation at the end.

This Sao Paulo-based trio, two times Latin Grammy Award winners, displayed utter perfection in coordinating, not only their eye contact and internal laughter with each other, but their rhythmic, staccato sounds. Their repertoire ranged from the almost classical renditions of Brazilian songs to solo emotions to funky and whacky conversations between the instruments. The musicians talked a lot, musically. It was an unforgettable 75 minutes of pure aural fun ringed with lots of groovy humour and immense talents. This is their first visit to perform in South Africa, and definitely should not be their last! As their other collaborator and saxophonist band member, the renowned Paquito D’Rivera, has said: “Um trio maravilhoso”!

SOUL HOUSING PROJECT

Trio Corrente followed the opening act of the Youth Jazz Festival, a zesty bunch of youthful  South Africans headed by suave hippy hop singer, Sakhile Moleshe, who belts out danceable rap jazz that inspires the youth watching him. Supported by talents such as keyboardist, Bokani Dyer (nominally also an inventive jazz improviser), Soul Housing brings all sorts of familiar rhythms put to unconventional waves of sounds, such as mixed soul and rap, urban funk and ballads. Sakhile put the heat on when he switched to Xhosa rap, with identifiable messages to the largely Xhosa-speaking audience of students and other Eastern Cape ticket holders.

 

Sakhile Moleshe, Soul Housing Project

Sakhile Moleshe, Soul Housing Project; photo by Mia van der Merve/NAF 2016

The best way to kick off a ‘Youth Jazz festival’ is by a local young, familiar, and popular group of ‘young guns’ who are rocking their way to fame (forget the fortune – it doesn’t exist)!

Soul Housing Project: photo by Carol Martin

Soul Housing Project: photo by Carol Martin

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Who is bassist Lionel Beukes?

“After many years performing in China, I felt it was time to ‘come home’, join my roots again, and play our South African music and other standards, and maybe to teach the younger ones,” says Beukes as he proudly smiles his way through my interview.  Back to his home town of Capetown for a little over a year, and newly married to a long time sweetheart, Beukes’ desire right now is to promote fellow elder musician, pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab, and pull the latter’s compositions out of the closet.  Beukes also has songs penned in China to bring forth.

Lionel Beukes

Lionel Beukes

“I have two upright basses, including the semi-electric acoustic Latina bass, a double bass and two bass guitars.  At the School (Cape Music Institute at Athlone stadium), I teach the students (who can only afford an electric bass guitar) the double bass positions using their own small guitars. I use the Ray Brown book.”

Lionel Beukes & Ibrahim Khalil Shihab at District 6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

Lionel Beukes & Ibrahim Khalil Shihab at District 6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

Just turned 66 years old, Beukes has no desire to ‘retire’.  “Retirement?  When I retire I’ll be in my grave!  I’m a musician and must help grow the music,” he exclaims when asked if and when he will settle into elder comforts.  “Dedication and commitment is what it’s all about, and for now I plan to fully engage with promoting Shihab’s music and artistry after so many drought years he has had.  I am also writing my own compositions, and together, we plan to get those songs registered with SAMRO and continue our business.”  Beukes et al are approaching radio stations like Bush Radio and Fine Music Radio for sponsoring and interviews as well as performing with his older band, the popular Out of Town, at Swingers in Athlone on Sunday evenings.

Beukes sees the need for a business approach in his music industry. “It IS about making money, but also having opportunities to work with the younger musicians as well.  We aim at the concert hall stage rather than the club scene for live performances, where people can come to listen and appreciate, and pay for it.”  Beukes is presently choosing his own band, including saxman Buddy Wells, known to play with everyone to date. Twenty year old Liam Webb, presently a student at CMI, is his drummer who will soon attend UCT’s School of Music.   “Although I’m putting together the project, my acoustic quartet will include Buddy’s group, in order to promote him, and another piano player. We are all like family.”  But sponsorship is key, he says, to finance promotions and recordings. Beukes plans to approach his old manager in Johannesburg to come on board again.

Various collaborators are supporting the concert hall idea, and even recommending using school halls that are well equipped with sound systems.  So the Beukes team aims to present more lively and vibrant acoustic jazz performances in South Africa’s major cities with the young and old timers.

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Ibrahim Khalil Shihab Quartet exuded history, texture, and good ole acoustic jazz at District 6 Museum’s Homecoming Center last Friday evening, 27 May.

Having cruised the south Pacific Ocean, I find Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean” rings a familiar sensation about what ‘unfathomable’ means, like true love, which is what makes this song rich and textured. The brilliant artistry of pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab does just that for 24 minutes in his solo piano album, ‘Solo Piano’, cut in 1999. Known as Chris Schilder of Pacific Express in earlier days, and who converted to Islam in 1975, this Capetownian is no less magical in his musical renditions now. With his fellow team members named below, 70 year old Shihab wishes to revive himself with both established and younger musicians in South Africa.

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab. Photo: David Harrison

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab. Photo: David Harrison

Friday’s concert portrayed an extremely gifted and powerfully alert pianist who excels at improvisation and message. His Scarlotti-styled runs in some pieces reverberated throughout the well-packed hall. Even without an acoustic grand piano which he would prefer, his two electric pianos which admirably served for the evening’s performance managed to do justice to his messages.

In conversation with double bassist, Lionel Beukes, earlier, even Beukes had to haul out his thin Latina semi-electric bass to match Shihab’s piano that evening. “I’ve returned from years in China, and want to continue to perform our South African music, and to promote Ibrahim who has been too silent for too long,” says Beukes. “I teach at the Capetown Music Institute with its musician head, Camiillo Lombard, and try to match our good students with the jazz dons like Ibrahim.”

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab quartet at D6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab quartet at D6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

Indeed, Friday’s offerings (promoted by Classic CT) presented 20-year old drummer Liam Webb, formerly from South Peninsula High School jazz band and soon to attend UCT’s College of Music, in his first jazz gig. A student at CMI, Webb displayed confidence and humility during the performance as he was occasionally mentored by Beukes and Shihab. Webb was allowed a drum solo in a Shihab piece, “Pursuits”, which Webb pulled off in clean pizzazz. Another generation later was Buddy Wells whose tenor and alto saxophones provided impressive, clean, and consistent accompaniment to Shihab’s piano runs. The varieties of songs this Quartet played wooed the audience with classic standards, like the whimsical “When You Wish Upon a Star”, with Buddy’s smooth slides in tone. Shihab originals gave tribute to another legendary don, the late Winston Mankunku, in “Spring”, and to elder Chinese people exercising in a Shanghai park across from where Shihab and Beukes worked at the Hilton Hotel.

Liam Webb, drummer

Liam Webb, drummer

The concert ended fittingly with a fast-paced “Bo-Kaap”, another original, which showed everyone’s skills. Shihab is well on his way to performing and, in the near future, recording his pile of compositions which he let to lay for so many of the rainbow nation years.

We can look forward to more mastery from this legend as concert halls gear up for more acoustic jazz performances. A new era to be launched??

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Jazz trumpeter Darren English imagines hope in debut album “Imagine Nation”, with tributes to Nelson Mandela

Capetownian trumpeter, Darren English, kicks off his debut album by Hot Shoe Records (2016) with an original, “Imagine Nation”, a call to youth to make a better day! The first of a three part suite, it’s a melodic song mostly in the minor keys, and shows Darren’s wide range of tones on his trumpet.

imagine-nation-by-darren-english

Nostalgically, I still  ‘imagine’ those Monday night jazz jam sessions at Cape Town’s Swingers when 15 year old Darren, wearing his Beatles hairdo, and always accompanied by his indefatigably supportive father, Trevor,  would silence the packed crowd by his trumpet wizardry. We knew we had another South African catch of a musician who would go places. Indeed he has, 11 years later, cutting this debut album, after having finished his Master’s degree at Georgia State University in Atlanta where he continues to teach jazz studies and perform with various groups in USA. Hence, my affectionate ‘Darren’ reference.

“Body and Soul” presents a rather interesting start with a duo between a bowed double bass and Darren’s muted trumpet. It seems he has deliberately made his trumpet sound flat, confident, no frills technique, no vibratos. A simple rendition of an ole classic.

Smooth runs characterize Darren’s offerings as he faultlessly scales his instrument’s prowess with dignity and pureness. You’d think he’s been playing for decades!

The faster paced “Bebop”, a Dizzy Gillespie classic, displays a fluid trumpet with clean runs and boppish attitude. Drums and bass click away, heralding Darren’s pace, with a lovely solo by bassist Billy Thorton. The even faster paced “What a Little Moonlight Can Do’ introduces Grammy song lark, Atlanta-based Carmen Bradford, who shows off her impressive credentials behind her bebop vocals. I hesitate to compare such uniqueness with other greats, but I must say, her scat, tonation, and jazzy pitch brings about memories of Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson for me. Her mood control in “Skylark” excelled.

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The album mellows its pace with a moving and emotional presentation of Nelson Mandela’s wise words from radio interviews, as he brought South Africa’s democracy forward, with advice. ‘Pledge for Peace’, a second Darren original as part of the ‘Imagine Nation’ theme, supports imagining a nation leading a peaceful parade towards responsible freedoms. This song carefully mixes interviews with interplays between trumpet and tenor sax, all which fill the sound space with sunshine and hope, but with caution.

Midway in the album is the third song of the ‘Imagine Nation’ theme, “The Birth” which appropriately describes Darren’s longing for a new nation free of the apartheid past. A long piece, almost 12 minutes, it contains impressive trumpet runs, syncopation with rhythmic gaps of sound, off beats, behind beats, etc. Greg Tardy’s tenor sax is electric. This piece is full of conversation, dipping a lot into fast bebop, then softer slower ballad moods punctuated with horn dialogues….signifying no births are ‘easy’ or smooth. A very ambitious original.

Kenny Banks, Jr’s piano in the Frank Loesser song, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”, provides classic bebop thrills along side Darren’s muted and even accompaniment . This duo piece is a real hit in the album!

“Bullet in the Gunn”, another original and a tribute to another trumpet mentor, Russsell Gunn, features blistering trade-offs between Darren’s trumpet and the wailing sax of Greg Tardy in occasionally frantic conversations.

The last track, “Cherokee”, presents fast runs by each musician, feasting on and sparring with each other’s energies, but they tended to blend into one men-otanous sound piece for me. I’m not one for blaring horns, but I felt these frantic snorts turned a reputable classic into a blah blah race run. On the other hand, having heard Joe Gransden’s trumpet at jazz jams in Atlanta several years ago, which the younger Darren also attended, it is obvious that Gransden’s style and wit has firmly rubbed off onto Darren’s technique. The two men simply gel and Darren knows it, and is proud to have such a mentor.

Darren-English-Harley-sepia

Darren English remains a formidable ‘young gun’ far beyond just South Africa’s jazz scene, and has been blessed with craft and skills to carry him holistically into a successful future. I am also very proud to say that Darren’s success carries with it a notable humility, yet adventure, in learning to be better. Just better! Watch his space!

See my December 2014 blurb: http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2014/12/04/carol-martin-chat-with-cape-jazz-trumpeter-darren-english/
The album features: Darren English (tpt); Kenny Banks Jr. (pno); Billy Thornton (bs); Chris Burroughs (dms) + Carmen Bradford (vcl); Greg Tardy (tenor sax); Russell Gunn (tpt); Joe Gransden (tpt).

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“Come Play with Us”: Deep South’s attitude towards artistry; an Interview with songwriter Dave Ledbetter and arranger/producer Ronan Skillan

Deep South, a South African duo who spreads wings wide, travels to the deep northern territories of Europe to harvest fiordic acoustic sounds from Swiss, Swedish, and Norwegian colleagues. “We love what you do and we want your voices to grace our stuff,” invites this duo. Their time is limited, but their zest for inclusiveness is great, with eagerness to explore with fellow artists. “Here’s my composition and you know my sound. What can you add, please?” is the ticket for networking longevity. Guitarist/pianist Dave Ledbetter and percussionist/tabla/didgeridoo maestro Ronan Skillan have been CapeTown friends for long, and meld into each other’s works like happy jelly. They play regularly at Capetown’s popular jazz club, Straight No Chaser, (next gig on Wednesday, 10 February – not to be missed!) and include a handful of illustrious local musicians who add their South African and Cape voice to Deep South, particularly in their first album, “A Waiting Land” (2013).

Deep South’s recent launches of their second album, “Heartland” (2015), have spiralled these innovative acoustic wonders into depths of tonality and expression that cut across ethnic, regional, and even spiritual identities. I lamely attempted a review of this eclectic CD: http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2015/11/04/acoustically-tripping-with-deep-souths-skillan-and-ledbetter-in-heartland/ and was sorry to miss their November 2015 launch in Cape Town with fellow European collaborators: ECM artist and co-producer of Heartland, bassist Bjorn Meyer from Sweden, bass clarinettist Jan Galega Bronnimann, trumpeter Samuel Wurgler and percussionist Fredrik Gille.

But even better was to chat with the deep souls of Deep South, while overlooking Kalk Bay’s wistful harbour, and find out what makes them tick!

Dave Ledbedder loves dogs

Dave Ledbetter loves dogs

CM: How have you attracted foreign artists to migrate towards you, as in your recent album?
Dave Ledbetter (DL): At the moment, the music has taken its natural course. I think the fact that our music is out there allows people to have access to it. Our first album was more home-grown here because we wanted a sound that was acoustically Capetonian and South African with local musicians like Mark Fransman (clarinet/flute), Shaun Yohannes (electric bass), and Shane Cooper (acoustic bass) adding their particular voices. When we branched out to the northern hemisphere, to our networks in Switzerland and Sweden, we had a more collaborative relationship. Compositions which I and Ronan had worked on over a period of time received a ringing blessing from fellow Hearts.

Ronan Skillan (RS): In Europe, we got a different sound to our songs, with intonation and precision. With our local musicians, we got more heart and feeling and intimacy, because we all grew up together. I think it’s also the way Dave and I relate that builds our networks. I’ve always loved Dave’s music – he brings the compositions, I don’t. I help orchestrate and engineer the physical hands-on process, and offer arrangements and ideas about sound and production. I have visions of specific people I know who will resonate with the compositions, and approach them, like our good friend and co-producer Bjorn Meyer who loved our first album.

DL: When we went to Europe, and I remember this very well, we had no idea of how or what it was going to sound like – this collaboration – before we got there. Suddenly, we’re sitting down together, and things started just rolling. Here it is! It went forward from there. In comparison, our first album was a laborious process over a long period of time, but we managed to capture all the nuances of my playing and could spend time rolling them out. This couldn’t happen with our second album recorded in Europe with limited time and budget. But the organic and free flow of spirit and innovation allowed the guys to bring us what they could add.

CM: You are eclectic musicians with Arabic, Asian, and other influences. What stimulates you to be like this? For instance, to play an Australian shamanic didgeridoo?
DL: I think it’s the open hearted spirit of generosity, when we say, “come play with us”, wherever we are, and with whomever we meet. This same open hearted interaction underpins everything we do. And that, essentially, is what we’re all about.
RS: I’ve been travelling to India and studying tabla regularly with one leading Indian percussionist. This has exposed me to a variety of methods and meanings of Asian and Arabic instruments, including the healing qualities of the didgeridoo sounds.

CM: Would you compose or take somebody else’s compositions?
DL: I would write for whoever we book to play on the album, like my good friend, trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. I know his stuff and the way he plays, so would include his voice in what we do, and write specifically for that voice. Same for a bass clarinet or sousaphone player. This is a way to enhance your vision. Just invite them.
RS: Regarding who to involve, thankfully the composition are always very strong. A good song is a good song. Period. It doesn’t really matter who plays it.

CM: Take your song, ‘Forest Road’, written about a road in Nairobi, Kenya. What’s that all about?
DL: My parents and their parents were Salvation Army missionaries, and my grandfather died in Nairobi. My own mother was born in China, and has just turned 89 years old. My grandfather died very young from an allergic reaction to bees. One day, he was walking down Forest Road in Nairobi and collapsed from a bee sting and died on the spot. My grandmother would take walks along Forest Road where he was buried in the cemetery, and would allow herself to be attacked by bees until the ripe ole age of 92. That was in 1942. My mother was traumatized by this loss of her young father as she was only 14 years old then. So the event of his sudden death stood out for me, and I tried to imagine what the reaction might have been to his death, given the environment they were living in, being war-time and in Nairobi. In this song, I imagined the Forest Road funeral cortege carrying the coffin with the brass band wailing. The song just came to me, very easily. I was chatting a while back with Mike Meyer’s guitarist who is a white sangoma, and he told me, “Somebody is looking after you. I can see it; he’s an elderly gentleman with red hair and glasses.” I replied that that must be my grandfather. “He’s looking after you,” the sangoma repeated. “He’s making sure you don’t mess up….too badly!”

Ronan Skillen live

Ronan Skillen live

RS: This story was also touching for me. As I was preparing to visit Nairobi for performances with our local band, Babu, I told Dave I would like to visit the gravesite. Dave gave me a rose quartz crystal and said, “Please put this on the grave for me.” I wasn’t sure I would have time in our busy schedule, but one free afternoon allowed me time at the grave. I asked a taxi if he knew where the Forest Road cemetery was. He looked confusedly at me, a white guy with an accent, and asked “Why??” I said I would tell him the story along the way. The grave was hard to find with all the vegetation growth over the decades (from 1942), but I found it. It was a very touching experience for me.

CM: Another song on your Heartland album that moved me considerably was ‘Awagawan’. What influenced this composition?
DL: I was deeply saddened when my good friend and guitarist with Tenanas, Gito Baloyi, was shot and killed in cross fire in Johannesburg. That’s when I wrote this song which has a spiritual bent to it. Ronan and I sat with it, reworked it, and put it aside. When our European trip was being planned, I took the song out again, Ronan and I added some sections, like the didg section, and the oud section. It was good in hindsight that I left those sections to bring them back at a later stage.
RS: I remember thinking that bassist Bjorn would probably find something in the song to resonate with. Sure enough, there’s an additive in there which was written for him. The same for percussionist Fredrik Gille.
DL: That bass clarinet is not suppose to sound like it does on the album in this song. But clarinettist Jan asked if we wanted that breathy sound. We said, YES! For me, such a sound was more pranic, from the inside, and that is what I wanted. I was delighted when Jan broke out of that mold of what some people consider the ‘proper’ sound of the clarinet.

CM: What you’re talking about is the architecture of composition. You start with an idea, a composition, but it’s fused by others.
DL: Well, the composition is already written. How I want it to sound is going to depend on people able to voice that idea. So whoever is contributing, I’ll be hearing their voices to enhance what’s already there. The music sounds must perpetuate an intention from a conscious place, music that makes the light in people’s heads flash, that makes them feel they have stumbled onto a fundamental truth here. It’s about feeling in life, from a very conscious perspective.

These two multi-talented musicians, while displaying their undeniably rich consciousness and pursuit of truth, are flagging other creatives out there to ‘come play with us’. This, in itself, is a great honour.

Deep South perform weekly now in and around Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. Catch Dave Sunday 7 February 2016 at the Jazz at the Nassau concert (Bookings at 076 401 0008) as he plays piano and guitar with others. Also, Deep South et al play Wednesday 10 February at Straight No Chaser (Bookings at 076 679 2697).

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Four Blokes, Four Band Leaders highlight free jazz improv

Overflowing crowds packed CapeTown’s venerable jazz venue, Straight No Chaser, this January to imbibe a new year dose of jazz improvisation from four distinguished musicians across several age ranges. Quirky free jazz Capetownian pianist, Kyle Shepherd, elder drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and bassist Byron Bolton, brought together British/Caribbean tenor saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings, for several evenings of unusual performances during the hot week of 13-16 January 2016.

South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo

South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo

I walk in late. Moholo’s frantic drums are spitting away. Kyle taps away on piano keys influenced by various objects strewn across the piano strings, like wooden sticks and cardboard. Nice harpsichord effect amidst an intense melody-absent improvisation. This foursome chatters, talks about important things, expresses emotion through various thumps, instrumental grunts, plucks and wails.

Now, what are they all talking about? Pianist Kyle then picks up a drum mallet, and starts hitting the piano strings, with purpose, not randomly, it seems. Double bassist Bolton eyes drummer Moholo as they share secret things behind their tapping, bow strumming, and pitter patters. They dance together, not necessarily in rhythmic harmony. There is no ¾ time. There is no time, just presence, the now! Shabaka’s sax offers undertones and subtle nods as a wrestling match ensues. Who’s refereeing this road race? All four of them! It’s intense, and after 25 minutes, I’m exhausted. Time for applause as one watches the two ceiling fans seriously pushing warm breezes in this packed venue. We are all seeking relief from a January heat wave.

This cozy venue of Cape Town’s Straight No Chaser needs to be five times bigger to hold offerings by, simply put, The 4Blokes, who performed additional nights due to popular demand. And still the music fans keep coming to these sold-out shows. The band simply advertise themselves as: “A pioneering free jazz drummer. An award-winning British saxophonist. A virtuoso young pianist. A bowing bass maverick. Four band leaders. 4 Blokes” .

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings

The visiting tall lean Londoner saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings (http://www.shabakahutchings.com/) has a number of impressive awards and experiences with notable bands. His second Sons of Kemet album was released in September 2015 as he continues his research on the musical influences amongst the Caribbean diaspora in Britain. Back to his Cape Town concerts, he survived the ring matches with drummer extraordinaire, 77 year old Louis Moholo, who has absorbed every worldly influence on jazz improvisation since his early beginnings with Chris McGregor’s The Blue Notes, and then the Brotherhood of Breath in the 1960s/70s. Moholo doesn’t age; he just gets better. One doesn’t just ‘listen’ to him; one watches him. He’s very much engaged with his percussive instrument which becomes an extension of his own humanoid discussive personality.

Likewise, the enigmatic bowing bassman, Brydon Bolton, shows prowess when his bowed strings wrestle with the group’s improvisational quackery. He’s another watchable performer bordering on the classical traditions and jazz improve, as manifested in his electro-acoustic band, Benguela.

All four ‘blokes’ are composers with propensities for ‘free jazz’, the experimental, and home ethnics. Theirs is hardly conventional, even though several songs in their recent gigs were traditional bebop jazz of another era. There lies their inexorably creative improvisational talents!

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Acoustically tripping with Deep South’s Skillan and Ledbetter in Heartland

Skillan and Ledbetter’s Deep South brings “acoustic ‘trip folk’ with a hint of jazz, African groove and Nordic precision” to their latest Heartland album. And what a treat, just released on 1 October 2015 !! Multi-instrumentalist Dave Ledbetter and the percussive talents of Ronan Skillan (table, udu, percussion, didgeridoo, and hybrid kit) are adequately supported by several Swedish artists, with whom the two South Africans have worked over the years. Heartland offers hauntingly melodic compositions by guitarist Dave Ledbetter, all with a nordic acoustic twist of musical imagination.

Skillan, Ledbetter with Björn Meyer in Bern

Skillan, Ledbetter with Björn Meyer in Bern

Recorded and co-produced in Bern, Switzerland, thanks to Swiss Arts Council (Pro Helvetia) supports, the artists include: Fredrik Gille on riq, frame drum, and percussion. He specialises in flamenco and Arabic percussion. Watch a wonderful display of his frame drum solo at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wREUu1U_hs.   Jan Galega Brönnimann on bass clarinet and Samuel Würgler on trumpet and flugelhorn and co-producer bassist Björn Meyer make up this stellar artist line-up.

This album starts off with an engaging one-note strum in ‘Little Dan’ and moves with different rhythms from Ledbetter’s piano which becomes copied by his guitar. Ripples and waves of sounds ooze from flamenco castanets, Ronen’s percussions, back to that one note addiction, muted strings…. And that’s just the beginning!

Those of us who have listened to Ledbetter over the ages will hear his familiar tunes, always performed differently depending on the ‘Spaces Between Places’, as this tune suggests.

Deep South Heartland CD cover

Deep South Heartland CD cover

 

In ‘Harbour Intro’, I hear echoes of several depths of Ledbetter’s guitar which, for me, symbolizes looking at the calm ripples of sea waters at the shore, looking southwards. Sounds reverberate as they swing into ‘Harbour’ with Ledbetter’s joyful guitar. Percussions add that folksy element and move into poppish 4/4 beats. Ledbetter’s harmonic chords are rarely jarring.

‘Forest Road’ is named after a major road leading into central Nairobi. This sleepy ballad brings out the breathy bass clarinet of Jan Gelega Brönnimann which harmonizes with Ledbetter’s soft rhythmic scenes. How often do you hear a bass clarinet in folk/jazz? This is a favourite piece!

Now that the listener has settled back and become very relaxed, the ear starts its journey towards realizing nirvana. The next tracks on this eclectic, soothing album, present soundscapes reminiscent of ‘nordic’ meditation, like in ‘Moonchild’, with a clear and crisp trumpet of Samuel Würgler. We move on to an Indian groove, ‘Awagawan’, which has a most unusual collaboration between Skillan’s didgeridoo with tabla overtones and Brönnimann’s whispering bass clarinet. This is just a whopping super treat on the album, plain and simple ! This Indian spiritual belief of Awagawan says that only good Karma can liberate us from The Wheel of Eighty-Four, or the cycle of ‘Awagawan’. The song is a tribute to the late, greatly missed Gito Baloyi who was murdered on the streets on Johannesburg, and was a stunning guitarist team member of Tenanas. It connotes the karmic birth and rebirth of style, form and sound, as well as deed, in our lives. Beware: don’t repeat actions which produce recurring sufferings in your lives!

‘Gone but Not Forgotten’ follows as the karmic journey continues. This is the longest song on the album, has lots to say, so one can easily meditate on the soft, slow nuances. Sometimes funereal, the wistful conversations between all four instruments hold attention and purpose. Listen carefully because towards the end, there’s a wonderful trumpet surprise. All is not forgotten!

‘Clovelly’ offers a bluesy jazz twist to this delightful song led by Ledbetter’s piano. Just when I thought my mind and spirit would have been cleansed of all evil karmic intentions, after the previous meditative offerings, along comes ‘Time Out’. Yes, I need that! This one’s for the body, I guess. Another slow, stereophonic tone poem which tunes the ear, certainly relaxes muscles, and celebrates with a higher registered bass clarinet, unique in all ways.

This is acoustic at its best, a blend of jazz, folk, funk and blues across global spectrums!

ALBUM LAUNCH!!
Don’t miss the South African launch of Heartland on 14 November 2015 at 7.30pm
Where: The Reeler Theatre at Rondebosch Boys’ High School
– Canigou Avenue, Rondebosch, Cape Town
How much: R100 on Quicket or R120 at the door

Highly reputable South African musicians join, like regular Deep South bassist, Shaun Yohannes, and JHB-based trumpeter Marcus Wyatt of ‘Language 12’.    What could be better?

Heartland CD Launch

Heartland CD Launch

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“Love Letter to Cape Town” draws out the indigenous bloodheart of Tony Cedras, a CD Review

This album, full of harmonies, draws us into a world not of fantasy or fancy lyrics, but of soundscapes echoing the joyous resonations of originality from the ancient language of a First Peoples, the Khoisan.

The indigenous bloodheart of multi-instrumentalist Tony Cedras, born in CapeTown in 1952, an early mover in the Cape jazz scene, then long exiled overseas and active in the anti-apartheid activities, is also known for his arrangements with the early band of Paul Simon. Cedras announces his return to his Cape homeland in this beautifully organized album recorded in Cape Town at Milestone studios and published in 2015 by Zurich Sessions Featured Artists.

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

A block buster array of musicians matching the spirit of this Khoisan soul make up this exceptional album. The promo video on his website doesn’t show Cedras playing accordion for some reason, but gives a good feel about the other musicians that make up this album. Deeply anchored in his heart is the preservation and recognition of the Aboriginal Khoisan peoples of Southern Africa, and his album certainly raises awareness of their dwindling, yet vibrant, heritage and culture.

Appropriately, his ancestral soil is felt in the opening track, //Hui !Goeb, with Cedras’ flugelhorn and Khoisan chanted clicks presenting soundscapes of the Ancient Nation’s Sacred Sites “where rainclouds gather”. Cedras says,
“As a descendant of an Ancient Nation, I am inspired by the significance of our Sacred Sites and it is central to my creativity.”

The next track, ‘Genesis’, offers a melodic tour through our original peoples of Africa, from South Africa to Tanzania to Zambia and beyond. Typical South African beats with congas are heard, absorbed with horn harmonies. Three energetic strumming guitars of Cedras, Errol Dyers on acoustic, and the notable Steve Newman on Soprano, along with backing vocals, explain Cedras’ life journey: “My life’s journey is one that exposed me to a myriad of cultures; I have always been curious about individual life stories and relocation. Irrespective of the motivation of movement, it brings about a new beginning that ultimately defines who we are.”

Probably the most beautiful, but not a Cedras original, song on this album is his unique arrangement of ‘Yakal Nkomo’ of the late great saxophonist, Winston Ngozi Mankunku, with rhythmic mbaqanga beats dancing nicely out of Cedras’ accordion. Cedras also plays guitars, keyboards, drums, and synth bass in this rendition, the latter which skilfully produce the off-colour sound of protesting bellowing bulls. Cedras says

“Reflecting on my musical career is to acknowledge those who inspired me. This was a favourite composition of the late Mankunku, a legendary tenor saxophone player whom I met in the early 70’s. He had an encouraging spirit and was an inspiration to my musical career.”

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

‘Horizons’ was written by Cedras in Botswana and recorded during his 1989 Graceland Tour with Paul Simon. It’s a song about Africa’s gift to world humanity, rapidly strummed on the guitars of Cedras and Dyers, with entrancing backing vocals.

Other songs convincingly present the sounds and feel of journeying through Africa dragging South African origins along, from Elsie’s River outside of Cape Town to a Congolese ballad sung crisply by Freshly Ground vocalist, Zolani Mahola, and back to South African folkish strings of Rayelle Goodman’s violin and Cedras’ guitar in ‘Autshumao Suite,’ a stunningly joyful upbeat piece. Cedras songs move between a very danceable masqanda beat of ‘Black Brown Cheri White’ to Mahola’s crystal clear ballad voice in the churchy ‘Mother Song’.

The album ends with a melodic middle eastern flair, ‘Journey to Alkebulan’, thanks to Rustin’s double bass stringing. It seemed a bit dour after the previous joyful uplifting songs, but the album’s presentations resonate long after the headphones come off.

If there was ever an album to pick up your spirits and move on, this is it! Transformative. This is not background music. You sing and hum along, and can’t keep yourself from dancing! Soundcloud sources mention genres of his album as ‘African jazz, jazz, klopse, goema’. It fits into no category – I could venture to say the album is ‘traditional but contemporary South African folk’. Or better still, just plain ‘music’ that draws out the emotions, hopes and dreams!

To Learn more about the South Africans performing on the album, go to Cedras’ website: http://www.zurichsessions.com/featured-artists/tony-cedras/. The Zurich Sessions is a musical get-together of some of the finest international and Swiss musicians and promotes collaboration with others.

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Joy of Jazz 2015: as mega jazz festivals rise, maybe small is beautiful again

Sis Gwen Jazz BlogGwen Ansell micBy Gwen Ansell SEPTEMBER 20, 2015

The final mega-festival of the jazz year, the Johannesburg Standard Bank Joy of Jazz (JoJ), opens on Thursday (24th Sept 2015) (http://www.joyofjazz.co.za/lineup.php).

Cold Castle Jazz 1962

In programming terms, JoJ finally seems to be learning how to balance the tastes of those wanting a good-time jol and familiar tunes, with those of the seekers after fresh and thought-provoking music. Let’s hope the event also sustains last year’s decent timekeeping, and adds rather more respect for conditions of reception – by, for example, eliminating those intrusive in-hall bars, and requesting audiences to turn off phones and postpone noisy conversations until the playing concludes. (Rather than during a contemplative bass solo, as seems to be the South African norm.)

The jazz festival scene in South Africa is clearly maturing: each of the Big Three – Cape Town, Grahamstown and Johannesburg – now attracts a comfortable audience and each is developing a distinctive character. That maturation ought to start us thinking about alternatives – because while there is much that a mega-festival can do; there is more that it cannot.

Jazz Festival 1964A mega-festival is about entertainment, audience passivity, and music as commodity. Rarely has a setting been more appropriate than the Sandton Convention Centre hosting JoJ. It is sealed within a glittering fortress of consumerism where fools pay absurd prices for imported luxuries under the wary eye of uniformed flunkies. JoJ patrons must spend R500 (for the Thursday gala); R750 (for one day) or R1250 (for two days), plus whatever they have left for food, drink and memorabilia. If you don’t drive – and I don’t – the Convention Centre can be accessed on foot from the Gautrain, provided you can reach a station and afford a ticket. Leaving after midnight is much harder: the Gautrain has stopped running, and even Uber drivers in fancy cars may have problems running the gauntlet of access barriers. These may seem small irritations but they represent significant added costs. The message is clear: jazz is a brand for the affluent only – those equipped to purchase all the other brands that use the music for piggy-back marketing.

Newtown, the festival’s old home, was never an ideal venue in terms of size, sound or distance between stages. But it was a significantly more egalitarian setting in terms of transport access. Even the lousy, leaking sound contributed, allowing those who could not afford tickets to loiter at the edges and hear something. And by its presence, Joy of Jazz affirmed the inner city and the people who live in it.

All that is old history. Jazz can, like any other art-form, be appropriated easily by the smug and comfortable. That does not negate the music’s power in other settings, and with other audiences. It’s time to consider starting some alternative celebrations.

Smaller events earn smaller revenue – but they also require fewer resources. Take over a club for a couple of days – as the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival will do with the Orbit Jazz Club in November – and you need to attract an audience of 400 each night, as opposed to 40 000. Because you are serving a niche, rather than Brand Generic Jazz, you don’t need “stars” – local or overseas – whose relationship to improvised creativity is tenuous or nonexistent. (But there’s always the option of crowd-funding for a relevant airfare or two.) Contexts can be created where South African players – and perhaps visual artists and dancers too – come together in new combinations, and devise new experiences, live, for an audience. Make some spaces where people can talk about what they’re doing and why – because too often we criticize or interpret without listening to the creators themselves. Teach. Take the whole thing to some location where the dinosaur festivals never venture.

Genre labels are always a burden, even when they serve as convenient shorthand. An “improvised music festival”, for example, might run the gamut from baroque concerti with the cadenzas restored to electronica – but it would certainly have plenty of space for the music many listeners call jazz.

Castle Lager Big Band 1963None of these is a new idea – it is, for heavens’ sake, where JoJ was born, in the living rooms of the Mamelodi jazz appreciators. That festival and others like it have, as the businessmen say, now “gone to scale”. Big ticket prices and big marketing underline their commodification; the money-men are risk-averse, and those who can afford to attend and enjoy don’t worry much about those who can’t.

Those who can’t, meanwhile, are the majority of the population: the communities that historically nurtured the music’s best players and were its most astute listeners. School education is still not spreading access to good music teaching fairly; affordability still keeps many young people out of colleges, while we’ve all but lost the universities of the streets. Important spaces are empty at the small-event end of the spectrum, where creativity should be getting its first chances to flower and take risks.

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Jazz pianist Bokani Dyer cuts ‘anti-genre’ album, “World Music”

Twenty nine year old Bokani Dyer, born in Botswana of a Kalanga Motswana mother (whence, he got his name, ‘Bokani’) and a white musician father, Steve, who was living in exile during apartheid, has two SAMRO awards to his name. He also recently performed from his new album, “World Music”, at the 2015 Grahamstown National Arts Festival which brought the world closer to what Dyer calls his “anti-genre” music. This was part of his Prohelvetia southern Africa tour with his Swiss Quartet, being connections started during his 2014 residency at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel. These original songs in this, his third, album were composed over several years.

Let’s see what this man with a message means in this eclectic assortment of sounds.

CM: ‘World Music’ – I’m hearing various genres…. Where is Bach?
BD: Bach appears on the first notes of the album, in “Waiting, Falling”, composed while I was practicing preludes and fugues, and types of harmonies and structures of melody. This study led me to him. The title refers to the musical aspect of phrases, and contours of music, like waiting for the beat to come, then making a note fall. Lee-Anne Fortuin is on vocals.

Bokani Dyer with Marlon Witbooi & Shane Cooper

Bokani Dyer with Marlon Witbooi & Shane Cooper

CM: Yes, with an even-toned, almost meditative spirit about her…. I liked “Vuvuzela” which starts off with a Latin sound, followed by your impressive piano runs. Buddy Wells’ tenor sax comes with a post-bebop swing. The two saxes and one trumpet sound very much together.
BD: This song was written during the Soccer World Cup period in 2010. It has a jubilant, South African spirit about it.

CM: Yes, it was sassy and fun. The repetitious 3 bar refrain does remind one how monotonous listening to a one-note vuvuzela can be! Next, I found “Reflections” mild and reflective, almost funereal. This mellow mood swings directly into “Outro” (composed with vocalist Moleshe) with repetitive vocal chants accompanying the same reflective chord pattern of your piano, aka vuvuzela. But it was “Transit” that I found most interesting. One hears Arendse’s guitar runs and plucks which set the tone for this piece, while the piano scurries and hops over these plucks. This is a bouncy piece, again showing your versatile chord structures.
BD: The beginning of this song is Herbie Hancock-ish which is a feel I like. It then moves into other influences, from Bheki Mseleku’s ballad style to the Mozambiquan rhythms.

CM: I can definitely hear that Mseleku sound in your chords. The synthesizer wails out the tune with drummer, Marlon Witbooi, keeping the pace consistent. I liked this transit – from piano to synthesizer.
BD: Yes, it’s my love of the synthesizer here and electronic sounds. I played it alot when performing with Jimmy Dludlu and loved being able to bend notes which can’t be done on a piano. I love that, to make a note expressive and ‘slide’, like the guitars do, and make the note sing. It’s anti-genre music! It fragments the ballad.

CM: You like spontaneity…..
BD: Yes. For instance, in “The Artist”, which was written in blurbs and sketches composed over time, it feels like a classic jazz ballad. When I go to jazz concerts, I get thought patterns while listening. Then the inspiration of the moment comes, like with this song.

CM: That’s what I call ‘jazz’: inspirations of the moment, with a response, in spontaneity, unwritten. Your “interlude: See My People Through” seems to be a wonderful frenetic sounding story of migration, almost gospel-like as appeals to the Almighty are made. There’s something hopeful and seeking in the message. It’s short but then swings into the next funky song, “Recess”, with the drum continuing that spiritual theme. Marlon’s drum is always behind the beat, giving that funky layback sound again, like a soul fusion. There was the resolution. Really nice!
BD: This was my fusion piece, with layback R&B sounds.

CM: Then in “Keynote”, we are brought back to a traditional 4/4 be-bop style. One hears a seasoned Belair alto sax pounding out impressive runs and messages. The song moves into a Middle Eastern flair in a minor key, an interesting juxtaposition with an American bebop.
BD: I was listening alot to Kenny Garrett and Terence Blanchard whose influences relate to this song.

CM: Your trumpeter, Robin Fassie-Cock, offers nice runs in “Master of Ceremony” along with Buddy’s sax.
BD: Robin is young, only 22 years old in his fourth year at University, but has a marvellous future ahead of him. He just left for a year study in Norway a few weeks ago.

CM: With “African Piano – Water”, this is a cute pluck pluck dittie with paper covering piano strings, almost like a beginner’s piano 101 with chordal harmony and a playful beat. It sounds like water splashing over rocks!
BD: I wanted to give an Mbira sound, like one hears in Zimbabwe. I am using an overdub, layering piano sounds which echo the effects of water. Then, the last piece on the album, “Motho wa Modimo”, follows that same Africanness of purpose. It means ‘person of God’ literally, but is used in Setwana when something of gravity happens.

CM: This is a solemn piece ending the album. Personally, I would have preferred a more upbeat swing to end this eclectic mix of sounds presented, but ‘Motho’ does offer meditative resolution to messages earlier presented.

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Inside the CD jacket sleeve is a fascinating collage of concepts through words and phrases connoting issues faced by humanity’s masses: “ten million midwives carrying fresh fruit”, “twenty six kora strings to pluck”, “twenty six thousand Somali sheep on their way to slaughter”, “fifty seven thousand car guards queuing for their salary”, “fifteen years of questions between voodoo and black messiah”. Reading this sleeve keeps you gripped with these little word bites that surround our global realities. It then became evident to me that Camerounian journalist and artist, DJ Ntone, from Chimeranga mazazine wrote this sleeve.

Bokani Dyer & Swiss Quartet at Straight No Chaser, Cape Town

Bokani Dyer & Swiss Quartet at Straight No Chaser, Cape Town

CM: Tell me about your projects with electronic music.
BD: I’ve been influenced by Vijay Iyer’s piano playing for its freshness, and Robert Glasper for his determination in sticking to the alternative. I’ve been listening alot to electronic music, particularly people like Alice Coltrane’s nephew, “Flying Lotus”, who produces instrumental-like hip hop grooves with rapping or real instruments. I am experimenting with vocalist Sakhile Moleshe who is part of the “Soul Housing” project, to make up our two-man band using laptop effects with vocals and keyboard only. Sakhile does all sorts of sounds vocally, which is why I include him in “World Music”.

CM: So this is like a beginning ‘world’ Episode, with Episodes 2 and 3 coming?
BD: The next step is to get more into electronic music, with no instruments. I want to produce sound, manipulate it, and open it up, make crazy sounds which are free flowing, outside of any performances. These sounds are present in the world I grew up in, and are present now, with sometimes chaos, stress, anxiety, joys, etc, so I want to harness them and experiment with that.

CM: What else is next?
BD: I think I want to carry this thread of the African piano further. I’d like to put together a collection of pieces played by two or three pianos at the same time, playing interlocking rhythms similar to what mbiras and balafons sound like. For now, I do it alone with a loop pedal. Also, Kyle Shepherd and I are experimenting; we played two pianos at last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival. That worked like a dream! Because we’re both piano players, we don’t get a chance to play together. Our repertoire was half mine, half his, and all original material. He and I have spoken about doing a recording together.

CM: You’ve travelled outside the country. Where would you like to visit or go for mentoring and work with other musicians?
BD: I plan to use the rest of my SAMRO scholarship of 2013, preferably in New York. So I’m going to apply for an 01 visa to USA, and start identifying a mentor. Also, I’d like to network and find performance opportunities. In 2010, I visited New York and mentored for a few weeks with pianist, Jason Moran, which was very useful. When I visited London last year in November, performing at the London Jazz Festival, I was also able to perform with saxophonist Soweto Kinch. I have been very privileged to have Niki Froneman manage my recent Southern Africa tour with the Swiss Quartet this year, so I look forward to more of these opportunities.

CM: Have you recorded with your father, Steve?
BD: I was on his album, “Ubuntu Music”, which came out 3-4 years ago. We’re doing something together this weekend in JHB.

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Bokani Dyer will continue to have a special relationship not only with his piano, but with us listeners who find rest and calmness in his varied songs.

Published by his own Dyertribe Music, “World Music” features:
Bokani Dyer (piano, keyboards, synthesizer) Shane Cooper (double and electric bass) Marlon Witbooi (drums) Buddy Wells (tenor saxophone) Justin Bellairs (alto saxophone) Robin Fassie-Kock (trumpet) Sakhile Moleshe (vocals) Lee-Anne Fortuin (vocals) and John Hassan (percussion and vocals)

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CapeTown jazz jams at O’Driscolls Irish Pub get down!

Spring/summer IS coming, warming our hearts again with a Wednesday night jazz jam open to all!

Joe Schaffers and guitarist Alvin Dyers are at it again!  Making sure there are weekly jams where musicians, fans, visitors, and students can come and enjoy an evening of sounds from some of Cape Town’s great musicians!  Since several ‘Monday night’ jam venues were closed during my 19 year period of frequenting them (namely, Val’s Cafe and Swingers, both in Wetton), homes have been sought to sustain a regular excitement.  The newer ‘Mannenburgs’ housed on Strand Street in an historic building had to be vacated late last year due to renovations and other factors.

There’s a new kid on the block now – at least for good live jazz!  Central to Cape Town and just one block from its vibrant Green Market Square is a pub called O’Driscolls Irish Pub at 38 Hout St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001   Phone:021 424 7453, open till 2am so they say on their website.

MC Joe Schaffers & Guitarist Alvin Dyers at O'Driscolls

MC Joe Schaffers & Guitarist Alvin Dyers at O’Driscolls

On Wednesday nights, you can sit back at a table or the bar, and down a pint of Guinness while tapping to the music and catch a bite to eat from the affordable menu, offering salad instead of chips for the weight-watchers.

Last Wednesday, 19 August 2015, I popped in as I wanted to commune again with trumpeter Darren English, now based in USA teaching at Atlanta’s Georgia State University Music Department.  Darren, originally from Muizenberg, started his childhood live performance career at a tender age of 15. Couched in a beetles-style hair cut, Darren blew his trumpet to admiring crowds at the Swingers Monday Night jazz jams in Wetton.  His busy father was adamant and loyal about exposing his gifted son to the elements, and accompanied under-aged Darren to this bar/restaurant night club every Monday.

Darren English, trumpet & John Russell, guitar

Darren English, trumpet & John Russell, guitar

Other notables at last Wednesday’s jazz were singer songbird Emily Bruce who, at age 35, is deciding whether to pursue her Doctorate in music or another degree in Marketing, the latter to serve as a ‘real’ income. Mark Fransman, a whiz musician who excels on both piano and saxophones made his appearance as well.  He and Emily were also young guns on the Monday Night jazz jam stages when they had no other platforms to practice their live arts. Guitarist Johnny Russell, another young Swingers hopeful jammed with all of the above.

Emily Bruce & Alvin Dyers

Emily Bruce & Alvin Dyers

MC for these jams, Joe Schaffers, himself an old fixture at the live community jazz gigs and faithful supporter of youth in music, has served with several NGOs in the Cape Flats and Cape Town area serving music educational needs in communities.  As he sings with guitarist Alvin Dyers who kept the jazz jams going for several decades, I could only smile and reminisce how these walk-in and enjoy-yourself jams lightened the end of a day, and afforded musicians and patrons alike opportunities to ‘talk music’ and interact during the evening hours.

Mark Fransman, sax, and Darren English, trumpet

Mark Fransman, sax, and Darren English, trumpet

Who will appear next Wednesday is anyone’s guess! Pop in between 8 – 11pm for a dose!

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Ancestral Heartbeats Code the Music, an interview with award winner pianist Nduduzo Makhathini.

“The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.”

I felt somehow connected with ancestral energies as I drove this youthful bearded jazz pianist to CapeTown’s airport after his weekend gigs with trumpeter, Feya Faku, and local musicians. His performance with Faku’s album launch, “Le Ngoma”, at CapeTown’s popular Straight No Chaser jazz club was a subdued low key presentation of his wider talents. Johannesburg-based Nduduzo Makhathini, originally from Kwa Zulu Natal, is still on a high from being granted Standard Bank Young Artist 2015 award in the Jazz category. I asked him about his philosophy, messages, and what he meant by ‘identity politics’ which he has adopted.

NM: Mine is spiritual, wedded with cultural. I was introduced to music in its religious mode, and later to the business side of music. I grew up as a Christian, going to churches, etc. but I don’t subscribe to any of them. Music moved me into a more spiritual groove. In my youth, I would visit up to four churches on a Sunday just for the music. I loved the gospel messages and sounds. I would leave when the sermons started!

CM: Who else has influenced you besides Zim and Bheki Mseleku?
NM: My mom is my greatest inspiration, and my first piano teacher. I also grew up with the traditional isicathamiya ensembles, or male acopella, like Black Mambazo. I love harmonies which is why this singing drew me to the piano where I can make harmonies myself. I also love harmony in life, which is why I became so close to Bheki who focused on harmonizing things in life. Andre Petersen is also one of my favourites as he expresses inspiration also with Mseleku.

CM: Your three kids are also part of your music journey, aren’t they?
NM: Wow, I have three kids. What a responsibility now! What can I put out there for them? What is left for me by my forefathers, and for them? So my album, “Sketches of Tomorrow” is for my kids. I fused the Western with the traditional African since I have to deal with both cultures, which meet on this album. And they do too.

2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz- Nduduzo Makhathini. Credit: Adam McConnachie

2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz- Nduduzo Makhathini. Credit: Adam McConnachie

CM: You talk about healing others. What about healing yourself?
NM: I always feel that the music I play has a message sent through me. Sometimes I don’t understand these messages. So healing goes through me, my system. It tries to heal the space that we’re in, our environment where everyone operates. There are different forms of healing, but I concentrate on the traditional kind in my Zulu culture. I want my family to learn that each and every individual has a role to play on earth, and we need to find out what that is. That’s my ‘politics’, that everyone, equally, has a contribution to offer. We are passing the shacks now [along Cape Town’s N2 highway on route to airport]. Without those people here, this process of honouring each other cannot be complete unless we continue the legacy. That’s why I care for everyone, the kids and people on the streets, and even the more fortunate in the suburbs. These people in shacks barely have the basics for living. My music speaks to them more because these people need healing.

My grandmother was a healer who would have water and pray on it. I asked people to bring water to my gigs, and just have it there in their possession. My music, I believe, then allows the water to capture the healing, and this water has the power of coding certain messages. Mbeki and I used to go to these temples and learn how the spiritual energies were moved by earth elements, and I learned from this. Together, we explored healing as a gift through the language of ingoma or our musicianship.

CM: Regarding your still-to-be launched album, “Listening to the Ground”, I’m curious why you have pulled in the Swedish tenor saxophonist, Karl Martin Almquist, one of my very favourites from northern Europe?
NM: I found him on YouTube, had never met him, but loved his sound. I sent him an email a few years ago, and invited him to join in my latest album. He said, Yes!

CM: Tell me about your album, “Listening to the Ground”.
NM: This is for my ancestors. It’s about the African soil, and African environment, which has so much energy and sounds in it. How deep is the African ground, and how deep is the African soul? In spite of slavery, African people continue to smile, continue to have hope, and till the soil.

CM: Your music you say comes from an ‘external’ force. If you mean a higher Spirit (let’s call it ‘God’), then why can’t this powerful force be ‘internal’ as well? Your project seems to have integral components working together.
NM: Yes, right. I see God as a holistic view of consciousness. It means ‘God’ is a complete picture, both internal and external. The deeper you get into the internal mode of self, the more you can go outside yourself. Like those who had ‘out of body’ experience….. they went so deep inside themselves that they could actually come out of that experience.

SBYA 2015 - jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

SBYA 2015 – jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

CM: You’d make a good Buddhist!
NM: Oh, hah hah! I read and listen alot to Osho? On Sundays, with my family in our house, we listen to Osho teachings and alot of music, and learn and discuss. Osho leaves things open for us to look for conclusion. For instance, he observes the cycle of water with this story: There was a stream that flowed for so many years, but then runs into a desert. Osho then panicks wondering how he’s going to find water in this dry desert. But he had another thought: If I become one with the desert and dissolve in it, then I’ll be OK. It then began to rain in a different place and saved his desert. His message was that sometimes, we must dissolve and not take ourselves so seriously. And this is what the exercise of music teaches. I can just let go and not become so absorbed in my individuality. The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.

CM: Are you interested in teaching about this consciousness, environmental holistic healing, and ways to save us all!
NM: It’s always there indirectly. The music is our greatest teaching. My music is universal, always a means to a destiny. Music has a power, something deeper, for people to reach for. I’ve been writing alot, in social media, about what inspires my music. Many people who resonate with my music and its ingoma (musical healing) are not necessarily jazz lovers.

CM: You’re on a journey….particularly with your family. With your mom….And your wife?
NM: My Mom’s very special, supports me 100%, even though she doesn’t have my belief systems. My wife, Nomagugu, is on all my albums. She’s one of my favourite singers. I’ve got my daughter on ‘Mother Tongue’. The three children and my wife finish the last track on “Sketches of Tomorrow”, with my children ending the song: “Oh Nothing; Oh Nothing Again”. I thought what a beautiful message as it came from them listening to the woes about Zimbabwe daughters there, about “Africa’s daughters are without names,” with a loss of identity. So I think it’s amazing how kids can spark this energy in the music we play in the house. In terms of healing the space, the kids and my wife heal that house space which becomes charged with so much energy.

CM: What an experience for the kids! You talked about your Sunday gigs just for the three of them.
Do you record your family sessions?
NM: Oh Oh. No. What an idea! I should record them, you know. We would talk about the gigs, about what is God and existence, and about what they feel in the music, and how the music connects to God, etc. Other kids would tell them about their church experience, but my kids would tell their friends about the music: “Our Dad does gigs for us!” and explain what we played at home that morning.

CM: So your journey continues….
NM: Like Bheki Mseleku who said he never knew how or where to finish a tune, it just kept going and going, with no real ending…… So I think I love the same kind of thing, where music never ends. Durban is a center for guitar harmonies, too, which I love. My father played guitar, so I have been inspired by those traditional sounds . I portray this in the song,“From an Old Bag of Umkhumbane”. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather came from this town of Umkhumbane which, like Sophiatown, became a melting pot for jazz and music. There was a whole tradition of guitar culture. This is why I like to explore how to express this guitar on the piano.

I’ll be doing my masters at Stellenbosch University through York University partnership. I’ll focus on oral tradition and jazz, and how music has been taught without written music. Similarly, how stories in a song have been orally presented, not written. Written scores present different interpretations, like Winston’s Yakhal’ Inkomo which he authored in a different time. Likewise, I’m dealing with certain things now, but how do I make that song relevant and how do we push this music forward for it to make sense with the generations to come which don’t know much about the history of South Africa? But in this music, certain things can be coded and documented, of history and music.

CM: The coding of music……

At this point, Nduduzo had only half hour to check in for his flight. Our chat could have continued forever….. It will.

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The Bratislava Hot Serenaders and Bandakadabra, gig reviews at Edinburgh`s JBF

One is Slovakian, the other Italian, all high vibe, fun, and humorous, bringing period jazz dance music of 1920-30s alive under our festival tent. What a relief to have concerts with no loud electronic amplification. It didn’t exist back then! Both bands used only one mic. Bratislava`s 19 musicians presented a mix of Ellington Cotton Club songs current in that Harlem community, then moved us across the Atlantic to Slovakian tango and middle European dance music.

The age range of patrons attending this gig was hardly a curve, but rather a flat graph, my honest projection being about 85% of ages 60 plus. The sea of white heads and beards nicely matched the all- male band members` period black-tie costumes, lacquered hair styles, and manicured moustaches. Even the `girls`, the Hot Serenader Sisters who sang their rehearsed harmonies, standing close-faced at the one mic, added imagery to this period `live` documentary. It was indeed fun to watch what my parents had babbled about during my early growth years. The band unadornably played my favorites: Blue Moon, Moon Indigo, and Body and Soul.

With horns, reeds, piano, 3 violins, tuba and banjo all in firey sync, singers took turns at the one mic, sometimes thoughtfully pointing it towards instrumental soloists. I was waiting for them to break out into a Charlestown foot dance!

London`s BBC Dance Orchestra songs also featured. The very humorous renditions of the famous `The Broken Record` and the trumpeter MC`s `Hot Lips` left one laughing into Edinburgh`s rainy evening.

BANDAKADABRA provided a carnival atmosphere of 12 Italian brass, reeds, and drum players rumbling about the stage. Their slapstick humor mixed with period blues between the World Wars made for comic proportions as they banged out Balkan blues and Mediterranean marches. In white ruffled shirts, they acted out ineffective cat calls to the ladies unfortunate enough to sit in the front rows. These rumbling vagabonds truly awakened the kid in all of us without losing any authentic skills in delivering this timeless music.

These groups were such fun! I would go see them again anywhere.

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Swamp Donkeys kick da Blues! a gig review from Edinburgh

You don’t have to walk much for exercise at this Jazz and Blues Festival – there’s enough knee-jerk, foot-stompin` moves provided by the likes of these groovy Swamp Donkeys who very authentically play classic New Orleans early `jass`.

Young Japanese trombonist, Haruka Kikuchi, and newest member of the live band, settled in NO 1/12 years ago because: “I love the NO style of jazz”! Well, and could this beauty deliver one heck of a raspy bone slide with her new- found love, the Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band. “Not many Asians like to play this type of music,” she explained in her broken English, “but I love it”!  Well, isn’t diversity fun?

There’s nothing mimicking about the Donkeys. It’s as though they arose fresh out of the oil-soaked waters of NO`s Louisiana coastline. They don’t play, they speak, and converse: tuba to banjo, to trumpet, to soprano sax, to that swanky sliding bone, so sassy!  Trumpeter James Williams, who sings a girgly Satchmo very well (even his speaking voice sounds a natural Louis Armstrong), recently performed with DeeDee Bridgewater at Capetown`s international jazz festival last March. I think this youthful band should apply for next year’s 2016 CTIJF, and I told manager Oren Krinsky just that.

Cross-legged Williams wallops an astoundingly convincing rendition of 1920s and 1930s-40s southern American Charlestown-style swing as you imagine your own bones dancing away. The banjo and lady trombone conversed in `My Rosetta`, followed by a drunken drawl as Williams` Armstrong-strained vocals told a sad sad story.

The Donkeys insisted on audience participation as we all staggered about, pretending an early morning inebriation with sound, if not with magical liquids.

But it was the soprano sax that grabbed me with his wails, coos, and hip-smacking swing from someone who resembled a teenage apprentice with lots of musical ancestry of the era. This youthful energy could teach the ole timers a thing or two, it seems.

The Donkeys ended their set with their signature tune, `Swamp Donkeys`, sung by all musos, leaving us hip-smackers smiling all the way to the next exhausting concert.

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Compassion shines in this Cold World, gig review of Naomi Shelton

She was a heartland of blues, pounded out with such elegant style and timing. A seasoned wheelchair-bound Naomi Shelton and her Gospel band with bassist/bandleader Fred Thomas (of James Brown band of 1970s) and her 3 Queens delighted her warm standing ovation audience at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. She sang off her latest album, Cold War, thanks to Daptone Records (2014).

I was taken back to the Alabama blues groove native to Shelton, based in New York city for the past half century. Shelton knows the stage, and her Gospel team, along with her husky voice, knows how to reach your soul and tell you “what you done wrong”, like in her visionary `Sinner`song. Her messages that evening of 17 July painted the demise of humanity and human betrayal in our contemporary world.

Edinburgh`s horseshoe shaped St Andrews Square venue provided cramped seating typical of vibey festivals like this one, but gave choice for tables and a bar in the back for the serious listeners/drinkers. At first, the sound system whined, drowning out Shelton`s voice, but got sorted in the end. Shelton was relentless, belting out an Etta James song, `Love Come Along`, which brought lip movements from head bobbing listeners. The `Child is Hungry` remembered the funky beats of the early James Brown.

She moved us to another level, breaking out into a clapping high tempo 4/4 time gospel. The audience moved.

Her finale got the Euro audience on their feet with the funky gospel swing in `Lord, I’m Your Child`.

There was compassion, and revival, and hope as she smiles and throws her kisses reassuringly to us unworthy listeners. Ninety minutes of Shelton pushes you to church in a still redemptive Baptist gospel tradition, yet with secular respect. It was hard to hear anything else that night, other than wanting more of this sanctifying blues!

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Bokani Dyer dyertribes again at Straight No Chaser with Swiss crew

As light rain falls in the middle of Cape Town’s dry winter, Straight No Chaser is the place to be, a manageable venue that handles what warmth seekers want to hear – good live jazz. I walked in on last night’s well advertised gig featuring our own pianist Bokani Dyer who presented his band of seasoned Swiss musicians having musical ties to South Africa. Together, on a country wide tour, his Swiss Quintet performed Bokani’s own ‘dyertribe’ compositions, some from his latest album, ‘World Music’.

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

I arrived for the second set, as the first group of patrons were leaving. Entering this small but cozy venue from the chilly wet outside, my eye glasses immediately fogged up. The sauna of human breath was inviting, indeed, and I quickly warmed up as these five musicians took to the stage, thanks to their sponsor, Prohelvetia.

Being a Bheki Mseleku fan (as I am), Bokani performed his own version of Mseleku’s “Cycle” which featured a stunning double bass solo from Stephan Kurmann, followed by a piano duet which sounded very much like the late great Mseleku we knew. Trumpeter Mattias Spillmann started the next song rustling an A4 paper as the bass punctuated. Bokani plucked his piano strings. Drummer Norbert Pfammatter fell in with a steady funky beat. Then, Spillmann put his hat on his trumpet to act like a muffler, another innovative ‘hat trick’! I called this ‘trumpet ruffles while hat muffles’ as the song’s name wasn’t announced.

Mattias Spillmann's hat muffler

Mattias Spillmann’s hat muffler

The final song, “Fanfare”, struck off with a familiar South African beat – again a Mseleku sound – with an extraordinary saxophone solo by Donat Fisch followed by an equally competitive one by the trumpet. It was a finale making any outside inclement weather little to care about.

The Bokani I knew from the past was shining, as usual. But he has lost his dredlocks. His shaved head grown out a little bit connotes him as avant-garde, plain, older, but simpler. I guess a Bokani in the raw!! I grew up with big Afro -black-is-beautiful heads. OK, I’m outdated….

Bokani’s set perked me up. Mind you, at 10.20pm, on a rainy chilly night at the bottom of this hemisphere, I could have dealt with bed. Easily. The trek out was worth it! And why the Swiss four? In May 2014, Bokani did a residency in Basel at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club where he performed with his Swiss comrades who, individually, carry a wealth of experience with worldly views, including performing with notable South African musicians like Abdullah Ibrahim, Feya Faku, Marcus Wyatt, etc.

Bokani with Marlon & Shane

I now look forward to digesting his new CD, ‘World Music’, which Bokani recorded with South Africans he has grown up with. The 12 songs promise another dyertribe special, I’m sure!

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An Interview with jazz guitarist Vuma Ian Levin about “Necessary Contradictions”

Another vibrant, well-skilled South African guitarist hit Capetown’s Straight No Chaser jazz club with his quintet made up of young European musicians. Vuma Levin has been schooling in Amsterdam and making a professional life for himself, but well remembers his own home shores as his debut album suggests. “The Spectacle of An-Other” contains his original compositions which speak messages I like: Through cultural and national identities, how do we empower marginalised Black South African histories post 1994 to integrate into various spaces and experiences without stigma or enclavist mentalities so prominent in the past?

Quintet album cover

Quintet album cover & promotion

His evening at SNC drew a relatively large crowd, as do well publicized artists passing through. Levin is not just ‘passing through’ though. He participates in the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival (SBYJF) in Grahamstown beginning July, and will hang around our shores for a while during his study break with the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music where he’s working towards his master’s in jazz guitar performance.

Informed by Levin’s facebook page promotional materials and this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtJuVskXjc8, I queried Levin on what interested him in cultural musicology and what he meant by wanting to liberate musical forms from jargonistic and Euro-centric definitions of what constitutes ‘African music’ or ‘jazz’. My interview with him on 29 June 2015 in Cape Town caught him just before his travels to Grahamstown where, in 2009, he was chosen for the National Youth Jazz Band.

Born in Swaziland from a Jewish South African father in exile with the ANC, and a Swazi mother, Levin could settle back in South Africa only after the new dispensation gave permissions for his parents’ mixed marriage. His father has acted as a DG in government while his mother worked as a consultant with the Department of Education. Settled in Johannesburg, it was only when Levin attended the Sacred Heart College and sang in the school choir that he started his musical training. At age 14, he picked up guitar, watched how buskers on the street fingered their guitars, and sang along with them. Formal musical training continued at the Tswane University of Technology where he studied with the late Johnnie Fourie for 1 year, and other noted jazz musicians.

CM: You talk in the South African context about trying to salvage music from the “pre-colonial, colonial, and post colonial” periods that have marginalized black music. What do you mean by pre-colonial?

VL: That’s a very hard term to define as there’s no written account of what existed in pre colonial times. That’s not to say that the only way to access history is through the written word. History can be encoded in cultural artifacts – song and dance, written items. One of the early projects of the colonial period was to try to neutralize African culture, a concerted effort to vilify it as needing ‘civilizing’, to rid the natives of their traditional practices, which were central to dispersing history through oral means, etc. This effectively limited access to this history. At the end of the day, the pre colonial history is hard to define as we don’t have access to it, unless we can salvage something of the traditional. From the Euro centric standpoint, which looks to written history, there’s none of that in African precolonial life.

CM: When you go to the colonial period, what do you consider ‘colonial’ music?
VL: I consider that music basically from 1652 onwards , when the first settlers arrived and settled, up to 1994. Obviously, that’s a very broad category with a lot of different phases but for me, that is what the colonial moment is for me.

Vuma Levin &

Vuma Levin & Bernard van Rossum (sax) at SNC

CM: Something came out of that colonial period?
VL: Yes, basically what was key was the interaction between new colonial settlers and the people already living in southern Africa, or the indigenous peoples. This interaction took hold particularly during the time when King Shaka was defending and conquering lands or borders of expansion. With this increased interaction, between various ethnic groups within South Africa, you develop a trade in culture, sometimes imposed, like with the Christian missionaries. Sometimes it’s more organic and fluid. The key thing is that whether art forms are forced or organic interactions, they change, even artificially. Even in the 1980s you had your Winston Mankunku’s and Chris McGregor’s travelling with their music in Europe, so there was that exchange. And the effects from these exchanges are different at every stage of history.

CM: What about the present?
VL. Post-colonial? Imbedded in the term is the understanding that even though formal colonialism has ended, the power relations which colonialism inculcated in us are so very much in existence nowadays.

CM: Power, yes. There is now a majority power in this country. Do you think the cultural and musical art forms of that majority are coming alive?
VL: I think it’s hopeful, but I still think there’s a western hegemony on cultural production – a white western one. Through media and business and other institutions, the iconography, I guess, of colonialism remains intact. It’s the same in music as well. So I think there’s concerted effort, particularly by young music professionals in this country to try to break those boundaries. Like: Kyle Shepherd, Bokani Dyer, Thandi Ntuli, Marcus Wyatt,

CM: Talk more about Carlo Mombelli and your experience or influence with him. I don’t see Carlo as being terribly ‘indigenous’ although you have dedicated a composition to Carlo. How would you describe his influence on you?

VL: For me, Carlo was a very early influence. I listened to his music and was inspired at a young age. It’s important to realise that terms like ‘authentic’ and ‘indigenous’ are dangerous terms to use in South African context . The moment that a South African subject takes something from the outside world and uses it in a non-reactionary way to express themselves, it becomes a ‘South African’ thing. So English, and French, and Portugese – all these languages are African languages. They’ve been appropriated by people here and used as a way of articulating their sense of self, and I consider this the same way with music. I consider Carlo’s music as authentically South African as would be a Xhosa composer. They are both citizens of this country appropriating something from the outside and using that as a means of expressing what it means to be a South African for himself, and in an organic way.

CM: Carlo’s stay in Germany perhaps meant he absorbed other influences, but maybe his own infusion of African-ness in his music might not be seen by European listeners in quite the same way as he would have liked.
VL: It’s basically about demystifying Africans because from the European standpoint, there’s a mystery about what it means to be ‘African’.

CM: Which is what Kyle and others are trying to do. Which brings me to your role in trying to demystify this African-ness. This is an important part of your workshops here, to try to correct people’s gahgah about: “Oh, here’s our boy coming back home to his roots” type of response from people. We all are born somewhere, but this doesn’t mean we have to get stuck in our ‘roots’. I have your quote I’d like to clarify: ‘denigration of historical and contemporary South African music’…… What did you mean by this? Isn’t the world trying to bring back this older music of another time?
VL: Well, I think there is this effort to bring it back, but the way it is done is highly problematic. Since Edward Said wrote “Orientalism”, terms such as exoticism and primitivism have entered the cultural lexicon, and people are not sensitive to the fact that they are largely engaging in these practices when they try to empower African forms, basically. So the idea is: If you’re going to book an ‘African band’, already you may have a preconceived notion of what constitutes an African band. You know how to market that. And if anybody falls outside of that strongly preconceived notion, you’re less likely to market them. For instance, how do you market somebody like Bokani Dyer whose music draws from jazz pianist Robert Glasper who doesn’t play African art forms? There’s an alliance between capital and the colonially inherited notions of what constitutes ‘Africans’. It is only fair that those people who continue to engage in these traditional practices, and who have been marginalized in the past, be given space to do their thing.

CM: So ‘traditional’ doesn’t always mean ‘in the past’…?
VL: Traditional artists themselves are often a lot more nuanced with contemporary sounds and narratives than people think . They’re human beings so can carry messages…. It’s a bit de-humanizing to have this preconceived package of beliefs about who they are.

Levin concludes:
So this is an essential feature about what my project is about. These go hand in hand: nuancing African identity and empowering marginalized histories. It is a contradiction because on the one hand, you’re saying there’s no such thing as traditional African-ness, and on the other hand, there IS such a thing and we need to empower that. It’s a necessary contradiction to draw in.

CM: The contradiction helps to empower through debate by providing that debate. It requires a sense of history and social propriety and intelligent debate, doesn’t it?
VL: Exactly.

CM: You have on the one hand local South African influences with people who reside here, whatever the expansion of their music art form is. Some are moving on with their sound forms; others are still stuck with what they know best and in the past. Then you have the ‘diasporic’ influences. Who are these Diaspora you speak about?
VL: I think one definition of ‘Diaspora’ is a large body of people who move from one part of the globe to another. Diasporic musicians can include Africans who have left their African areas. This doesn’t only include musicians but the Africans carrying their intellectual diasporic traditions, like Chinua Achebe, Kofi Agawu (a Ghanaian musicologist). But I’m referring also to the music itself, especially in the age of globalization, there’s increased motion in music. It’s moving around, and again allied to capitalism, not knowing really where the music is coming from. When I was 13 years old, I listened to Radio Head and Massive Attack – that was my music foundation and the music I loved most. So this was diasporic music, which doesn’t only refer to Africans moving about.

CM: That’s an interesting concept of migration, of people migrating without being ‘migrants’. We all are migrating in our social, cultural, and intellectual forms because there’s a world of information out there. This is great. But it’s also overload. People are getting confused – about what they’re hearing, etc. And terms we use are not catching up with the informational overload we’re experiencing. If you have terminologies that are not catching up, then you get stuck with jargon which influences people’s psychology, and the informational ‘box’ effect. But this is just human nature, isn’t it?
VL: Indeed.

CM: How do you break through this? It’s interesting your European band is playing a type of sound you’re trying to cultivate.
VL: The musicians are craftsmen and creators in their own right. The music I compose has such a strong basis in western harmony, just to be publically clear. I consider myself to have been very well colonized in that regard. My ears are very oriented to western harmony and because we all speak in this western harmonic language it becomes possible to compose songs and interact on that front, particularly with that jazz tradition , from Parker and bebop to contemporary modern jazz up until now. Secondly, we have a shared harmonic language that comes out of the classical music tradition and has been elaborated upon by various jazz artists. Because we have these common points of reference, it makes it possible for us to engage in the conversation.

CM: Good point….common points of reference. Are you planning on returning to South Africa more permanently now?
VL: If you asked me this two years ago, when I was finishing my degrees, I would have said, yes, I’m coming back. But with professional obligations, and with things happening in Europe to my favour, I would say, yeah, I’ll come back at some other time. I would try to set up some trans-continental arrangements in the meantime.

CM: If you were to spend time in South Africa, what would you want to do here?
VL: One has to be realistic about establishing networks and business outlets. I would be very interested in working with local musicians. I would also love a job teaching at a University, and having private students. In Europe, I’ve been lucky with several gigs per month. The band, Aurelio Project, led by a Mozambiquan, has included me in their tours.

CM: Who influences you in your improvisations? Who do you look up?
VL: Carlo, Marcus, Africa Mkize, John Davis, Kevin Davidson, Massive Attacks, Debussy, Ravel and other classical music. The atonality of Schoenberg…..

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Vuma Levin plays at the Grahamstown Youth Jazz Festival and also at the Fringe venues.  His quintet includes Bernard van Rossum (Tenor Sax, Spain), Lennart Altgenug (Piano, Germany), Marco Zenini (Bass, Italy) and Jeroen Batterink (Drums, The Netherlands).

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Mike del Ferro’s “The Johannesburg Sessions”, a CD Review by C. Martin

Here comes another improvisational jewel of an album from Dutchman Mike del Ferro, whose piano keys, heart, and well-versed skills combine traditional South African sounds with electronic wizardry of fellow band members, all South African. Challenge Records is offering this third album, “The Johannesburg Sessions”, as part of a 10-album series that present del Ferro’s “songs inspired by wandering the globe”. His South African experience of absorbing local jazz sounds, rural and urban rhythms, and musings with traditional healers has produced another magically enlightening study in sound. Like his recent workshop “Working in Sound” at the March 2015 SAJE conference (South African Association for Jazz Education), del Ferro explores how electronic effects open up avenues for compositions which wed the traditional human and animal sounds with contemporary improvisation. More about that later.

The Johannesburg Sessions

Cover: “The Johannesburg Sessions”

The album is filled with Zulu and Xhosa vocal chants (from Zulu singer Mbuso Khoza) mixed with electronica of bassist/composer Carlo Mombelli, and punctuated with African rhythmic sounds of drummer Kesivan Naidoo and percussionist Thebe Lipere. It opens with a lilting Zulu song, “Smomondiya”, about a beautiful Zulu woman. One hears Khoza’s falsetto voice enamoured with her image. “Ntylo Ntylo” followed by “Goema on Saturday” ring familiar to the local popular song and Cape rhythms. Naidoo kicks off in characteristic goema style with del Ferro’s piano chords and phrases and Khoza’s vocal chants announcing the joyful street dances and parades reminiscent of the January Cape Carnival.
“Umlolozelo” is an absolutely beautiful traditional Zulu ballad, presented skilfully by Khoza’s gentle and wide soprano voice range as is his other slow ballad, “Imbusise” meaning ‘Lord bless the work of my hands’. An interesting 12/8 improvisation is “Twelfish” with familiar worldly percussive effects but fundamentally African. The final songs feature Khoza’s tributes to his cultural kingdoms of old, of the late 1870s Zulu King Cetshwayo’s reign with original scores by del Ferro in “Leyla” and “Mpushini”, which is a melodic del Ferro song with Khoza spoken lyrics about the river that runs next to his native village in KZN. It ends the album on a meditative note.

My favourite on the album comes in the middle: “The Mosquito Loop” is fun. The mozzie buzz is always there, glittering with the electronic effects of bassist Mombelli playing with his pedals as he enjoys doing. There is something ‘traditional’ (in keeping with the album’s otherwise African sounds) about the ever-present and monotonous mosquito buzz as the piano echoes in short phrases as the percussion taps out energy and the drum rolls crescendo (Naidoo’s signature method) just as the mozzie lands. The psychedelic electronica merges as mozzie flies away happy! This is a fascinating study in pedal loop improvisation – just make sure your stereophonic range is well tuned.

I can’t wait to hear the subsequent 7 albums yet to come in this 10-part masterful series of global sounds.

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Del Ferro is also a master of improvisation workshops as exhibited in several ‘shops’ I attended in March.  Nobuhle Mazinyane, a 16 year old Grade 11 student at Groote Schuur High School, played her own composition at Mike’s workshop “Working in Sound” on 30 March 2015.

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

“Try to give each note more or less the same value. The stretch of your hand – one note in the chord can make a big difference.” He explained how the electronic keyboard can guide one’s composition with the different harmonies and sounds (like scat). “With the Roland (keyboard), I play different harmonies because the overtones change. I never use the ‘piano’ sound on the electric piano. Trick is to send a note behind the bar, a syncopation….”

In his other workshop, “Self management and networking for musicians”, he advises: “It is essential for starting (and non starting) musicians to have the right organizational and networking skills in order to create a successful career in music”.” Don’t wait too late to learn these skills. Network your sounds: “….12/8 and 6/8 time – you hear this in Senegal and South Africa. There are lots of inspirations from African rhythms and traditions.”

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Mike del Ferro’s dizzying schedule of ‘wandering the globe’ can be seen on his website, www.mikedelferro.com, along with a multitude of video clips that offer armchair travelers an array of those globalized sounds ala Mike.

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Young American jazz saxophonist releases debut album with Capetownians

An Interview with Tristan James Weitkamp by C. Martin

“Flash in the Pan” , the debut album of 23 year old Tristan James Weitkamp, talks about issues of the heart brought on by contemporary social incongruities. Here’s a young jazz artist with a message. A native of Portland, Oregon, Tristan has crafted his Cape Town band, called New Horizons, to produce an exciting assortment of home-grown, South African-influenced songs with stories. The album will be released this June by Milestone Studios followed by gigs in Cape Town on 12 (UCT/SACM C7) and 18 June (Straight No Chaser).

I interviewed the band members during their studio ‘shoot’ and found some very creative and ambitious guys and gals willing to give their all. There are a host of guest artists performing in this ambitious album: Ludwe Danxa plays keyboard; Revon October plays electric bass; Ndumiso Manan and Diana Neil on vocals; Dizu Plaatjies on pipe flute; James McClure and Marco Maritz on trumpets; Georgie Jones on baritone sax; Tammy Breakey on flute; and Norwegian guitarist, Gorm. The poet is Kgmotso Malele.

But firstly, let’s hear from the young maestro himself.

TJW: I had studied music at college in Portland, Oregon, but wanted a break to study African affairs more closely. One professor I had in Oregon was Darrell Grant, a pianist who accompanied Better Carter band, inspired me to explore the world more when my family held house concerts featuring Darrell. This led to my applying to the University of Cape Town (UCT) for African Studies. I also knew UCT had a vibrant music school which is why I brought my sax. So, my family helped raise my funds for an expensive tuition at UCT. I also jammed with musicians and never dreamt I would end my year cutting my first jazz album with these wonderful musicians!

Tristan at Piano Bar

Tristan at Piano Bar

CM: I understand you have strong messages to convey in your album, like in your song, “Coffee Stains”.

TJW: My most authentic composition is ‘Coffee Stains on Cardboard Boxes’, which is a duet between my sax and the double bassist. There’s a story on this from Prestwich Memorial, about how building developers found graves of slaves and exhumed them to build a new building, and doing this digging without consideration for the slave’s ‘rights’ to a dignified burial.

CM: [I thought to myself: How does a 23 year old ‘white’ American boy, coming to Africa, learn and incorporate a profoundly significant but little known historical incident (at least to average CapeTownians) about the treatment of slaves, dead or alive?]

TJW: The corpses of slaves were stored in these shelves, in this building, like they would be stored on a slave ship. I was in their mausoleum but the frontage was actually a coffee shop, like a corporate business. I think it’s a horrible modern day example of slavery, and how we do not take interest in what these people represented. Their memorial grave is being supported by money generated by coffee! That’s why I wrote this song, about coffee stains on cardboard boxes.

CM: You sound quite politically aware as an artist wanting to send out your concerns in your music. Have you been an activist of sorts?

TJW: Not really, but I’ve grown frustrated with the unchanging nature of our world. I’m seeing proposals made by Martin Luther King’s movement back in the 60s are not being achieved 60-70 years later. During College, I took several courses in African studies, and this enthused me to study further, which is why I came to UCT/CapeTown. I became exposed to hurtles and blocks to democracy in this country. I was seeing issues not much differently from other parts of the world. I arrived right after Mandela’s funeral. I’m a political animal, and am aware of the economic crisis. But studying African history and music – and political and social issues in South Africa – woke me up. UCT is a microcosm of the country. Political and social protests are being held amongst students and faculty/administration.

Through the African Studies department, I learned about the Prestwich Mortuary. Also, one visiting South American lecturer, Walter Mignolo, inspired me to understand how colonialism is a persistent trait, spawned out of the feudal and renaissance times, hand in hand with technological advances. History is not linear but vertical, one layer being built upon another. Apartheid is like this, accumulative history using ‘race as a way to measure….worth. He said, if we are concerned with race today, then it means we are still colonialists. If we did not make a big deal about ‘race’, then the subject would not be important and the issues would fall away. He talked about how you go about de-colonizing the human psyche because colonialism lives in the brain. We have to de-program our minds – get rid of the propaganda instilled in us.

CM: So where did you get “Flash in the Pan” as your album title?

TJW: Flash in the Pan comes from the time when firearms were muzzle-loaded, but nothing came to fruition. Big sensationalism with no real results. Like having a movement to remove Rhodes statue, to combat the neo-colonialism in the modern context, but when it happened, it only removed the statue. This created conversation, but nothing really changes. History remains. If you want to change, then change laws moving contemporary society along, not tear down historical statues.

Tristan at Tagoges

Tristan at Tagores

CM: Tell me how you chose your songs.

TJW: “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney, is a song he composed to convey the opportunity to fly, amidst the 1950s and 1960s black consciousness movement. Another song is about a meatgrinder – is a Cape jive tune with an American jazz twist. I was told by a friend from Delft that his home was like a meatgrinder in the township, because of the amounts of crime, people fighting with each other, grabbing what they can. It turns people around, grinds them up. Then another song, “Impetus”, is a force that sparks something, moves the boulder. ‘Flash in the Pan’ , a ballad tune I wrote, starts out as a Cape jive gospel intro, then completely changes. The album continues to deal with social issues, like ‘Coffee Stains’ with young bassist, Sean. The spoken word hip hop song has poet, Kgmotso Malele who starts off: “Silence is the loudest form of noise….”. When you get towards the end of the album, the ‘Blue Boat Home’, which comes from the Universalist hymnbook, has beautiful lyrics about a man’s ride from earth (the Blue Boat), travelling through space on a sea of stars , to reach ‘home’. This song was played at my grandfather’s funeral because it’s about going home to our final resting place. I wrote a jazz arrangement of it which is sung by a wonderful Cape Town singer, Diana Neil. Then comes “Down the River” and “Welcome Home” which I dedicated to my grandmother who is 100 years old now, and to my late grandfather, both who urged me to pursue music. “Here we are, all at home; without ruthlessness, without greed, …..”

CM: You leave South Africa this July to return home. What are your future plans?

TJW: I will go back to music, and prefer conducting. I like conducting an orchestra with woodwinds and choirs. New Horizons is not meant to be just a South African initiative; I plan to release the album in the States with another band. I’d like Zoe, my singer here, to come and do the release with me and give it a South African flavour.

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So who is New Horizons? I interviewed members of the band, and found an eclectic mix of cultures, musical persuasions, attitudes, and experiences.

Singer and composer, Zoe Modiga, offers soulful gospel and blues sounds, all improvised carefully with the occasional scat. Her low voice and poise give her a mature air that defies her young self. At 21 years of age, and having come from teenage years studying at Gauteng’s National School of Arts (NSA) and studies at UCT Jazz Studies, she has remarkable sound, sincerity, and carriage on stage as well as in her delivery. No wonder several bands include her regularly as their vocalist, such as the seasoned Frank Paco and Bokani Dyer, and the Jo Kunniji Experiment. Having won the local GrandWest’s Open Jazz Mic competition last year, Zoe will probably move on to other sites of Gauteng for more exposure and experience and further study, even incorporating other loves, like cooking and photography, to her list of skills.

Drummer Andre Swartz grew up in Retreat in Cape Town and graduated from UCT’s Jazz Studies. He is now married to an American lady from Dallas, Texas, and moves between his two country homes. He presently fills the position of Head of Faculty of Music at the Campus of the Performing Arts in Woodstock, which started in 2006 and specializes in contemporary music, mostly the pop genre.

“I intentionally wanted to depart from the traditional bebop jazz to phrasing of African rhythms, particularly with contemporary African jazz, and show what commonalities exist between these different time and cultural periods. I have the kit drum doing one thing, and the snare drum doing another thing, like that to get the polyrhythms. For instance, I have a high tam and a low tam and the snare which fills in, and then a djembe which clicks in. “

Pianist Blake Hellaby, presently teaching at Cape Town’s Wynberg Boys High School, believes in ‘giving back. “I feel music is the freest form of expression and can affect the positive transformations in the Cape Flats on people’s lives. The people living on the Cape Flats have never been told that they can become anything they want to be. They’ve never been told, ‘You don’t have to be a cleaner.’ I feel there’s room in South Africa to improve people’s lives and jazz needs to carry this message without being accused of becoming ‘political’”. Blake feels that indigenous South African music is becoming extinct. “The Klopse aren’t playing their own music any more. They’re playing American pop.”

Tristan was an international exchange student with African music specialist, Dizu Plaatjie, last year, so Dizu understands Tristan’s ideas and his willingness to play South African jazz music. Dizu offers a R5 irrigation pipe flute to the album, thus boosting the authentic African pipe soundscape in some songs.

The youngest in the band is 19 year old Sean Sanby who plays double bass, and loved having the freedom to express his own reactions to Tristan’s stories. A first year student at UCT SACM, Sean has already participated in five Grahamstown Youth Jazz Festivals, and played in the National Schools Big Band in 2013 and 2014. He also plays 16 string guitar, and was a member of the Cape Town Youth Orchestra 2015 and the Artscape Youth Jazz Band this year.

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Another meet-up with Somi at SNC – a gig review by C Martin

Somi at Straight No Chaser on Wed, 6 May 2014

This pan-African singer, who proudly hails from Ugandan and Rwandan parentage, pleased too few listeners on Wednesday evening, 6 May, at one of Capetown’s premier jazz clubs, Straight No Chaser, on Beitankant Street. II first saw her at Johannesburg’s Joy of Jazz a few years ago, and was blown away!

Somi's latest Album

Somi’s latest Album

Her New York- based band of international artists shared her planetary space on the small stage as she swung through a repertoire of African- and Arab-influenced contemporary jazz songs. Her influences have recently accumulated from an 18 month study and research stay in Lagos, Nigeria, where she could compose songs that highlight the pop, soul, and jazz of that cosmopolitan African city and beyond. Her latest album, released last year, “The Lagos Music Solon”, speaks to that.

Somi is straight, elegant, and humble in her demeanor. On stage she breathes the African way, and swings her body in rhythm the African way. Her first piece was taken from singer/pianist Nina Simone. Somi shimmers with body emotion which exudes short rhythmic breaths, characteristic in African dance. I watched her guitarist who grooved as he sight-read the score. Nevertheless, he offered some splendid runs. Then her Japanese pianist took over, adding further excitement to Somi’s stage gyrations.

The electrifying drummer presented his steady taps in “I’m Still Your Girl” . Then, the bassist of Greek origin broke out with a southern Indian scat which fit the rhythm of the drums. His Tamil scat accompanied by his own bass added further electric energy which you don’t hear here in Cape Town! A third song, introduced with a drum solo, featured Somi singing in the African idiom as the band strummed out a reggie beat. The guitar wails its answer and talks with the singer. And more mesmerizing songs kept coming…..

As Somi thanked the crowd for their presence, she folded into a melodic Africa-south-of-the-Sahara –meets-north-Africa-Arabian twist and explained how her Ugandan and Rwandan ancestry gave rise to her breath scat, which she repeated in a drum duet. We were all spellbound with this ancestral sounding of presence and purpose – Proud to be African. In her last song of the evening, she displayed what seemed like a synopsis of the hour’s set: ziggy ziggy stage movements with her body, slinking sideways, then forward, then sideways again, her voice following the panic of guitars and drums making their crescendos before the solo piano finally takes us all away.

Among several notable positions held, as both an artist and scholar, Somi has been a TED Senior Fellow, and has performed at a major United Nations Memorial event. She has studied both African and Arab jazz traditions, and in 2015, serves as Artist-in-Residence at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundaton.

It is no wonder that Somi is completing a jazz opera about South African singer Miriam Makeba, her life and legacy. Somi performs again on Thursday, 7 May 2015 at the Straight No Chaser club at 8.30pm and 10pm. On 8 and 9 May, she appears at Johannesburg’s The Orbit jazz club. Not to be missed!! And if you can’t make those gigs, see her at www.somimusic.com.

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Lara Solnicki: a CD Review of her “Whose Shadows?” by C Martin

While listening to “Whose Shadow?”, I marvel at the wealth of lyrics, messages, and the clear vibrato pitch which singer and composer, Lara Solnicki, gives to her chosen songs. No wonder! She has married her love of poetry with music. Her classical operatic training as a Verdian soprano melds nicely with her verbal creative side which authors and re-produces an exciting array of lyrics definitely worthy of the listener’s ear. Toronto-born daughter of filmmaker/author parents, Solnicki released this self-produced second album in March 2014; it became #1 on Radio Canada’s jazz charts following its Montreal launch in December 2014.

LaraSolnicki_WhoseShadow_500px

Her book of poems and experimental prose, “Disassembled Stars” (Lyrical Myrical Press) was published in 2006, and her poems continue to be read in Canadian and international magazines. Perhaps it was her poetic improvisational tendency that led her down the contemporary jazz lane. Besides her private voice teaching Solnicki continues to play in jazz circuits within Canada and beyond, when time allows.

“Whose Shadow?” presents a splash of lyrics with a Jodi Mitchell feel. But it’s Solnicki’s wide vocal range and crisp diction that delivers a highly melodic and soothing musical experience. One warning: like the title suggests, the songs move through misty, sombre, and at times, gloomy soundscapes, but carried by her respectable timbre. It’s about shadows….

‘Sunset’ is a Kate Bush song of iridescence, remembering the day’s activities and praising its crimson-turned-rust end, as the sax seems to hail in this display of colour which frizzles as dusk prepares us to bed down.

Several octaves are reached on ‘Freedom Dance’ and ‘Jim the Dancer’. In the latter, John Johnson’s bass clarinet, in a thoughtful melancholy, steers this sultry melody as the Dancer follows suit, hitting some high notes and displaying the instrument’s equally wide range as does Solnicki’s voice. A jewel of a song. ‘La Flute Enchantee’, sung in French, swings into a fast bebop featuring a masterful piano and double bass duet, then a flute punctuation with bird-like replies. Solnicki’s vocals takes us mystically into nature’s nuances in this wonderful song, my favourite on the album.

‘Music for a While’ has a classical direction with an operatic pull, influenced by Ravel and Purcell, perhaps. In ‘A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)’, a Jimmy Rowles song, this is not an easy climb through intricately weaving tonal scales and pithy lyrics. At best, Solnicki shows she can dare!

And it’s with lyrics that Solnicki also excels, picking uneasy, scaly messages which can at best be humbly chewed. For instance, in ‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’, a Joni Mitchell song, we hear the ‘deep complaint’ in her . ‘Mercy Street’, a Peter Gabriel song, offers another melancholy, considering the collaboration on lyrics by Norma Winstone , messages which I personally have difficulty understanding. (I guess I’m a Joni Mitchell fan.} For me, it is a sad song, with added mourning by flautist Johnson; yet sung by Solnicki with perfect emotion and restraint. Of all Gabriel’s other stellar songs, I wonder why Solnicki picked this one…..It is only for us to wonder……

The album concludes with ‘I’ll Remember April’ as we feel Solnicki’s breathy voice with soft vibrato and pleasantly gentle pitch of voice at high ranges. This is what makes this album very listenable, coupled with a playfulness of poetry improvising on sound. She story-tells through whispers. But it’s bassist George Koller, himself an award winner and producer of this album, who choreographs the songs so eloquently along with the singer. Together, with a stellar cast of Canadian musicians all known for their quality, they all made me smile, swoon, gloom a bit, and search for my own shadow……

The Band is composed of: Lara Solnicki – vocals; John Johnson- saxophones, bass clarinet, flute; Mark Kieswetter – piano, rhodes; George Koller – acoustic and electric bass; Ted Quinlan – guitar; Nick Frasier – drums; Lena Allemano – trumpet; Ernie Tollar – bansuri flute; Davide DiRenzo – percussion

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Ear Candy -A Review of Al Jarreau’s “My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke” by C. Martin

“I took my first voice lesson a month ago,” beamed the 75-year old multi-Grammy Award singer, Al Jarreau. “Yeah, I’m studying voice now! In the rush of things, I had picked up some bad habits in my singing”. Well, I wouldn’t know! This announcement during his press conference preceded his stage appearance the next evening at the recent Cape Town International Jazz Festival held end March 2015. He was also plugging his latest album, “My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke” which does just that – honours a musical dynasty of invited artists who, together, stamp their own soundprints on the song legacy left by the late Duke who passed on in 2013.

My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke

My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke

Read an My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke excellent interview with Jarreau by Smooth Views about this album’s evolution: http://smoothviews.com/WordPress/?p=1055  and about the signature which producer John Burk puts, as does fellow writer and bassist, Stanley Clarke, on the whole album.

Had the Duke lived to hear his 10 songs on the album, he might have called it ‘ear candy’. There are sweet, some sour, sassy and sarcastic, but always soulful renditions of Duke’s tunes from the artist heavyweights who joined Jarreau.

Although the first song on the album is not a Duke song, “My Old Friend” is appropriate as it commemorates Jarreau’s 50 long years of friendship with Duke. In fact, Jarreau was reminded by Burk that he (Jarreau) was probably the longest collaborator going back to Duke’s Los Angeles days performing in the early 1960’s. In “Churchyheart” (tribute by Duke and Jarreau to Miles Davis’s ‘ Backyard Ritual/Bitches Brew’), there’s a love between fellow collaborator, bassist Marcus Miller, and Jarreau, both who loved Miles, and Miles loved them. You can hear it in the muted trumpet. With lyrics by Jarreau, Miller, who normally is a string bassist, offers a rare bass clarinet duet, or what Jarreau considered marking “some new territories”. Collaborator Stanley Clarke knocked heads together with Jarreau to select the songs having close connections between Duke and Jarreau, such as the bossa/samba song, or “Somebossa” as Jarreau calls it, where George Albright’s melodic saxophone presents this ‘summer breezin’ swing. In “Sweet Baby”, Jarreau’s falsetto pitch comes through nicely, in keeping with the title, matching Lalah Hathaway’s slinky voice. Vocalist Jeffrey Osborne and Jarreau announce “Every Reason to Smile” with a funky pop, like:

livin’ in a one room shack, you know it’s good to look back,

I loved those times so well….that’s how I learned to sing…

 

George Duke with Al Jarreau

George Duke with Al Jarreau

An old classic with Duke on piano and Boney James on tenor saxophone, ‘Bring me Joy’ brings back romantic memories of this past song about another day. Duke’s cousin Dianne Reeves (another multi Grammy award winner) and Jarreau swing into another samba rumble, enhanced by Lenny Castro’s percussion, in ‘Brazilian Love Affair/ Up from the Sea It Rose and Ate Rio in One Swift Bite”’. Characteristically, the song moves into a funky rap scat Jarreau is so noted for. Dr. John rattles his ‘brain salad’ in the last song on this album, ‘You Touch My Brain’ as each instrument skilfully lays out its own phrases like a tossed salad.

As Jarreau said to me during our interviews: “We brought in alot of people to cover his music. We laughed so much doing that record. I thought: ‘George, I’m sorry, I’m having a good time.’” And joyful, it is! So isn’t Jarreau’s aging voice.

The album was released in 2014 by Concord Music Group.

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Episode #2 The Sweet Divinity of Life: Musically Smiling with Al Jarreau….

“Down South in Africa,” sings Al Jarreau. He explains: “where the little bougainvillea winds around the big jacaranda tree as they become one with us, sun, and nature.” This masterful singer emphasized, “And this is YOUR story, class”, as he waved his lyrics page at us journalists (who were given copies) during his press conference at the CTIJF a few weeks ago.

“I should have named my album ‘Jacaranda Bougainvillea’ rather than ‘All I Got’ after my visit to South Africa in 2001, when I saw this transformation taking place …. It excited my band and I to write this piece.” To Jarreau, it’s a “lavender dream, the envy of orchids, when it’s dressed in a pink and fuchsia twine”. He launched this song at the 2002 North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland which also had a ‘South African’ stage. See the lyrics at the end of this article.

Al Jarreau performing at CTIJF on 29 March 2015. Credits:  NetworxPR

Al Jarreau performing at CTIJF on 29 March 2015. Credits: NetworxPR

Listening to this beautiful song on YouTube, one becomes mesmerized with the sweet divinity Jarreau attaches to the smallest of beings. As we chatted in his hotel, I discovered a deeply spiritual and compassionate Al Jarreau that could defy his otherwise contorting body and face when masterfully delivering his stage performance.

CM: At your press conference, you handed out the lyrics of your ‘Jacaranda Bougainvillea’ song. Talk about that.
AJ: You know, I was hoping some journalist would ask me some questions about this song which I and my band wrote after our South African performances in 2001. For instance, there’s this verse: ‘Oh Mandela, that garden that you made is a vision of the prayer you must have been prayin’ every day.’ What did you mean there, Al? And I would have replied, “Way down South in Africa. Look at the jacaranda tree huggin’ the Bougainvillea.” That song is thick with message. It was a very important song about what you can export from your past experiences – the political transition out of separate-ness and towards one-ness. That’s more important than the friggin’ gold, or the DeBeers Mine. I should have shouted it out when I was at the conference table.

CM: You performed the song at the Festival, but I think it went beyond people’s heads at that huge stage with several thousand howling people!
AJ: Yes, the sound on the stage was not good for my repertoire this year. The stage needed more of a listening crowd. I think the song is too subtle, too. It needs more exposure.

Jarreau performing at CTIJF on 29 March 2015. Credits:  NetworxPR

Jarreau performing at CTIJF on 29 March 2015. Credits: NetworxPR

Jarreau is a Seer: His reflections about 2015 CapeTown, noted on his website blog, say, “Here there’s something more relaxed and comfortable but far beyond that is the friendly and joyous spirit of the people. And if you look closely you can see an infectious kind of joy and hopefulness of the mind and heart….” Even though he considered himself ‘late to the party’ of the 16th CTIJF this year, his first appearance, he is convinced: “these [Capetownians] were brown skin people just like me who have found something special…some joy and gratitude for life and breath at the moment and big expectations about the future.”

Well, while many Capetownians might dispute this rosy announcement by an enthusiastic outsider, Jarreau’s own evolving life story seems to also reflect a joyous continuum. But it hasn’t always been easy for him….

CM: You had mentioned how you have gotten off your addictions to attend to your health.
AJ: I had to get out of the Whiskey and Bourbon drinking. Now, when I’m close to a bar, there’s a horrible smell…from those alcohols! I drank and smoked a lot, but had to let them go for my general health. And boy, am I unhappy!! (Hah Hah!) So ask me if I’m doing better? NO!! (Hahahaha) I only quit five years ago and boy, am I bored!! Hahahah!

CM: Has your creativity been compromised at all?
AJ: The creativity continues with different stuff to consider. We’re part of this surviving thing. It’s called being-ness, it’s called life, and presence …. what we see and what we comment about out there in the universe and on our planet. My vision has cleared a bit more in that way and I’m moving towards this immortality, and feeling more strongly about immortality, and about who we are, and there’s no such thing as death, which is a misnomer. We just move on and we’re part of this continuing thing which gets better.

CM; Perhaps you’re talking about the ‘past life’, or re-incarnation…?
AJ:  Yes, yes. I don’t know much about that or studied the Hindu and Asian religions, but all those little influences coming into my life from time to time make sense to me. It becomes clearer to me that there is a ‘first cause’, a first something out of which everything came. And today our scientists and cosmologists are beginning to point at it. We talk about it as God. It doesn’t exclude God when cosmologists say ‘it began with a big bang’.

CM: Which leads me to a point: Is jazz as spiritual as it should be? Or is it going into another sexy, material, money issues, gain-what-you-can world?
AJ: That is the danger of all human activity, and jazz is part of it. Song and music writing used to have more soul in it, at a point where it was really connected to survival-ness. Like, early jazz musicians were very close to the soil, to the earth, to growing crops. Raking and picking crops for ‘survival-ness’. As we move away from that sort of society, where the work is done more by machines, we lose that connection to survival-ness. Music is successful because it is the spoiled brat of the arts. Dancers don’t do as well as musicians, never have and never will. Also, painters….and sculptures in the arts. Billions and billions of dollars are made on music and on what musicians have created. And why? Because music is real close to the heart beat. ‘Do don, do don, do don….’[mimicking a heartbeat]. You felt the beat before you even got here, in the wound, real close. And hearing the blood go ‘whisss whisss whisss’. We listened to those sounds before we got here. That’s got to be why music is so close to us and captures us immediately.
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Well, I’m going to ‘do don’ and ‘whisss’ myself away to listen to and review Jarreau’s latest album celebrating his old friend, George Duke, and craft my next Episode #3 for this blog. Happy lavender dreams to all! Here are the moving lyrics of ‘our story’:

“Jacaranda Bougainvillea”

Oh what a dream, Oh what a story.
Don’t have to weep, Come and enjoy a smile.
Opening scene is just like a doorway.
Here’s a story, in rhythm and rhyme.

There is a tree on the street and in the forest.
Lavender dream whispered a poet.
Bright potpourri. The envy of orchids,
When it’s dressed in a pink and fuchsia twine.
Jacaranda tree and the Bougainvillea vine.

Oh Mandela, that garden that you made,
Is a vision of the prayer, you must’ve been prayin’ everyday.
Sweet Azaleas, every color every kind.
And the first and the last are all divine.

There is a dream of the trees and of the flowers.
There is a season of peace at the borderline…
Where we’re redeemed and history will crown us.
Jacaranda tree and Bougainvillea vine.

Oh Mandela, would you say that it’s alright?
When the children play they always say, they say that we were like
Cinderella, in your garden there’s a shrine,
To the first and the last they’re all divine.

One and all, big and small, a common birth.
Each and every child for all his worth.
Take the one who’s always last and make him first.
Take these seeds. Seed the earth.

[OUTRO:]
Comin’ along,
Oh what a long way we have come.
Comin’ along,
Makin’ a home for everyone.
Comin’ along, way down South in Africa
Look at (Study) the Jacaranda tree huggin’ the Bougainvillea

[REPEAT OUTRO X4]

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Musically Smiling with Al Jarreau: conversations in Cape Town

Episode #1:   Humor, fun, dancing, message…… mornin’ Mr. Radio, mornin’ little cherios…..

I little dream came true when I was called up after Al Jarreau’s press conference to interview him one-on-one.  As the main headliner at the 16th CapeTown International Jazz Festival, 28-29 March 2015, this American wizard of voice and rhythm in the jazz, R&B, and pop genres blessed me with some 105 minutes of heart and soul talk. Here we go…..

Al Jarreau talks with Carol Martin (28 March 2015)

Al Jarreau talks with Carol Martin (28 March 2015)

CM:  You’re very African in your rhythms. Have you been to other African countries?

AJ:  I’m embarrassed to say, no!  But my ears are bigger than elephant’s….. I grew up listening to polkas, because the Polish settled in Milwaukee where I grew up.  My ears listened to the waltz, and delta blues.  At the age of 7 years, I would hear from our Milwaukee, Wisconsin home the late night polka tavern next door pumping at full force, since the area was historically populated by people from Poland and Germany, etc.  These songs and beats had a huge influence on me as a child and played in my head then.  I listened to church music, since my father was a minister in the church.  (He sings) “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, tell ole Pharoah, let ma people gooooo.”

“Yeh Yeh…..” (Al sings a tune with a West African beat, and with scatty lyrics to demonstrate an influence on his own ears and heart.)   You listen carefully and hear these African rhythms and messages which can also be heard in Cuban music…..and Brazilian music.    That’s why I’m interested in making music for others to hear. That’s what I did. I listened to and felt those sounds in that music because that’s the important mission I have in life, to make music for others to enjoy!   And maybe find a little Africa in my music, and a little Poland in my music!

CM:  I was just interviewing Basia who has the same influence from the Cuban and Brazilian music influences, but she’s never been there.

AJ: So you don’t have to be IN a country to hear the music.  But if your ears are really listening, and you’re listening with your heart, you get it!

CM:  Here in South Africa, the lyrics of songwriters are sometimes weak in talking about the social, political, and economic transformations out of the past.  Can we talk about your song lyrics?  Here, there’s always the struggle…..

AJ:  What do you mean by ‘struggle’?  …. the struggle to do lyrics or….the ‘great struggle’?

CM:  Yes,  the ‘great struggle’  – the struggle for ‘freedom’ which is a continuum….  But the lyrics by musicians, particularly jazz musicians, and song writers are weak in reflecting these issues.  Do you write your own lyrics?  And how can jazz musicians be encouraged to write their lyrics addressing these transformation issues?

AJ:  Yes, I write many of my own lyrics.  My answer I think is to find the people who are doing ‘it’, which means people who are writing about the times they live in.  Also, find a sense of humor in the music you write. As well as a sense of fun and dancing.  We tend to emphasise too much the latter, and too little about the art of survival – on our planet earth, and in our communities. How are we taking care of each other?  Some combination of these messages are important for me. So a lot of my songs are the ‘mornin’ tradition –

mornin’ Mr. Radio

mornin’ little cherios

mornin’ sister orio

did I tell you everything is fine

in my mind

in my mind

everything is fine.

how you think is how you are….

Find a way to think properly and you’ll be OK.

Now this involves finding a way of knowing we are OK. I don’t care how many mistakes we make on this planet.  I don’t care how much radiation destroys the planet.  We are OK.  We are immortal. From the rib of God, we DON’T DIE…..  We’re the greatest lesson in the world, ‘cause we don’t die…..

Stop mourning, and celebrate the ‘morning’ –

 ‘thank you father, thank you father….  Thank you for giving me LIFE, and eyes to witness, and a mind to understand that YOU are forever, dear Father, and I have come from you. Therefore, I have immortality and forever-ness in me because of you. I’ve just stopped here (on earth) to learn a few little things from you. ‘

We’re on loan….. and un-learning!!  Hah hah.

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The next chats go deeper……  Stay tuned!!  Jarreau is promoting his new album “My Old Friend-Celebrating George Duke” and it’s a whopper!

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Intergalactic Storytelling with bassist Carlo Mombelli

The University of Cape Town’s College of Music (SACM) came alight Tuesday morning with an illustrious group of European and South African collaborators at the Jazz Educator’s conference of SAJE (South African Association for Jazz Education). Composition wizard, Carlo Mombelli, offered an earful of stories with accompanying sounds, ranging from how he must negotiate ways to bring his electric bass directly on board the plane, to a powerful vibrational song about death from a road accident. His workshop presented performances and some Q & As from the thin but eager audience of music students and jazz enthusiasts.

Carlo explaining style

Carlo explaining style

“Creating compositions means being in the same headspace with members of my band,” he explained. “We have a conversation that has to make sense. You don’t repeat the same sentence to each other in a conversation, but move an idea along….adding new ideas. I set up the ‘glue’ that holds the story together, and we converse.”

Boy, did those guys talk! Trombonist Adrian Mears (South African, currently teaching at the Basel Jazz school) and electric cellist Daniel Pezzotti (member of the Zurich Opera Orchestra) along with a masterful drummer, Dejan Terzic from Germany, debated with Carlo’s topics musically. “Compositions are topics,” says Carlo. “I invite the band to debate the topic, and thereby add their own instrumental voices and hearts to the song, while sticking to the topic.” There is structure to this intergalactic storytelling, even though the sounds and rhythms of the topics seem to veer around in aural space and time. It becomes headspace, painting whatever comes up.

“As a result, I’ve developed my style of playing from my compositions.” One example of developing a style was when his damaged right hand and wrist was in a splint, but the thumb was left free. “How do I practice my guitar under these circumstances?” He used his left hand fingers to create the melody on the bass neck strings, while his right thumb strummed the strings lower down. The Carlo sound.

“Sounds have to come naturally,” Carlo continues. “A poet doesn’t make up nonsense words or phrases, but pulls out what he or she wants to communicate naturally. Improvisation means having a deep respect for each other’s playing, and complementing what each is doing.”

Does he sit down to write “South African music”? “Of course not. Because I’m South African, my music is South African, but I don’t pretend to write ‘South African music’. I’m constantly inspired by the sounds around me and those experiences with sounds are what becomes integral in my compositions. SOUND! …..of the wind through the trees, its effect on the sound of leaves. I get freaked out listening to the insects, and the birds…..”

A whimsical finish to the workshop was a performance of his song “Motian, the Explorer” in tribute to the inventiveness gleaned from the late drummer Paul Motian. “Paul played horizontally, not vertically, and was a big inspiration to me.”

Anyone listening to this notoriously creative band, led by Carlo, will also feel holistically touched by the unique improvisation that comes from such a tight-knit group whose repetitive loops spin one into a meditative trance-like state. No wonder my bottle of water shook with those looping vibrations!

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Interview with multi-instrumentalist Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, performing at CTIJF

On Thursday, 26 March 2015, one day before the opening performances of the 16th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival in Cape Town, I was privileged to have a short interview with Sipho Mabuse, nicknamed ‘Hotstix’, a SAMA Lifetime Achievement Award (2005) musician as well as an entertainer and businessman. A drummer at age 8, Sipho went on to learn and play on other percussion, wind, and brass instruments. This youthful 64 year old is passionate about reaching the wider young ears with his ‘music’. During his press conference at the Cape Sun Hotel, he was questioned predominately by eager students pursuing what makes artists tick. He insisted, “I don’t play jazz. Probably, I’m pretending to play jazz, but my music is quite basic and allows young people to interact with it.”

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

“Try not to be something that you’re not,” he advises. “Be honest and focused.”

A youthful voice commended Hotstix for his energetic (albeit ‘elderly’) approach to life. “I get motivated and inspired by the audience, and I embrace an attitude of inspiration,” replies Hotstix.

“I’ve always believed that each generation has its own space and expression, so we must hope to be able to enter that space and advance with it. I listened to Beatenberg in Soweto– they are, like wow! We cannot cocoon ourselves to believe that only our generation had the ‘best’ music. We elders must appreciate this expansion of expression….”

Hotstix performs Friday, 27 March 2015, on the ‘Kippies’ stage of the CT International Jazz Festival.
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Sipho and I started our interview session with some history. I was working in newly independent Botswana in 1968 as a teacher trainer when I listened to a lot of South African music of the ‘townships’. Sipho said his new band was playing at the Gaberones Main Hall then. Maybe I was there!

We talked about how my jazz soul emerged while attending the world’s largest jazz festival back in the 1950s-60s (still operating today) at the Newport Jazz Festival in USA, as a teenager. “Yeh,” says Sipho, recognizing the familiar, “I was there, too. I saw Miles – he was in retirement for a while. I was working in New York, then.”

I told him I saw the greats, too – Mingus, Charlie Parker, Brubeck – because I grew up as a teenager just a ferry ride away from Newport in those glorious, jazzy days. We shared our histories.

&^&^&^&^&^&^&^&^&^

CM: Our concern with youth – There’s a desire to honour the legacy of South African elders and deceased artists and their contributions to the jazz world here. How do we encourage this honouring amongst the youth?

SM: Unfortunately, most jazz musos have operated within an insular framework. For instance, they try to play like Miles, and interact the way he did. Rather, we ask young people,” Show us what you can do.” Then we can interact with this and the whole ‘them/us’ impasse goes away. They begin to understand music in a particular way, and ‘we’ allow it.

Barney Rachebane’s grandson, Oscar, has great sax skills, and plays pop. I told Barney to allow Oscar to play kwaito if he wants to. Don’t turn him into a Charlie Parker yet, but allow him to listen. He will listen, but if you try to channel his thinking….My advice was not heeded and I think this young talent is now messed up because he wasn’t encouraged to hear and learn from those early maestros of modern jazz.

CM: Should improvisation be corrupted by pop music?

SM: Improvisation cannot be corrupted by pop music, because improvisation IS what it is. Let’s first ask ourselves, what is jazz, historically? What were people doing before they decided to improvise? It was a development within a pop environment, maybe not the same as perceived today. There has always been pop music happening in a certain era which people related to. If you listen to Charlie Parker, for instance, some of his music was dance music. What he found in dance was the jazz…. He allowed the improvisation to happen within that dance style and this was a way to expand his jazz.

Maybe, we’re missing that point. Did the guys create jazz out of nothing? It’s a feeling, from the soul. Improvisation wasn’t just created out of a vacuum. Jazz should not ‘scare’ youth. So Parker managed to make pop culture ‘jazzy’.

In Soweto, we have ‘Jazz Sessions’, I don’t know if you have something similar here in Cape Town. Coltrane – he has a song called, ‘Spiritual’. It’s a bouncy, poppish song, but he improvises. It is a very repetitive piece, and could be boring. But because he improvised on it, you don’t hear the monotony within the chord structure…….because it’s Coltrane. You take the name and his reputation and it’s no longer ‘pop’. it can survive…..

CM: Jazz comes out of a folk history, like in the USA, the African Americans sang their gospel folk music. Folk music is ethnic, expressing a society’s history and culture. In South Africa, with its many different ethnic groups having their own folk expressions, don’t you think there should be more jazz coming out of these groups? Coming from the Afrikaaners, Anglos, Africans, etc? Is this happening? Maybe folk is jazz.

SM: Educationally, we South Africans suffer from myopia. We don’t research on ourselves. We believe something else. What can we offer, we say? Mbaqanga music has a complex guitar… just like in jazz. There’s also the Maskandi of KZN. There are different styles we have not been able to tap into and create. And yet outside people say, wow! Courtney Pine was very avant garde in his improvised West African music. We shouldn’t look down on our African music which is jazz just because it doesn’t sound like American jazz.

Look what Jan Garbarek did in his Norway. He went to the mountains to discover and research the indigenous Sami music, and brought it to us.

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Other worldly haunts of the Kyle Shepherd Trio by AJR Webitor Carol Martin Gig Review

Straght No Chaser Cape TownKyle Shepherd and his merry bassist Shane Cooper and eclectic drummer Jono Sweetman offered another ‘Kyle special’ at Straight No Chaser Club on Friday and Saturday, 20 – 21 March. In fact, I went twice!!

Kyle, Jonno and Shane

Kyle, Jonno and Shane

Both nights seemed completely different in Kyle’s offerings:

On Friday, I heard new compositions, one using daunting loops of electronica for all instruments. This is Kyle’s ‘other worldly haunts’, as I would call them, as he brings his audience into a less melodic, highly improvisational, but not less emotional soundscape of electronic whispers, cries, and groans. His other pieces brought us back to the acoustic world of reality as we know it, a lovely fusion of his Cape ghoema rhythms in that key of C major which he delivers so well.

On Saturday night, I must confess I had just come from the Kunnuji Experiment concert at the College of Music, where I was inundated with West African sounds. Perhaps I should not have ‘dropped by’ SNC as my mind could not adequately grasp those Kyle compositions, again new to my ears, as it should. What I did note from this eve’s gig was the inexhaustible skill which bassist Cooper displays in his solo runs, plunks, and percussive hits as he adds beats complementing drummer Jono. The latter excels in tempering his delivery according to the emotion of the minute. The moral of the story is: clear your head, first, before embarking on an evening with Kyle’s trio. They require utter and full attention as they continue their creative journeys…..which seem endless, so far.  Catch Kyle at this weekend’s Jazz Festival !!

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South African College of Music comes alive with West African jazz reviewed by AJR Webitor Carol Martin

UCT FBSACM 150The past weekend featured some more surprises of talent on the Cape Town jazz scene! In fact, I don’t think I saw and heard any artist over 30 years of age – now isn’t that refreshing?

Jo Kunnuji Experiment with Zoe Madiga

 

I’ve already interviewed Nigerian trumpeter Jo Kunnuji (http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2014/11/10/carol-martin-interviews-nigerian-jazz-trumpeter-jo-lanre-kunnuji/ – posted 10 November 2014) but this time had a chance to hear his latest ‘Jo Kunnuji Experiment’ album-in-the-making live at the South African College of Music’s recital hall at the University of Cape Town. His tight band of four horns with backline presented a small paying audience with his impressive compositions which improvised on sounds from his own southern Nigerian community and from South African influences. His songs speak proudly about his small minority Badagry group near the Benin border with Nigeria. As happens with minorities, the leviathan of larger groups gobble up remnants of culture into a fused mix of behaviours, expressions, and – in this case – sounds with percussive rhythms of the dominant group, the Yoruba. Still, the songs Kunnuji was able to craft explore a new ‘high life’ of West African melodies and beats as this young gun forges a history of salvaging Ogun expressions.

I enjoyed the clear and well-arranged harmonies of the horns played by fellow jazz studies students (Robin Fassie Kock on flugel horn, Tristan Weitkamp on Tenor sax, Georgie Jones on Baritone sax, along with his trumpet). These instrumentalists were tightly in tune with each other, accompanied by clean piano runs of Blake Hellaby. The rhythm section added depth and included Graham Strickland on bass and Cameron Claassen on drums. Kunnuji badly needed a larger bongo or African drum player to bring out the traditional West African percussion flavours; he had to hold his trumpet under his arm as he played two hands on his small but soft Bongos, barely audible. A highlight of the generously offered two set program was singer Zoe Modiga with her crisp youthful voice. She will gain hoots and whistles for sure at this weekend’s CapeTown International Jazz Festival when she opens the Moses Molelekwa stage on Friday evening as well as performs at the Wednesday evening CTIJF free concert at Greenmarket Square.

The Kunnuji Experiment upcoming album promises to be a refreshingly new twist to ‘Afro jazz’ while showing off Kunnuji’s improvisational skills, a product no less seasoned by hard work and serious creative intentions he has pursued during his stay with us in South Africa.

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GIG REVIEW– BENGUELA MONDAY’S with guest vocal instrumentalist JULIA VENTER

Straight no Chaser1Straight No Chaser – 79 Buitenkant St. Cape Town, Western Cape.

What does one do on a Monday night after a weekend of watching various sports on the goggle box or pushing the peddles along the cycle routes, or running up hills and dales or just for that matter just drinking beer or Pinotage and chomping braai chops or potjie kos. What’s done is done neh!. The choice of going to hear some jazz is generally the right thing to do, that’s according to rule 17 on my daily rules of living in Cape Town. I was called by Cape Town Crooner and genial gentle man Joe Schaffers who gave the phone on introducing me to Robert Rodrigues who is here for the CTIJF for the Jazzizz magazine, the festival looms large, with that in view I suggested we meet at Straight No Chaser to catch Benguela in performance. I informed the AJR Weditor Carol Martin of the arrangement and we duly met at the venue. After the introductions I decided it was beer ‘or clock so got a bottle of liquid chilled golden craft elixir and settled down for the nights entertainment.

BENGUELA logoNow, I’d not been to hear Benguela for quite a while so was filled with excited anticipation. The band is Alex Bozas (guitar, foot peddle gizmos) Brydon Bolton (electric bass and a box of foot operated thingies), Ross Campbell (drums and his inbuilt eclectic rhythm mixer), he must be part human and part robot, sjoe!

BENGUELA band

Benguela, Alex, Brydon and Ross

The three minstrels masters of mind blowing sonic improvisational experimental spatial exploration got the evening started and was soon joined by the evening’s guest performer, Juliana Venter who was to showcase her remarkable vocal instrument. It was my first exposure to her powerful vocal athletics. She took one to unimagined places where many others would fear to go soaring into the sonic stratosphere with her explorative collaborator’s then down into the depths of an anguished soul.

Juliana Venter

Juliana Venter

The primordial scream of freedom seldom heard on any performance platform other than S.N.C. Her voice like naked dervishes dancing around a sacrificial, cleansing fire swept to life by the cacophony of sonic wind fuelling sounds of pain and pleasure, exposed, raw and vulnerable, Not for the fainthearted, yet still something to be heard. The performance reminded me of an early Bjork mixed with a little of Die Antwoord’s Yolandi without any of the theatrics, which was a good thing. Powerful interplay between all of the instrumentalist’s captured the attention of the small devoted audience, which I’m told is growing, and offers a Monday nights escape from the boredom of everyday life, Benguela Mondays are a foil to that boredom where one can roam free in a sonic tide of experimental independence. No need to be afraid, go listen to Benguela, their weekly guests and keep the mind open to endless possibilities.

Straght No Chaser Cape Town Audience

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