Interviews with Carol Martin

Carol chats with local and international jazz musicians

Jazz trumpeter, Feya Faku, knights drummer Jeff Siegel’s Quartet in kingly fashion in “King of Xhosa” CD.

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff 'Siege' Siegel, drums

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums

American drummer, Jeff Siegel, has discovered and gleefully responded to the beckoning African sounds from a musical ‘king’ of the Xhosa people in South Africa, trumpet and fugelhorn wizard, Feya Faku. For those who know him, Faku is known to carry himself certainly in a kingly, but humble, way with the various peers he has played with around the world. As special artist on Siegel’s latest album, “King of Xhosa”, he has indeed knighted Siegel’s Quartet with stunning applause and African sound dimensions that are very special. Both musicians have benefited as teachers of jazz in their respective countries which might explain how the multi-faceted songs landed in this album, with lots of sharing of compositions amongst band members: Erica Lindsay presents her sonorous tenor saxophone on most tracks; pianist Francesca Tanksley keeps the pace, sometimes with a heavy bottom clef or whimsical treble runs, as in her ‘Prayer’; and bassist Rich Syracuse, also a professor, holds the backline tightly, with percussionist Fred Berryhill filling in with samba and other African rhythms.

Xhosa-cover-web

This eclectic album, released this January 2017 by Artists Recording Collective label, starts and ends with Africanness, thanks to Faku’s praise vocals in the beginning ‘Totem’ and Berryhill’s percussion at the end song ‘Umngqungqo (Rhythm)’. In between, the album boasts a mosaic of impressions: open sonic spaces of the South African countryside with Faku’s fugelhorn brilliantly invoking spiritual calling and elephant roars, as in ‘Call to Spirits’; post-bebop tributes to struggling musicians, as in Tanksley’s ‘Life on the Rock’; unattended heros, like Faku’s teachers who gave so much towards cultural growth in others, as in the duo, ‘Courage’ and ‘Unsung’. The latter soulfully presents that familiar Faku touch strengthened by an eloquent Siegel drum solo.

But it’s the prayerful, spiritual nature of mood and message that grabs as Faku weaves his horn’s melodies through solemn chats with Lindsay’s saxophone, as in the thought-provoking ‘Prayer’, which is Siegel’s favourite song on the album.

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Faku continues to develop his spiritual soundscape by wandering mournfully through “Ballad of the Innocent”, a beautifully crafted piece by Siegel written after the Brussels bombing. It speaks to a need for reflective quietude so that humanity can realize peace and hope for a better world. One hears the pain and struggle for this through Faku’s sensitive manoeuvres as he reverently enhances the mood through conversations with the tenor saxophone. His familiar signature tone is heard also in a ballad-soothing, ‘Inner Passion’, which both Faku and Siegel agree all musicians must have to drive their musicality.

Siegel’s drums set the pace in ‘Gotta Get To It’, an upbeat message after a lilting slow ballad. One hears Coltrane influences from saxophonist and educator Lindsay who penned this piece, which explains her love for bop. The sax and trumpet make carefree play, frolicking very nicely over the keys and rhythms. Once appropriately woken up from a musical slumber, the album intersects with fast beats dominated by Siegel’s skilled percussive direction, like in the salsa inspired “Erica’s Bag”.

Francesca Tanksley

Francesca Tanksley

Feya Faku not only boasts a distinctly clear and relatively uncomplicated sound with clean runs and tonation on his instruments, but also continually activates his intuitive ears which enable him to collaborate with so many other greats. He cannot be ‘compared’ with others; his uniqueness, both in musical mechanics, spirit, and technique can best be measured by the honesty of delivery he gives to so many of his albums. This album shines with Faku’s integrity. And it’s Afro-fusion has rubbed off on the Jeff Siegel Quartet in very special ways.

"King of Xhosa" Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

“King of Xhosa” Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

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SABC Studios brings live Jazz from the diaspora: Trumpeter Darren English excites!

On Saturday evening, 14 January 2017, the Sea Point/Capetown SABC Studios came alive, even with few people, fans, robust jazz fanatics, family members – to hear and watch the gentle, yet extraordinary, person of trumpeter and drummer, Darren English. Born and bred in Capetown, this now Atlanta-based young music wizard followed his organizational mentor, radio broadcaster Shado Twala, to present a two-nighter of his music before he returns to USA next week, and showcase his Capetown band which offered equally awesome gifts to us listeners.

Darren English at SABC Studios 14 Jan 2017; courtesy: Diane Rossi

Darren English at SABC Studios 14 Jan 2017; courtesy: Diane Rossi

Soft-spoken Darren, dressed in tie and jacket, looked reassured and in control as he swung his band through careful improvisations on some jazz Standards as well as his own compositions featured in his first CD with Hot Shoe Records, entitled ‘Imagine Nation’.

Even though Darren cut his album in the USA (2016) with American musicians, he allowed his stage mates to shine their talents throughout, never dominating the conversations. This humility seems one of his stellar characteristics as a team player….to bring out the best in others.

Mark Fransman. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Mark Fransman. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

The thoughtful and expressive piano of Mark Fransman was immersed throughout. Double bassist, Benjamin Jephta, highlighted his own presence by vocal scatting his scales with precision. A stunner was drummer, Clement Benny, who just wouldn’t give up. I felt his drums were too aggressive in the 2nd song of the gig, but his handling of a basic drum kit was quite riveting, generally. In one song, Clement joins in a quiet gospel-ish ballad by tapping with an empty plastic water bottle on his symbols. Now there’s another soundscape!

Bass: Benjamin Jephta; drums: Clement Benny; trumpet: Darren English. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Bass: Benjamin Jephta; drums: Clement Benny; trumpet: Darren English. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Darren’s own trumpet stayed mainstream and managed to hide impulses to shimmy into fast runs heard on his CD, which was a studio recording. Fortunately, live gigs like this one offer other ways to showcase songs, musicians, and musical emotions.

A welcomed short break to digest the first hour’s arousing offerings prepared us for an exciting and different second set. A trio emerged for the first few songs, this time with Darren on drums with a highly improvising piano and adjoining double bass. Darren enjoys this new physicality, one can hear, as he showcased his other talent, drumming being his early start at home as a pre-teen.

Shado Twala organizer and MC.  Courtesy: Diane Rossi

Shado Twala organizer and MC. Courtesy: Diane Rossi

The evening displayed not just how young talent can grow with multiple types of musical experiences as Darren has witnessed from his jaunts through many States of USA, but how other seasoned local musicians can add value and loyalty through peer growth. Such events also show fan and friend loyalties when people like jazz festival organizer,

Rashid Lombard greeting Darren

Rashid Lombard greeting Darren

Rashid Lombard (of ESPafrika), and Twala, the event organizer, and former teachers and mentors Professor Mike Rossi and Fred Kuit, show up …. At least on this Saturday evening.

With the scarcity of regular jazz ‘clubs’ in Capetown, the SABC Studios with its excellent sound system and comfortable seating should be used more often to support jazz and music culture which so many of us are thirsty for. Thanks to Shado Twala, who works in the building, for organizing this event!!

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

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

Album cover by Capetown artist, Beezy Bailey

Album cover by Capetown artist, Beezy Bailey

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

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

Mike Rossi at The Crypt

Mike Rossi at The Crypt

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

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

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

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

Darren English

Darren English

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publication 'Odd Times"

Publication ‘Odd Times”

 

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

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

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

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

Viwe Mkizwana band

Viwe Mkizwana band

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

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

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

Upcoming Sunday gigs at Native Yards are:

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

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

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

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

Ramon Alexander, piano

Ramon Alexander, piano

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

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

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

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

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

A Traveling Pair - Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

A Traveling Pair – Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

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

Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed

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

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

Dave Reynolds with Tony Cedras, accordion

Dave Reynolds with Tony Cedras, accordion

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

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

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

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

Reynolds with bassist Sylvain Baloubeta

Reynolds with bassist Sylvain Baloubeta

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

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

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

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

Etuk Ubong - media

Etuk Ubong – media

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

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

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

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

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

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

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

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

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

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

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

Etuk Ubong Album Cover 'Miracle' (2016)

Etuk Ubong Album Cover ‘Miracle’ (2016)

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

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

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

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Kenyan jazz pianist Aaron Rimbui overcame odds to excel

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

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

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

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

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

Aaron Rimbui

Aaron Rimbu

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

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

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

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

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

His 2016 album, Deeper, is available on iTunes.

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

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

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

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

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

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

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

Bob James Sept 2016

Bob James Sept 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Thanks, AJR, for saluting our women musicians!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

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

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

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

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

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

Siya Makuzeni on trombone: NAF2016 CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

Siya Makuzeni on trombone: NAF2016 CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

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

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

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

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

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

Siya Makuzeni on vocals:  NAF2016 CuePix/Tamani Chithambo_30JUNE16

Siya Makuzeni on vocals: NAF2016 CuePix/Tamani Chithambo_30JUNE16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trio Corrente from Brazil

Trio Corrente from Brazil: right – P. Paulelli

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

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

SOUL HOUSING PROJECT

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

 

Sakhile Moleshe, Soul Housing Project

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

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

Soul Housing Project: photo by Carol Martin

Soul Housing Project: photo by Carol Martin

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Who is bassist Lionel Beukes?

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

Lionel Beukes

Lionel Beukes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab. Photo: David Harrison

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab. Photo: David Harrison

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

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

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab quartet at D6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab quartet at D6 Homecoming 27 May 2016

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

Liam Webb, drummer

Liam Webb, drummer

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

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

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

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

imagine-nation-by-darren-english

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren-English-Harley-sepia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Ledbedder loves dogs

Dave Ledbetter loves dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronan Skillen live

Ronan Skillen live

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

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

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

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

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

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Four Blokes, Four Band Leaders highlight free jazz improv

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

South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo

South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo

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

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

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

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings

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

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

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

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

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

Skillan, Ledbetter with Björn Meyer in Bern

Skillan, Ledbetter with Björn Meyer in Bern

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

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

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

Deep South Heartland CD cover

Deep South Heartland CD cover

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heartland CD Launch

Heartland CD Launch

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

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

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

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

Tony Cedras on accordion at Straight No Chaser, CapeTown

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

Tony Cedras at Straight No Chaser

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

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

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

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

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

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