Author Archives: Carol Martin

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

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

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

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Castle Jazz 1962

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bokani Dyer with Marlon Witbooi & Shane Cooper

Bokani Dyer with Marlon Witbooi & Shane Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MC Joe Schaffers & Guitarist Alvin Dyers at O'Driscolls

MC Joe Schaffers & Guitarist Alvin Dyers at O’Driscolls

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

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

Darren English, trumpet & John Russell, guitar

Darren English, trumpet & John Russell, guitar

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

Emily Bruce & Alvin Dyers

Emily Bruce & Alvin Dyers

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

Mark Fransman, sax, and Darren English, trumpet

Mark Fransman, sax, and Darren English, trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBYA 2015 - jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

SBYA 2015 – jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

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

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

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

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

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

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

CM: The coding of music……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swamp Donkeys kick da Blues! a gig review from Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bokani Dyer dyertribes again at Straight No Chaser with Swiss crew

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

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

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

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

Mattias Spillmann's hat muffler

Mattias Spillmann’s hat muffler

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

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

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

Bokani with Marlon & Shane

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

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

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

Quintet album cover

Quintet album cover & promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vuma Levin &

Vuma Levin & Bernard van Rossum (sax) at SNC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Johannesburg Sessions

Cover: “The Johannesburg Sessions”

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

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

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

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

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

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

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

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

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Young American jazz saxophonist releases debut album with Capetownians

An Interview with Tristan James Weitkamp by C. Martin

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

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

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

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

Tristan at Piano Bar

Tristan at Piano Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tristan at Tagoges

Tristan at Tagores

CM: Tell me how you chose your songs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somi at Straight No Chaser on Wed, 6 May 2014

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

Somi's latest Album

Somi’s latest Album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaraSolnicki_WhoseShadow_500px

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke

My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke

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

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

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

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

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

 

George Duke with Al Jarreau

George Duke with Al Jarreau

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

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

The album was released in 2014 by Concord Music Group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jacaranda Bougainvillea”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[REPEAT OUTRO X4]

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Musically Smiling with Al Jarreau: conversations in Cape Town

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

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

Al Jarreau talks with Carol Martin (28 March 2015)

Al Jarreau talks with Carol Martin (28 March 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mornin’ Mr. Radio

mornin’ little cherios

mornin’ sister orio

did I tell you everything is fine

in my mind

in my mind

everything is fine.

how you think is how you are….

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

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

Stop mourning, and celebrate the ‘morning’ –

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

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

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

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Intergalactic Storytelling with bassist Carlo Mombelli

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

Carlo explaining style

Carlo explaining style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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