Author Archives: Carol Martin

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.

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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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Serpentine Jazz, a gig and CD Review by Carol Martin

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

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

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

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

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

The Serpent held by Michel Godard

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

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Lyra Restaurant Monday Night Jazz Jam, Monday, 9 March 2015, with visiting sax/vocalist AJ Brown by Carol Martin

I usually just ‘pop in’ to Lyra’s in Rondebosch to check out Dan Shout’s band which introduces so eloquently the jam that is to follow with visiting musicians and students who hover about.  This time I decided to eat…..and why not?  Lyra’s boasts a delectable menu of chops which nicely accompany the musical chops offered.  I chose the Fettuccine Alfredo, one of my favourite pasta dishes, at least when cooked right.  And it was. Also at my table was All Jazz Radio’s Klutz in the Kitchen, Eric Alan, who agreed that this restaurant deserved his four-star rating.  Eric’s own posting about the restaurant’s food offering that evening alerted the grandson of my dish’s creator (Mr. Alfredo di Lelio), who tells the story about just how this dish came to be at Rome’s ‘Alfredo’ restaurant in 1914.  It’s fun reading in ‘comments’ at http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/wp-admin/edit-comments.php .

Now the music: an eclectic group of local musos including pianist Andrew Ford and double bassist Romy Brauteseth accompanied a visiting British saxophonist and vocalist, AJ Brown, who toured the CapeTown venues for several weeks with packed out audiences. Here, AJ could shine for the students who flocked to watch him.  I heard a skilful crooner, scatter, adding swing wherever possible, as he romped through well-known standards.  I felt alive with the band. But it was his sexy sax that grabbed me, with Parker-like runs and wails that could even compete with Dan Shout’s accomplishments.  But here was no competition; just plain camaraderie, fun, and sharing, as he joined other musicians in  song. Thanks to Dan, AJ was invited to bless us with his intimate renditions of romantic, popular, and funky standards, a true crooner who holds his notes and random beats very well. You can hear his songs on his website: http://www.aj-brown.co.uk.   Travel well, AJ, and please come back to us!

This is what makes Lyra’s Monday Night Jazz Jams a feast of sounds, eats, and fun. Highly recommended, particularly that tall Windhoek draft!

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Review of Pops Mohamed/Dave Reynolds Workshop, 7 March 2015 by Carol Martin

As part of the Music Exchange, Red Bull Studios, and SA Concerts collaboration, two extraordinary music specialists in African traditional instruments came together in Cape Town on 7 March 2015 for a workshop with an audience involved in the music industry.  Pops Mohamed specializes in a variety of African instruments, but on this day, he showcased the wonders of the Mbira Kalimba, or ‘thumb piano’, and the African mouth bow and kora instruments.  His partner in crime, Dave Reynolds reigned in his steel pans which offered historical juxtapositions with African xylophone sounds and rhythms. Their exchange was part of a wider concert performance schedule that reached the public in Cape Town with not only eclectic traditional African sounds, but messages from histories of how such instruments emerged.

Such was the focus of this Saturday workshop – to have the music industry give more serious thought to supporting a future which continues to preserve these cultural artefacts and their history as well as their application to our contemporary musical world.  Reynolds, an award-winning South African composer and multi-instrumentalist,  gave an impressive background to his and Mohamed’s enthusiasm for their cause:  He cited the ‘father of African ethnomusicology’, Hugh Tracey, who, for some 40 years until his death in 1977, travelled widely in southern Africa recording music of the various societies, and learning some 20 African languages in the meantime. His son, Professor Andrew Tracey, born in 1936 in Durban, continued his father’s legacy.  Together, they had founded Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1960. Andrew continued to research southern African music focusing on the various sounds in the mbira and xylophone families of traditional instruments. This explains Andrew’s passion for steel pan instruments, which also explains why Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds are a natural duo to perform such traditions.

Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

“The business of music involves learning the future”, said Reynolds. This implies preservation.  One way to do this is to NOT see culture in an instrument:  “I deliver my own identify, what is me, when I play the pans,” he says.  He explained that the steel pans are a hybrid percussion developed in the Caribbean islands amongst slaves who were not permitted to make drums of skins. So you see an instrument for what it can deliver, and in this way, that instrument can travel and combine with other sounds. It’s not only rooted to a ‘culture’.

Pops Mohamed

Pops Mohamed, who grew up in Benoni and is known for his wide range of musical styles, has led the struggle to bring cultural music history of African peoples to the present and beyond. He cited an interesting history of how the hand piano Kalimba was popularized by the American pop group, ‘Earth Wind and Fire’, back in the 1960s-70s, and had bought rights to the Kalimba’s symbol which originally was produced by Dr. Hugh Tracey!  But it was Mohamed’s own time period of growing up that molded his appreciation and eventual collaboration with the great South Africans of the 1960s struggle against apartheid.  Hanging out with his Dad at shebeens back then, or making a home-made guitar and playing it in the high school bands, and jamming with the penny whistlers – all remained as memories, such fun never recorded.  It was in 1996 that Mohamed committed to a mission to protect and preserve this ‘cattle music’, as the apartheidists called it, the music of the indigenous.  In London, the drum ‘n bass platform of DJs became an opportunity for Mohamed to expose young people to African indigenous sounds. “Go with your signature – tell people about your instrument as a viable South African technique. Then mix it will all the other styles and modes of music, the pop, funk, classical, and jazz, in helping to appreciate how such sounds can produce authentic compositions.  And be proudly South African about it.”

Besides delving into the instruments’ roots, the duo added flavour by performing their pieces.  It’s when Afrikaans vernacular hip-hop artist and rapper, Jitsvinger (alias Quintin Goliath), joined in a jam to add the traditional Khoi spoken word to the duo’s presentations that the indigenous mixtures bubbled harmoniously. The versatility of Mohamed’s exchange between the mouth bow with attached gourd, alternating with his mbira and kora and bird whistle, also highlighted the occasion. The audience not only listened, but also participated by passing around rattles made from metal keys and bamboo and bean shakes which added soft percussive rhythms.

Time ran out, after this two hour session, with listeners eager to talk more, considering what stimulation they would take home with them that day. Similar workshops are being conducted by Pops and Dave this week at other Capetown venues, and more concerts have been added.  More is yet to come from this inventive and inspirational duo in the future…..which is what preservation is all about.

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REVIEW of Workshop #4, “Sustainable Training and Development” of SAACT By Carol Martin

“You all know what black duck tape is used for, right?” And your “DI box” and “comset” should be working OK. “Oh, and don’t forget to check the jack-to-jack and the plug strip,” says the facilitator. If this sounds like music babble, that’s exactly right. “And you artists need to know terms used when stage managers and sound engineers are producing YOUR show!”

This was how the final of four workshops ended an impressive “Sustainable Training and Development” program during February 2015 at the Cape Town International Convention Center. For the past four years, the South Atlantic Arts and Culture Trust (SAACT) and ESPAfrika, with supports from the Western Cape Education Department, has sponsored these educational events for a variety of school bands from all economic zones of the municipality. Seven Cape Town high school bands were represented as the ‘focus’ schools for this year’s training program, and their bands will perform at Artscape for the public on Sunday afternoon, 22 March before the CapeTown International Jazz Festival starts that Friday, the 27th. Topics of the workshops included festival overview, marketing, hospitality and logistics, safety overviews, and technical stage overview.

Charl Babyboy Pilwan, age 31, was the guest artist and spoke to the awed youth audience on this Saturday, 28 February. His illustrious life and work in various countries since arriving in London in 1998 to school there landed him big-name contracts with principally Asian bands as their singer. Cape Flats-born Charl has finally returned to his original home of Cape Town. Here he hopes to work more with youth, and be a model for those aspiring youth bands and artists, particularly helping them understand the whacky world of the music business. He offered worthy advice for the teenage initiates: “Be humble, stay grounded and proud of where you come from, and work hard. Be nice to people, particularly the production companies AND engineers who record you. Don’t burn bridges, but be open and receptive to your colleagues. Start at home and get your supports, if at all possible, from family and friends.” Oh, and ‘branding’ yourself is also important.

Charl’s own journey wasn’t easy in terms of supports, as he started his foreign experience living on the streets of London – a dark hole in his youth – but ended up with his own production company, a branch which he is opening in Cape Town. He knows how to talk to youth: “I had to learn to cut my own hair ‘cuz Chinese people don’t know how to cut black people’s hair,” he recounted about his time working on the Chinese island of Macau. He is also proudly South Africa, boasting a big South African flag tattoo on his arm. “Finish your education,” he also implores youth.

But it was the indefatigable Camillo Lombard, an extraordinary operator from the heart, who always wins the kids’ respect. His advice is: ‘Be ready! Manage your band! Know the songs well beforehand so that it’s easy to step into rehearsals with a thorough familiarity of the songs. Practice, and stay humble.” Interesting how the term ‘humble’ keeps popping up when speaking to youth. “Your attitude translates to your aptitude. Fly high!

Focus Schools Workshop 28Feb 2015: credit C.Martin

Did the youth audience understand all this? I talked with some of the students: “It sounds like alot of work.” “Ya, it’s important to have good band members who are your friends.” Many commented on how helpful the “Skills Transfer Manual” was; the Manual covered the four workshops plus offered homework and skills practice during the week. I asked how they felt about Charl’s comment that musicians need to get to know each other, and did these youth do this during the workshops? “Well, there wasn’t really time to mix. The program was quite full.” So, I’m wondering how, in the future, bands at workshops can interact more personally, rather than just in rehearsals or on stage.

I asked the girls why there weren’t more females in the bands. “There’s quite a few of us, but we don’t easily get a chance to practice.” Several girls had asked questions during the plenary, but were not seen at stage demonstrations during this workshop. Questions revolved around how to start a production company and technical aspects of producing the right sound for a particular venue.

I wonder if host, Craig Parks of ESPAfrika, and his other facilitators (all male) could have tried a bit harder to encourage that public exposure of girl instrumentalists on stage. There’s always female singers, but I witnessed the girl’s instrument bags shoved under their tables while the guys licked their reeds, readying for a sound demonstration. At lunchtime, I managed to be entertained by the Chris Hani High School’s male acapella choir humming through their full mouths.

The bands came from these high schools: Chris Hani, Elsies River, Heathfield, Langa (Music Project), Pinelands, Settlers, and Wynberg. Follow-up mentoring at each school by Lombard and others will prepare the bands for their Festival stage performances, again, thanks to the WCED.

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Buddy Wells Quintet at Straight No Chaser, 5 March 2015

And what a fantastic gig it was! Buddy and group at their best, with some enthusiastic new material.

Trevor Wells says it perfectly on FB:
“Tight, Tight. Tight. Great rhythm section. Great duets on the horns. Brilliant solos by all. Harmonics and overtoning on sax takes this into an art form beyond what has been heard anywhere in the world. Intonation superb. At times pythogorean, At times mean toned. Tension contrasted by relaxation in both the harmonies and the rhythms moves this group into the realms of performance art top class groups all over the world aspire to attain. Well Done. It’s About Time.”

Watch these young guns: Nick Williams (bass), Keenan Ahrends (guitar), Jonno Sweetman (drums) and Steven Sokuyeka (trombone) as they plod through original compositions having a strong traditional South African jazz and folk lore.

This group needs to record, studio or liveBuddy Wells, and spread their unique sounds!

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Rukma Vimana at Alliance Francaise/CapeTown on Friday, 27 February 2015

by Carol Martin

The Alliance Francaise on Loop Street in Cape Town came alive last Friday evening with its special music-backed cuisine offering Brittany crepes and candle-lit tables (no, there was no load-shedding that night, and who needs that for candlelight, anyway??). Thanks to songbird Titilayo Adedokun who helped organize the event, three illustrious jazz musicians were again brought together to announce their profound appreciation for the indigenous sounds of the Cape’s ‘first people’s’. The concert featured notable tastes of the Khoi songs and other improvisational styles of ‘Rukma Vimana’, a trio of multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder (mouth and regular piano, mouth bow, and guitar), his cousin double bassist Eldrid Schilder, and youth drummer upstart, Claude Cozens (who last year launched his first eclectic CD scoring points on his own jazz idiom ala ghoema, bebop, gospel, and funk). These Cape Flat musicians carry weight when it comes to producing authentic sounds of the local soil, with rhythms that also get you jumpin’. Titilayo’s series of monthly concerts planned for the future are appropriately called “Jazz Rendez-vous @ Alliance Francaise”. This is a fun way to combine local with French, and indeed, the evening was worth the minimal costs incurred.

Each trio member had a chance to solo, or in a New Orleans dialect, we’d say, “strut your stuff”! All felt comfortable with their own space and sound. They specialize in their own way in these sounds and ghoema rhythms. But it was Hilton who varied the concert repertoire to include his own soft, melodic, and soulful solos which tell stories of their own. The accordion-like mouth piano added a bit of ‘French’ sound to an otherwise local South African song, and the San mouth bow gave its moments. The audience had to listen. And it did with applause. Hilton’s own compositions featured prominently, too. I particularly liked his tribute to Jai Reddy’s rather unusual flying visions and patented products pertaining to planes and insects, in “Flying High”.

Which leads me to understand why the trio is called ‘Rukma Vimana’ – after Reddy’s own aeronautical skills, or rather from an ancient Indian experience of manufacturing a pear-shaped type of aircraft with unusual ducts and fans for airlift….. Well, let’s rest with the other types of fans who will easily lift off as this group replicates the free flying aura of sound-with-soul, combined with emotion and storytelling, of a local type.

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Debut of The Lee Thomson Experience at Straight No Chaser

Straght No Chaser Cape TownLast night (Friday) I headed to Cape Town’s best and only real jazz club, Straight No Chaser. The venue offers unbridled joy of listening to the great music and musicians in performance without the din and clatter of waiter service. Pure jazz all the way, how it should be served to the audience. This night it was the debut of The Lee Thomson Experience, led so ably by the very busy and highly underrated trumpeter, naturally yep you guessed it, Lee Thomson, trumpet, flugel horn and instrument not often seen on the stages of Cape Town, (the pocket trumpet). Band leader Thomson was joined on stage by vocalist Bonj Mpanza, pianist Nick Williams, incredible rhythm master drummer Kesivan Naidoo and incomparable bassist Romy Brauteseth whose task it was to re-imagine the repertoire of traditional and contemporary jazz standards from Miriam Makeba and Duke Ellington to Beyonce and beyond.

Thomson has yet, after all these years to release an album of his own. Here he has the right vehicle to do so, a great combination of musicians to make sure of an awesome debut album. Something I have been on at him for years, I do hope it will be much sooner than later.The Lee Thomson Experience Lee

I was looking forward to hearing vocalist Bonj Mpanza, whom I’d not heard before. When she alighted the stage after an introduction by Thomson she told us she was going to start off with Allan Mzamo Silinga’s beautiful and so well known tune Ntjilo Ntjilo. In doing so she was paying tribute to the late Miriam Makeba. Pianist Williams rose to the occasion with his intro to the song which was just truly sublime, then Mpanza’s voice rang out like the clarion bells of the close by St Georges Cathedral, big and powerful. I thought we were all in for a real treat; she then went on with Mackay Davashe’s Lakutshon’ilanga and followed that with Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Give Peace a Chance. By this time I was not really enjoying her performance because of her continued use of a delayed echo foot peddle. It was annoying and terrible with words and voice colliding into one another; she was doing battle with herself creating an unpleasant cacophony, oh, why did she choose to spoil her magnificent instrument with the totally unneeded electronic gadgetry. There may be a time and place to use such things perhaps, but most of the time during the set it was not. The few times she did not use the infernal thing she really show what a classy voice she has. Other than that The Lee Thomson Quintet was on point and showed huge potential as a unit to really watch out for, the future is bright for The Lee Thomson Experience. It was a huge privilege to be a part of the listening audience. When next they perform make sure to not miss the event.

2014 Support Local Music

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Thandi Ntuli’s “The Offering”: CD REVIEW by Carol Martin

Thandi Ntuli The Offering

Thandi Ntuli's The Offering

Thandi Ntuli’s The Offering

Another South African songbird, crisp voice along with her articulate piano improvs, Thandi Ntuli passes with high marks on her debut album, The Offering. It’s been nominated for this year’s Metro FM award for Urban Jazz. For being a debut artist, she has made the daring move to produce and release her album independently of promoters, thanks to careful savings from concerts and launches in 2014. As she told one reviewer: “Releasing independently has meant I don’t have the same structures that an established record label offers its artists.” Artists in the album are talented award-winners: Sisonke Xonti (tenor saxophone), Mthunzi Mvubu (alto saxophone), Keenen Ahrends (guitar), Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums), Benjamin Jephta (double dass) and Spha Mdlalose (lead vocals). It also features a veteran of the music industry, trumpeter Marcus Wyatt.

The Offering is dedicated to a late sister who died before one of Ntuli’s grand concerts, and to her grandmother, both whom were great influences in her life. At age 27 years, and a graduate of UCT’s Jazz Studies, Ntuli is not only a technical clinician at the piano (since age 4), but a soulful improviser with the aural likes of a Bheki Mseleku, using chord structures, melodies, and rhythms characteristic of spirituals, South African gospel, Afro-jazz, and American bebop. Quite an exciting melt for lovers of different jazz genres. Tinkling gospel-ish piano refrains in ‘Contemplation’, with riveting double bass solos by Jephta, and creative interpretations of rhythms all make for a gem of a song. “Um(thanda)zo’ shows off Ntuli’s lilting scatting voice accompanied by Keenan’s guitar runs. A stunning song. Wyatt’s well-known muted trumpet shines in ‘H.T.’ and ‘201 AA’. In ‘Sangare’, one hears lead vocals of another songbird, Spha, her voice following the harmonies of her team. ‘Love Remembers’ contains a lyrical sadness, thoughtfully embraced by Wyatt’s horn.

Thandi Ntuli has, indeed, offered herself to our world, and we are more blessed for that!

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Estelle Kokot’s album, “Information”, released in 2006

CD Review by Carol Martin

Carol Martin

Carol Martin

This album by this South African singer, songwriter, arranger and pianist, gives highs and lows, ups and downs of life, with bumpy beats, ballads, and that hard to get ‘balance’. Her repertoire contains songs which, at times, are joyful; others mournful, “I Don’t Know You Anymore”. Released in 2006, “Information” appears to do just that: inform us about who she is. Tracks were co-written by UK-based producer/songwriter Craigie Dodds and recorded in London at Sphere Studios and Eastcote Studios.

Estelle Kokot's Information.jpeg

Estelle Kokot’s Information.jpeg

“Where is the Rainbow” sets the stage of this moody album, querying reality. This is followed by an Arab-influenced beat and whispers of “I Scare Myself” which can leave your already haunted. The album lightens up with a swinging “Sling Me a Shot”. “Russ” is sassy about ‘putting the lion down’. Her twisty improv on “Round Minute” displays her seriously tempered voice, backed by an equally balanced trio. “Paradise”, perhaps meant to be cynical, doesn’t seem to come across like that. Her tempo varies nicely between songs, and her ending “Titanium” with solo piano backed by an eerie synthesizer reminds one of how to take our heavy life slowly, and methodically.

Estelle KokotIn her other UK-based life, Estelle works with young artists, facilitating their connections in the music industry amongst promoters and event organisers. She’s also one of the first women to have performed at Kippies Jazz Club at the Market Theatre Newtown, in the mid-1980’s.

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Carol Martin chat with Cape jazz trumpeter Darren English

Carol Martin chats with ….

Carol Martin chats with ….

Darren English

Darren English

One meets few young persons who seem to just have that blessing to meet the right people in the right circumstances at the right time, and have the God-given skills to positively recognise, absorb, and exploit those opportunities that result from such contacts. An astrologer would go astro in analysing Darren’s chart. It makes us all jealous! So how is young Darren English taking up these straight balls (to use a pool expression -his favourite game) to grow himself and his artistry? Most of us know curved balls….

Let’s go backward: 24 year old jazz trumpeter Darren, currently visiting his Muizenberg family, is soon to leave for Tuscany, Italy, to meet his heart-throb friend Whitney, a New Yorker, who is finishing her Ph.D. in Anthropology. Hummm…… an interesting pull for Darren. While in Italy, he will hopefully play in “a few festivals”. From there to France….to Alaska.

Darren EnglishDarren is invited to feature as ‘the young artist’ with the Sitka Jazz Festival in Alaska in Feb 2015. One of his many contacts he made while he played the USA jazz circuit this year, after finishing his Masters degree at Georgia State University in Atlanta, paid off. Darren doesn’t know what the program will be yet or who he’s playing with, except he will play with one small and one big band.

Ok, so after Alaska? Who wants to be in freezing Alaska in the middle of winter, pray tell?? “The jazz will warm you up there. They know!” cackles Darren.

In February, Darren plans to return to a more southern Atlanta, his second home. By then, maybe the northern hemisphere freeze will start to thaw. “There are two special individuals, Ralph and ChaCha, who have adopted me.” Ralph deejays with a jazz radio station WRFG [98.3 FM].

I am happy to hear this because…… Darren had just arrived in Atlanta in September 2012 to start a Masters program at Georgia State. I also arrived for a short visit. Through Jazz Education Network (JEN) based in USA, I had arranged for newly-arrived Darren to appear on WRFG-FM to talk with me and the DJs about South African jazz. Little did I know dear DJ Ralph had eyed Darren as a son to adopt!

Darren English pocketIt’s about contacts…..

So when Darren’s visa to stay in USA expired, after finishing his academic program this year, Darren gasped. So…… he met Hot Shoe Records, an Atlanta label. Tony Wasilewski, its owner, who ‘heard about Darren”, approached Darren in July 2014 to “do an album” with some of Darren’s compositions and top notch musicians. Darren didn’t realize that Tony was listing him as the ‘youngest musician’ in the album, paying for the whole album’s production costs, and even organizing for Darren’s new USA visa under the Record label! Three years! Darren thanks GOD for Tony. See: http://www.hotshoerecords.com/news-2.htm

Darren English Harley sepia“We connected over music, because in South Africa, I was into sports cars and building an old Porsche, a BMW…. And Tony was into the same thing, but on an actual budget! So Tony would invite me for breakfast at a restaurant, and would come in his super-renovated Porsche model xxx”

It’s about contacts……and cars…….

So Atlanta is like your second home? “The way people accepted me in Atlanta was amazing. Particularly, my mentor Joe Gransden, and my professor, Dr. Gordon Vernick. I’d play every week, and people seemed to genuinely love me. I feel undeserved. Ralph helped me to get my motorcycle, which you knew then. Ralph is like my Dad now.”

Yes, I knew Darren’s bike! During my second visit to my newly-bought condo near Piedmont Park in May 2013, where the Atlanta Jazz Festival was rocking the town, dear Darren rocked up in his heavy Harley, with obvious exhaust vibes uncharacteristic of good Jazz sounds. I cringed as I thought neighbours would freak out, in this quiet neighbourhood, at the sounds of this belching dinosaurus rex!

Darren English silhoetteSettle? “I just want to perform and share. You’re either good at your art, or not. I’ve got a job at Georgia State University, even with a Masters degree, if I want, and also a proposal in to another school in Atlanta. I’ll teach trumpet, or drums. And I can play piano with combos. Prof Gordon has been a great father at University, strict but fun and understanding. By default, I’ve been surrounded by good people!

Yeah……good contacts…..

How do you feel coming back to Cape Town? “Some of my mentors say, ‘This isn’t the place for you’. I came from a hectic busy schedule back in Atlanta, so I just chilled when back home. I do miss meeting up with those musicians here doing things. But sometimes, I feel I don’t fit here. There’s not many places to check out to play in. But I remember all those great musos I met when I was 13 ot 14 years old, when I played in Grahamstown. I played in Russell Gunn’s Jazz Orkestra at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and Joe Gransden’s big band. Both helped me grow in ways I never imagined.”

Longterm plans? “Whitney was accepted in a law program at University of Arizona, but went off to complete her Ph.D. in Anthropology. So I thought I might do law with her! But I would still play the circuit when I return to Atlanta.

Good fortune seems to follow Darren…..

Darren English pensiveDan did his Masters thesis on the life and work of late saxophonist, Nic LeRoux, with whom Darren shares a birth day, 9 June. Dr. Vernick offered him a scholarship in Atlanta which was only for tuition. But Darren needed funds for living in USA. At the last minute, in 2012, he won the SAMRO Overseas Award just before he flew away! Before that, Fine Music Radio awarded Darren two awards. Darren has received 100% on his recital marks at UCT.

“God has been too good to me. I never paid for schooling through college, my brother had started med school. My parents struggled. For my Honors, I received more funds than I needed to spend! Extra money went into my car hobbies. I still appreciate a good looking vehicle.”

FMR paid out R20,000 and then SAMRO gave R170,000. Darren was flying high! “I had prayed alot for guidance. I think it’s God…..And I thank SAMRO immensely!”

Straight no Chaser1You can see Darren perform at Straight No Chaser (79 Buitenkant St, Cape Town) this Saturday, 6 December with Jonno Sweetman (drums) and Brydon Bolton (bass).

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Ezra Weiss Sextet “Before You Know It” Reviewed by Carol Martin

Ezra Weiss Sextet “Before You Know It”This is the first of young Weiss’s 7 albums that he chose to record live at a Portland, Oregon, club in order to offer the listener” live energy”. Hailed by Downbeat and others as being a unique composer/arranger, along with his renowned musicians, and influenced by Shirley Horn and Maria Schneider in his arrangements, pianist Weiss excels in swing, improve, and ballads. One hears influences from Horace Silver and Art Blakey, also.

“The Five A.M. Strut” exemplifies his funky attitude as saxophonist John Nastos stretches the song over 15 minutes. It’s a strut, indeed! “Don’t Need No Ticket” slows to a ballad reminiscent of John Coltrane whose other tune, “Alabama”, a tribute to the 1963 bombings in Birmingham, is rearranged to mark a need for healing after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “Before You Know It” with its gospel feel, was written for his not-yet-born son. Its lilting ballade turns funky, and again, fun.

Weiss’s musical choices and presentations are powerfully moving, as is this live album, released last September on Roark Records label.

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Beat Funktion “Mandy’s Secret” Reviewed by Carol Martin 

Beat Funktion Mandy’s Secret

Beat Funktion Mandy’s Secret

This is an jazz-funk all-Swedish group giving tribute to the 1970s funk, groove, soul, disco, and afro-beat. Jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and producer Daniel Lantz leads the way, and keeps the dancing shoes clicking. The band merges commercial genres into a type of improvisation that appeals to a wide and diverse section of listeners – from the older to the younger. Although ensconced in more improvisational jazz, Lantz wanted to break away a bit, and move his original ten compositions on this album towards more pop and rock, using synthesizers and psychedelic sounds, along with Lantz’s funky fender Rhodes. Mandy’s Secret is the band’s third album, released this past September 2014. It has already hit high on USA charts!

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Eliana Cuevas  “Espejo” (which means ‘mirror’) Reviewed by Carol Martin

Eliana Cuevas Espejo

Eliana Cuevas Espejo

This is the fourth recording from Venezuelan-born and Toronto-based vocalist, Eliana Cuevas, which is both seductive and tender. Her interviews suggest that she likes to push limits of Latin music; she changes moods from the bouncy first track, “Estrellita” to the sultry, slow ‘Lamento’, to the sensual “En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazon”, to the jazzy swing of “Agua Cangrejo Y Sal”.  The album features an array of 20 musicians from Latin/South America and Canada, and mixtures of instruments, such as the mandolin and the melodic. Voice-overs add melodic seduction.  This is a fun album with all sorts of rhythms and textures. It does mirror the range of possibilities for creative talk, which she offers quite skilfully. The album was released last August by Alma Records, and in June, won the U.S. Best Latin Album at the Independent Music Awards.

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Carol Martin interviews Nigerian jazz trumpeter Jo Lanre Kunnuji

Carol Martin

Carol Martin

Jo brings New Orleans to Badagry!

Jo Lanre Kunnuji

Jo Lanre Kunnuji

Trumpeter Jo Lanre Kunnuji is completing his Masters degree in Ethnomusicology at UCT’s School of Music. His passion to ‘modernize’ his less well understood musical tradition of the Ogu people of Badagry in southwest Nigeria has led him to research it and improvise on it. Jo’s ‘Ogu’ people, whose language is completely different from that of the larger Yoruba ethnic group which covers south western Nigeria, are more numerous in neighboring Benin than in Nigeria. Yet, most Ogu actually speak Yoruba, but are considered by the Yoruba to be of a ‘lower’ status. Jo’s cultural exploration of Ogu music is quite fascinating…..

CM: So, why are you presently researching this music?

JLK: I said to myself, oh wow! My people really don’t know their own culture – they are ‘borrowing’ from the Yoruba….like names, the music, even the language. The older people remember and know the music, but not the younger ones. So I decided to research my own Ogu cultural roots, and the musical idioms.

I found there is a radio station in Lagos that hosts an Ogu language program run by people who don’t want to see this culture die out. So there is more awareness now. But it’s the older people in my home area who are performing the classical Ogu music. I want the younger Ogu to become interested, which is why I am fusing jazz with this tradition. Jazz is demanding, so maybe the youth will see they have to work at it. Many people consider our traditional African music as ‘old’ or not relevant. So they try to impose Western ideas on the music. There’s a condescending attitude about African music: “Oh, she’s not singing in tune.” Not singing in tune – by whose standard? The African concept of intonation is different, so you can’t judge them on Western ideals!

CM: You’re using the word, “jazz”, a lot. In other societies/countries, musicians take their folk songs and improvise on them, and call it ‘jazz’. Perhaps, you are doing the same with your Ogu music. So you’re not actually trying to preserve the traditional, are you?

JLK: I take Badagry music and do jazz harmony to it. As a performer, I’ve had great feedback and interest from other Nigerian musicians. Even Ogu people are asking “What are you doing to our tunes? It sounds cool.” It’s like bringing New Orleans to Badagry! I am keeping the melodies and the percussive base. What I am doing is adding on harmonies, and using Western instruments –the trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone saxophone, etc. At this stage, I am not writing my own music, because I want to build on our own songs which are familiar. But when I play MY own arrangements, people get excited to hear the mix of traditional and jazz.

CM: Let’s go back a bit to your training. You studied music in Nigeria?

JLK: I first received my BA degree in Sociology, but I grew up in church – my father was an Anglican priest – and played the drums. My older brother played with sons of afrobeat pioneer Fela Ransome Kuti, namely Oluseun Kuti and Femi Kuti. I was encouraged to study for a diploma in music. Now, I am focusing just on experimentation, taking the afrobeat groove , which is Fela’s music. That’s for one of my own arrangements. I believe in the foundation people and acknowledging what they did, try to copy what they did, then do something of my own. That’s my personal lesson from the jazz greats and masters.

CM: How did you get to Cape Town?

JLK: While I was doing my diploma in music in Nigeria, I learned about UCT from my professors who came from overseas. I was advised to go further than a diploma. I happened to be volunteering with the Limpopo Youth Orchestra as a teacher for three months– there were seven of us from Nigeria – as the head of my Nigeria music school had links with this Orchestra. So , from Limpopo I could apply to UCT School of Music.

CM: Who else has influenced you in your experimentation?

JLK: Definitely, Terence Blanchard. His album called ‘Bounce’ has a song called ‘Azania’ that sounds like my own traditional music. You can even hear my language spoken, but there’s a different version. I could just pick a few words. I wish I could contact Terence. I like his style, approach, and composition. This is just a personal thing – I would like to study with him. Another person I’d like to speak to is Kenny Garrett. He sounds like he’s speaking in my language. You know, African languages are tonal, and when Kenny plays a certain phrase, it sounds just like my own Ogu music!

CM: You don’t think this is just coincidence?

JLK: Oh well, there must be too many coincidences, then! Both Kenny and Coltrane use pentatonic. My own music uses a lot of pentatonics – so listening to them is like listening to my own language. Some of their songs have West African names, like Coltrane’s “Tunji” which sounds like home. Also, Sonny Roland’s pieces, “Airegin” which is ‘Nigeria’ spelled backwards! Then, there’s “St. Thomas” which sounds like highlife to me. The melody is very Yoruba.

CM: Who in South Africa has influenced you?

JLK: Marcus Wyatt and Feya Faku. Also my current supervisor and other School profs have encouraged me. Also, Miriam Makeba and Dizzy. Mostly what has influenced me is synchronicity, music from other worlds, peoples.

CM: What will you do in the future? Go back to Nigeria?

JLK: I see myself contributing to preserve my people’s music, as well as making it attractive to listen to. My plans are to record, write articles and music, and teach. I don’t see much appearing in publications. I’m still experimenting, nothing is final.

You can hear Jo Kunnuji Experiment and his Creative Project at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zQzux3KhWw
and “Jesu wa nami… dagbe dagbe” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNo9RF1ME88
with its lovely mix of horns (including a lady baritone sax) and vocals.

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INTERVIEW – Marcus Wyatt at Joy of Jazz – Saturday, 27 September 2014.

Carol Martin chats with Marcus Wyatt

Carol Martin chats with Marcus Wyatt

I caught up with 43 year old trumpeter Marcus Wyatt during the Joy of Jazz Festival in Sandton a few weeks ago – he seems to be everywhere in Jozi! First, at The Orbit jazz club in CBD the Thursday night before Joy of Jazz started, with bassist Benjamin Jephta and pianist Kyle Shepherd. Then, somewhat hidden at US crooner, Gregory Porter’s concert with a huge orchestra.

Regarding his newest ‘Language 12’ album entitled “Maji Maji: in the Land of Milk and Honey”, he explains the title: “Maji is like muti. It’s an album about protection, as ‘maji’ in Kiswahili means water, and water sustains life. Water keeps us sane.”

Marcus Wyatt in full cry

Marcus Wyatt in full cry

We talked:
CM: How different is this album from your previous one?
MW: It’s the same language 12 which is music, but it can go anywhere, just like the creativity of music, without genre, without specific definition. This ‘Maji’ album is probably the most accurate representation of who I am in my growth as a musician. I grew up playing everything and not just straight ahead jazz – drum and base, orchestral, west African. What makes me most proud about this project is that you recognize all these elements but there’s not a preconceived feel, and it doesn’t sound like anything else.

CM: Siya – your vocalist is quite beloved to you?
MW: We’ve been together for many years . There’s only one solo song of hers on the album; the rest of her vocals are with all of us. Her songs “take you places” thanks to the collective. This album is really hers. She’s done all of the lyrics.

CM: I love how her voice emotes. She has a range which sounds ‘African’. You have mixed your own cultural identity, and through her, your music has the flavor of many different styles and themes.
MW: I grew up as an English speaking white South African, this being the least cultured of all the groups in South Africa. We are probably the strongest ethnic group seeking a cultural identity, because we have the biggest reason to find this. On the positive side of all this, it allows me to choose and take from the different cultural groups, cultures that I am engaged with. I’m not locked into a ‘culture’ and therefore I’m free to explore.

CM: I see you haven’t used the accordion yet, in the South African Afrikaans sense. What about Melissa (van der Spey) for that ethnic dimension?
MW: I would definitely like to use her in the future, particularly her voice, with me playing vuvuzela and her singing, and in a mascanda style. The Vuvu has a place in South African history, like the kudu horn!

CM: I don’t think many people understand that or have thought of it in that way, so you can pioneer that attitude. You’re in a position to evoke ethnic sounds without having to be part of that community! Nice! So, who have been your greatest influences – in the music world?
MW: Who is the person I would default to? Well, my dad was chairman of the folk club in PE growing up so I listened to Tony Cox, Steve Neumann, David Cramer and those guys. At the house I listened to a lot of blues and folk. I played in the Navy band so several musicians helped me on the path. Other band members, like Buddy wells and Dave Ledbetter, whom I think is one of our most underrated musicians, helped a lot. In JBG, saxman Sidney Mnisi influenced me with his energy and do-or-die attitude. Others like Herbie (Tsoaeli, acoustic bass) and Carlo (Mombelli, bass) have been a big influence for many years. Ach….so many influences.

CM: But…..Siya?
MW: Yes, she is THE person. I can write pages on her. She is such an inspiration in what she brings. Language 12 is SHE. International artists? Mono DiBongo on Robben Island; musos in Europe/France, like those guys in Paris – Braka and Nicola and Daniel (tuba player). A gig with them at the Grahamstown Festival was great; the vibe of audience was one of surprise.

CM: What are your next projects?
MW: I’ve always wanted to promote the non-commercialized jazz exiles, like Chris McGregor and those of his time, who were pushing our jazz heritage, at least in Europe. The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra, meant to be less Euro-centric with its spelling, buckled me down to write for this 13 piece orchestra. There is nothing recorded for release yet, but there are a few recordings in Europe. I’ve tried to sell the project of the Blue Notes Tribute to festivals here, but no luck.

CM: Isn’t there a ‘heritage jazz festival’ being bandied about among musicians and promoters here? What about interests by the SA Concert series?
MW: I don’t know, but I would love to travel the heritage band around to schools and their communities. The “Jozi Unsigned” company is interested in this. Even Language 12 has performed out of the country more than within RSA – mainly in India and Europe. Heritage jazz music needs to get out there to the public– such as at the upcoming Fringe Fest in Cape town, and at the Crypt.

I was left thinking how South Africa might provide that ‘land of milk and honey’ and that ‘Maji’ for the rich jazz heritage is still has, among the living, both older and younger. It’s about protecting history and artistry, and nourishing it for future generations.

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Kyle Shepherd Trio’s album “Dream State”, featuring guest artist Buddy Wells.

Carol Martin

Reviewed by Carol Martin

This CD from Sheer Sound has again brought its main artist, pianist Kyle Shepherd, closer to the edge of innovative, spiritually-influenced compositions that are ever evolving during his still young musical journey. ‘Dream State’ boasts two discs of 21 songs, all composed by this 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Jazz. Kyle loves to quote from the late saxophonist and mentor, Zim Ngqawana, “The music must lead us towards ourselves.

Kyle Shepherd's Dream State

Kyle Shepherd’s Dream State

” This trio featuring drummer Jonno Sweetman, and double bassist Shane Cooper (with awards-most recently from SAMRO who bestowed his debut “Oscillations” album as best Jazz album of 2014), celebrate their remarkable five years together. Another CapeTownian, the popular tenor saxman Buddy Wells, features handsomely where the ghoema sounds swing their magic.

There is nothing staid in these albums; just when you identify with the familiar, the trio takes our mind on another journey of sometimes discordant, sometimes healing sounds, changing chord structures, and erratic rhythms. The songs evoke, jostle, steer, and placate. Out of discomfort comes a peace. Just listen meditatively, feel the flow, be patient, and then arrive at a state of oneness, of balance, having been tunefully connected – as the band is connected with each other in superb synchronicity. This is what ‘Dream State’ portrays. Kyle refers to advice from Abdullah Ibrahim, another mentor: “Abdullah said create music significant to YOU. Then if people are moved by the music, that’s all I ask for. It just takes hard work and introspection. “ How so!

Kyle Shepherd

Kyle Shepherd

For those who want to cut straight to the Cape ghoema rhythms and familiar melodies, several tracks will welcome you: In Disc 1: “Xamissa”, “Our House, Our Rules”, and “Siqhagamshelane Sonke” with its 1-3-4 chords and Buddy’s sax. In Disc 2: “Xahuri”.

For the meditative and more ethereal ballads, try in Disc 1: “Transcendence” with Buddy’s prayerful sax solo, and “The Seeker” which speaks for itself. In Disc 2: “The Painter”, “Fatherless”, and “Rock Art”.

Jonno’s drums always complement without dominating. Kyle’s one note drill in several tracks sets what might appear as a monotonous pace until he matches this foundation with chords which swing into his usual Cape jive, while the drums and bass get equally excited with this conversation. Listen carefully to ‘Re-invention’. It’s faultless.

DISC 1
This disc starts out with a very uncharacteristic Shepherd melody in “Zikr City – Desert Monk” in a minor key; yet it moves whimsically through what sounds like cityscapes and bustle; then into a quiet peace of a void – a soundless desert. ‘Family Love’ holds a special liking to my ears – Buddy’s tenor sax melodically takes one on a saunter on a cloudy day through the park, and breaks into a Cape jive of celebration. “Flying without Leaving the Ground” offers a chatty bass solo with an uncertain piano. The bass keeps you grounded and keeps you there during the subsequent crescendos of the piano and drums as you gradually experience a spiritual liftoff. This is appropriately followed by “Transcendence”. Nirvana is somehow near….but not quite…..

Jonno Sweetman

Jonno Sweetman

DISC 2
If you haven’t left the ground yet, the second disc starts out with an ominous directive, almost funereal, about what appears to me to be stray bullets flying about the Cape Flats. Appropriately titled, “Cape Flats”, the underlying rumblings from Shane’s double bass and Jonno’s larger drums, and slowly paced piano chords suggest discomfort about hidden realities faced by dwellers. This shifts from [maybe] an out-of-harms’-way feeling into the next piece, “Black Star, Unsung Hero”, almost as though a young lad or lass managed to escape those bullets and rise above the violence to effect peaceful surprises on all. This is one of the more hauntingly beautiful songs of the album.

The placement of songs on the disc cleverly conveys the merging of themes. After a serious and unnerving dialogue about “Rituals”, where Shane’s bass cleverly mimics Kyle’s left hand walk-abouts, the listener finds relief with “The Painter” with Buddy’s melodic sax and an almost rock-ish roll from the drums. I see color and texture evolve, resting the eyes, yet tickling with aural fantasies. It’s for Melissa.

South African Bass player, composer, band leader, recording artist

Shane Cooper

But just after settling back into a meditative pose, “Doekom” startles with a frantic, atonal whine of confusion. I found this the least pleasant song on the track, probably because of its heavy left hand, again warning of the ominous. Indeed, was it a “Muslim witch doctor’s” prescription for protection from gangsterous earthlings? One wonders whether the doekom was protective or murderous, a karmic magic potion or….just some profound spiritual realism? An impressive bass keeps up a scary pace.

The way Kyle breaks up chords harmonically allows one to anticipate and sing along, while not knowing the song! And even if the song seems uncomfortable, it ends up on a cheerful resolution. I smile. A characteristic Kyle ‘selfie’ seems to be heard in “Fatherless”, perhaps a bit autobiographical, with clear chordal statements.

“Senegal” has a jumpy, Arab flavour of minor chords. I picture impressive derbies of horses in colourful regalia kicking up dust. This is followed by “Rock Art”, another mercurial but melodic piece, in memory of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. It suggests we meditate on the land’s ancestral wisdom.

The final track,”Ahimsa”, if you managed to get through the previous 20 without exhaustion, is a beautifully crafted tribute to two gurus for peace – Gandhi and Mandela. It is a befitting closure to the ‘Dream State’ as well.

Kyle, Jonno and Shane

Kyle, Jonno and Shane

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Claude Cozens Trio’s Jubilee Jam with Kyle Shepherd, piano and Benjamin Jephta, bass. Reviewed by Carol Martin

Claude Cozens Jubilee Jam copy

This album contains very pleasant ballads, tone-poems, and melodies – without a lot of improvisation or frantic cornering of melodies to reach their resolve, but with soft, thinking episodes.   A mixture of ‘jazz’  genres, with hints of modern fusion, gospel, and a bit of funk, makes this first CD of  drummer CapeTownian, Claude Cozens, not just a  winner but fun to listen to! He and his fellow Cape musicians, pianist Kyle Shepherd, and bassist Benjamin Jephta, grew up together, and speak the ‘same musical vernacular’, as Kyle says in the album’s sleeve. What could be musically tighter?  As Kyle said, in his interview with a Bush Radio presenter, Nigel Vermaas, “It’s bizarre that Claude isn’t playing more around town.  Jephta is another one you don’t see much.”  And this, coming from a well-travelled Kyle who knows what rewards hard work can bring.

Claude Cozens drimes 2

Claude Cozens at the office

 

“Fynbos Spirits” starts this album with a church gospel sound and a bass rhythm keeping pace to the treble runs of Kyle’s electric fusion.  Drums become prominent, as though announcing nature’s grand gift of the Cape’s fynbos.  This is a tuneful gem!  Likewise, with “13 Corfu Ave”,  a tribute to where Claude used to live. One hears a nice contemporary fusion, again with pronounced, but not over-powerful, drums.

 

The cover song “Jubilee Jam” is joyously repetitious with Kyle’s Rhodes keyboard, following the prescription of Cape Ghoema  rhythms  of the bass. Claude uses only sticks, and no brushes on this piece.  It is meant to convey jubilation and joy…for nothing, really.   Continuing the jubilee spirit is “Overflow”, an energetic contrast to the quieter songs in the album.   “Platkop” features the bass with piano treble and clanging drums and symbols, like celebratory church bells. A monologue by the bass explains this energy.  Claude’s upbeat refrain, again, gleefully expresses gratitude for abundance received. That’s so terribly hopeful in this day ‘n age!!

 

Benjamin Jephta

Benjamin Jephta

Influenced by the Bob James-ish modern fusion, Claude is searching for this modern sound as part of his journey of discovery.  “Electric Street” features Kyle on electronic keyboard which resonates with lovely clear, almost pure, runs in the upper treble.    His other ‘fusion’ with subtle ghoema beats is heard in “Song for Peninah” with its enduring electric bass solo.  The very melodic “Hangberg Mountain” has that mix as well.

 

“Baden Powell” is a pretty memorial to a great hero of a noble cause.  A tuneful duet between the bass and piano suggests a deeply spiritual dialogue going on. Claude’s brushing and popping make this very listenable piece the most beautiful one in this album, I think!

 

“Love Stain”  is a slow, mercurial piece that makes you think of what might have gone wrong, inspite of the lovely solos from the bass and piano.  Another gem.

Darren English

“Mr. English” is dedicated to fellow musician and trumpeter, Darren, driven by memories of Claude and Darren’s time together in Norway as students.  This is celebratory, with eager refrains from the trio individually and collectively.  One can almost hear Darren’s funky trumpet in appreciation!

 

“Cape Lion” has an  interesting bass dialogue with energetic drums again,  while piano runs scurry into the soundscape.  Is the lion stalking? Is Claude romanticizing the past?  “When I saw that huge lion, I saw an image very powerful.  I imagine early Cape Town beaches with those lions prowling around, once upon a time,” Claude says in his interview with Vermaas on the latter’s Bush Radio program (9 September 2014).  It’s nice to hear a bit of fancy in jazz, I think!

Kyle Shepherda

Kyle Shepherd

 

Some pieces end with long repetitions by the instruments while Claude makes his points with drums and cymbals  gleefully announcing  the final refrain. After all, he says, he wrote his music for the drums.

 

Could this first CD by a CC sampler? With more to come…….?

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