Interviews with Carol Martin

Carol chats with local and international jazz musicians

Tango Improvised with Afro-Cuban: a Fusion Feast with Escalandrum of Argentina

The recent Capetown International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) was given a special treat – a resurrection of grandmaster Astor Piazolla’s ‘New Tango’ with a special twist by grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla who loves the Afro-Caribbean claves rhythms set to a Tango mood.

Daniel 'Pipi' Piazolla, drummer

Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla, drummer

Grandfather Astor Piazolla has been considered as Argentina’s most celebrated composer and bandoneonist of the ‘New Tango’ which did not include a singer, but wedded improvisational jazz and classical music together.  Two generations later, grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’  Piazolla and his merry Escalandrum sextet band have put aside the traditional bandoneon and violin of former tango years, and added singer, Elena Roger, and a three-horn section plus drum kit.

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017

         Escalandrum 

Their intention is to promote the sounds of their city, Buenos Aires, which reigns with the tango, but continue to fuse the delightful urban swing with some complicated improvisation techniques, particularly using the sonorous, multi-ranged bass clarinet, a rarity in contemporary jazz.  Pipi says his grandfather hated the dancing that went with his-day tango.  “People should listen, not dance, to tango,” Pipi agrees.

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They love their city of Buenos Aires as well as sharks.  “Escalandrún” is the Argentinian name for a sand shark, the favourite marine animal of the Piazolla family who fish sharks.  One song performed at the Jazz Festival was composed by drummer Pipi to honour sharks.  It was a stunningly haunting piece with the bass clarinet making sonic images of whale and dolphin calls, low rumbles conveying feelings of dark sea depths, and other primordial sounds, even imitating the dirigidoo.

Escalandrum performing at CTIJF 2017

Escalandrum performing at CTIJF 2017

Their performance at CTIJF this year was their first on African soil.  ‘Pipi’ felt there were so many similarities between African rhythms and the tango that they hope to continue more collaborations as Escalandrum perfects their own new age tango improvisations.

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017 Media Conference

Escalandrum at CTIJF 2017 Media Conference

During my interview with the sextet of large and well-built men, Pipi explained that in 2001, when a crisis in Argentina caused many to leave the country, he and his merry men stayed (his musical buddies formed Escalandrum in 1999);  they felt the pressure to change the folkloric tango and offer uplifting music for their depressed fellow citizens.  Hence, an emphasis on the milonga 5/4 odd meter beats.  “We were more socially inspired than political because the country wasn’t stable. We searched in ourselves; our ages influenced us:  when young we just wanted to play bebop, but as we grew older the mind opened up to other inspiring rhythms.  Everybody was running away, but we wanted to stay here.”

We talked about why Escalandrum was fusing more with Afro-Cuban music.  “The Latin milongas go well with our own folkloric traditions in Argentina:  the chacarera and malambo rhythms in 6/8, the sambo in ¾, and as jazz musicians, we love rhythms.”  Then, why did they move away from the accordion?  “The bandoneon is more difficult to adapt to the improvisational jazz approach which we want to move forward.  In Argentina and particularly in Buenos Aires, we are a melting pot of cultures so we don’t stick to one traditional sound, but branch out and absorb others which have influenced us – like African, North American, and Cuban music.  The bandoneon has actually saved our music, and made it original, but there is other original music we can continue to produce. “

And what was that about Mozart, I asked?  “A festival producer wanted us to bring our interpretation of Mozart in Piazolla form to a festival, as an art form.  Those people interested in classical music were willing to let us be free with our presentations, which is good.   We brought on one of our best classical musicians who also was our teacher and also taught my grandfather, and we performed with only two microphones – very stereophonic.  It was one recording with no mixing, and is available.  It was quite a challenge, however, to play Mozart and Piazolla together!

CD 'Piazolla plays Piazolla' Album Cover

CD ‘Piazolla plays Piazolla’ Album Cover

Escalandrum’s Latin Grammy-winning album, “Piazolla Plays Piazolla”, explains so eloquently and sonorously the dimensions and styles which their contemporary music is using.  Produced in 2011, the album is excitingly polyrhythmic, thanks to the many clave beats grounded in Afro-Cuban/Caribbean varieties.  Each band member has composed songs and infused his own sounds to make this album multi-spirited and innovative.

‘Tanguedia  1” sounds like an angry retort against the flimsy tango dancing people, unsupported by Escalandrum’s style of tango.   “Fuga 9” implants a classical flare which contorts into horn-pronounced  resolution,  followed by a boppish piano trio which seeks to calm down the protesting horns.  This is a well improvised piece, full of jazzic twists that return to the fundamental Piazolla beat.

“Romance del Diablo” starts with low key bass clarinet paired with melodic saxes morphing into a surprising ballad honouring the devil.  Here, the horns spell diabolic images romancing themselves, a winner!

It’s this fusion of the at-times cacophonic improvisation (as in ‘Buenos Aires Hora Cero’), mellow ballad moods, and standard jazz bop, which permits the re-entry of that notorious tango rhythm into the sonicsphere,  that keeps one’s ears eagerly plugged to the band’s conversations.  “Adios Nonino” does this nicely, resolving into a beautiful, almost mournful, song.

One learns the wide range of the bass clarinet, so expertly played by Martin Pantyrer,  which successfully establishes frameworks for both mood and message.

Martin Pantyrer plays bass clarinet & tenor saxophone

Martin Pantyrer plays bass clarinet & tenor saxophone

The beats keep changing between 5-4 time, then the clave 3-2 time, and so on, but the fundamental 4/4 time sounds come from Pipi’s clave, that five-stroke pattern that is at the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms. The album ends with a stunning drum solo by Pipi in ‘Libertango’ that fuses, again, with the basic tango sound and seems to heal and free up the spirit.

Escalandrum sextet

Escalandrum sextet

Pipi explains what influences him:  “The Uruguayan–African influences have molded the Milongo and  malambo mixtures which are heard, such as the  5/4 time. Also, every night I watch YouTube music videos to find something new and interesting. Then in the morning, I try to practice what I heard and explore different sounds.”  Pianist Nicholas Guerschberg says he tries to find new music and ideas and styles so he can play different originals.  The latest project is to combine Mozart with our tango!”  Escalandrum’s latest album,  “SesionesION:Obras de Mozart y Ginastera”, recorded in mid-2016, was released January 4, 2017.

 

'SesionesION' Album Cover

‘SesionesION’ Album Cover

They do sound like friends who have hung out together since youth, who decided to put their talents together into a band in 1999.  Escalandrum has traveled extensively since, winning awards as they merge the Argentinian rhythmic styles more and more with the Afro-Caribbean Latin influences.  Hence, sounds of conga, son, mambo, and salsa spice up their forward-sounding tango and other globally-influenced rhythms.  This is rhythmic excitement at its best!

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Jazz – Wine – Food – Comedy: a Soul Cleansing

Love wine?  Love it more:  pair it with that food for the soul – jazz – complemented with a good dose of belly-shaking comedy, all which works up the appetite for that 3-course delectable meal from award-winning chefs where different wines are paired with the different dishes on offer.

12289647_923882977704178_750311950479883073_nComedian Lindi & Hassan'adas

MmWHaaaa!  Now that’s an afternoon to follow the annual Capetown International Jazz Festival as festive spirits literally spilled over into Sunday jazz brunches, wine tastings, and the like.

It’s not just about that wine bottle, or that particular jazz band, or about that colourful starter at table.  It’s about experiencing, moving the culinary and emotional juices to realize what wholesome healing can take place and what wonderful memories can endure into the week ahead.

Wines

Sip by Sip does just that by creating opportunities for marketing South Africa’s finest wines and addressing the ‘new age’ needs of various wine aficionados who wish to combine taste experiences.  Not just good taste in the culinary, but in music and entertainment.  “A voyage to enchanting places, and encounter with remarkable people, and the delight of good food and cultural experiences,” is Sip by Sip’s visionary purpose, and delightful it is.

Da Capo Wine Estate

Da Capo Wine Estate

Thanks to Sip by Sip’s event, “Sunday in the Vines”, I was honoured the experience of imbibing wines from Italian cultivars with my 3-course meal at the Da Capo wine estate, high up in the Hottentot Holland mountains of Sir Lowry’s Pass in Somerset West, Western Cape.  This event ‘paired’ with the annual Jazz Festival, particularly for those who couldn’t attend the festival but could benefit from one of Capetown’s finest jazz band, on this day being “Hassan’adas”, a vibrant combination of Mozambiquan and South African musicians of the highest quality. Da Capo is owned and run by the Bottega family of Italian descent, hence the marketing of fine Italian wines of the Idiom brand.

Views around winery

After winding up through some 4 kilometres of mountain scenery on a tarred road, one arrives at the estate’s restaurant which boasts almost 360 degrees of luscious mountain and sea views. Da Capo is the most southern winery in the Western Cape, with high exposures to wind, rain, and sun, all which have created a certain ambiance for the Sip by Sip event.  I walk into the event hearing the high-pitched soothing contralto voice of the band’s lead singer, Jaco Maria, ringing magically in the air back by an inviting percussion. I am handed a glass of the bubbly, a carbonated white wine (champagne?).

Comedian Ndumiso Lindi

Comedian Ndumiso Lindi

After the performance, the entourage of invited guests and others, coming from corporate, business, and individual worlds, go to the ‘comedy’ hall for a genuinely funny 20 minute celebration delivered by comedian, Ndumiso Lindi (aka Roosta).  He certainly offered well-heeled and slick digs at current political and ethnic struggles in the country which didn’t depress, but rather elevated one’s tummy to overall shakes and gaffaws – a delightful pre-lunch appetite booster.

Upstairs in the Idiom Restaurant, our palates received delightfully succulent dishes paired with the Da Capo varieties.  And fine they were:  the Whalehaven Pinotage Rose served with my beetroot salad starter,

Beet root soup & Whalehaven Rose

Beet root soup salad & Whalehaven Rose

Mushroom ravioli with goat cheese & hazelnut

then the white Sangiovese 2013 served with the elegant mushroom filled ravioli.

Mushroom ravioli with goat cheese & hazelnut

Succulence continued with an Amaretto Coffee Tiramisu for dessert, followed by wine tastings downstairs.

Sip by Sip plans to focus on South African wines as it manages events that promote also the other talents of the Cape, namely jazz, chefs, and of course, comedy.  But plan for a whole afternoon out with friends or family, as the entertainment flows through the hours. Besides offering quality-sourced wines and accessories, and a wide range of other services, Sip by Sip events are designed to create memorable experiences through wine tours and tastings, and wine, food and culture pairings.

 

What a wonderful way to showcase the quality and authenticity of South African creative talents. Even if you don’t or can’t drink wine or alcohol, the events are sure to entertain through multi-dimensional experiences with the culinary and the cultural.

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Parlato and Washington: TWO AMERICAN JAZZ ARTISTS FROM DIFFERENT ILKS…..

Post-CTIJF 2017 Notes from the Underground #1

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

They grew up in the same city of Los Angeles.  They both studied ethnomusicology at the University of Los Angeles. Both come from musical and artistic families who supported their artistic growth. The common thread of rhythm, sensitivity, and intelligence punctuates their exceptionally unique sounds. Yet, their styles of improvisation are as different as their own ethnic backgrounds and communities.

Gretchen Parlato at CTIJF 2017Parlato 1-1

Songbird Gretchen Parlato’s quiet, whimsical and careful emoting style  vs  saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s protesting, raw but enlightening sonic outbursts in his choral, orchestral, and improvised music on the large Kippie’s stage of the Festival, she on the listening stage of Rosies.

Gretchen Parlato

Parlato hisses, clicks, and hushes into her microphone while clapping gentle beats with her hands, supported by husband, Mark Guiliana’s off-beat clickety clacks on basic drums.    Born into a richly musical family in Los Angeles, CA, Parlato has cultivated musical dimensions from multiple sources who have lavished praise on her, like American jazz musician of note, Wayne Shorter:  “There’s simply no one out there like Gretchen Parlato.”

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Her performance on the Rosies Stage at the Capetown International Jazz Festival 2017 brought sighs and awe to a highly charged crowd which gave her a standing ovation after her riveting and rhythmically enduring concert. We floated home after her last ballad, a catchy ditty that rang in the head for days.

In her Masterclass, offered a day before her performance, Parlato stressed the three levels of analysis she uses to characterise and deliver a song:  On a more basic level is the emotional, with the tools to feel and indulge the impulses, messages, and tones of a song. “Examine what the lyricist or song writer is trying to convey in the music and what emotions affect the listener or deliverer of the song.” At the middle level is the technical, how a song is constructed, what techniques are used to deliver the song. “Ask yourself: what process did the writer go through to write the song.” At a higher level is the spiritual, how the song connects with others, and what higher thoughts or consciousness are realised because of the song’s delivery and message.  She had started her Masterclass with a 10-minute unspoken meditation to introduce the audience to her process of creating. That mellowed all.

In chatting with Parlato, she explains her stylistic technique with humble recommendations:

I asked: what did she want to convey in her songs, whether written by her or by others?   “Every song I perform is an extension of my personal connection.  There should always be some work with a song about ‘the story’, but also a personal injection, about what is genuine and honest for me.”

She has sung on some 70 albums and produced four of her own. And what is genuine and right for her now?  “Every album is a portrait of what’s happening in my life.  The last album “live in NYC” contains love songs that question our life, the meaning of life, our existence, why we’re here.   I wrote these songs with what was for me a twist of irony and sarcasm, but someone else might interpret them differently.  I think that’s good – to allow the listener to have their own interpretation.  A song I sang five years ago, if sung now, would come from a different place in my life experience, and be expressed that way.”

Parlato 4

I found Parlato exudes a strong confidence with herself.  “It comes from being honest and true to myself.”  We discussed what suggestions she could give to those female singers coming from marginalized backgrounds, for instance the Black South Africans musicians, in how to project themselves with honesty and confidence?

“Everyone has pain and pleasure in their life, at different degrees and intensities. One should do soul-searching to find out who they are, their background and history, and find out what their talents or gifts are. Find out what their learned behaviour is, does it come from their parents, or from some event that happened that caused a change? Then try to write about it, in poetry or words. I recommend journaling.   I journal so that I can record that stream of consciousness that flows…….It just might turn into a song, or just bring out some truthful thinking about oneself.  This is about getting comfortable with yourself, and your agency.  Everyone has something to share, whether it is sorrow, or tragedy, or something uplifting. This is when confidence comes, when you see that truth, and you’re willing to share it.  Then your song becomes helpful and therapeutic to others who hear it.”

Parlato’s music is very polyrhythmic, so she explained where that comes from. “Yes, my high school, Los Angeles School for the Arts, exposed me to the different arts, with a West African drum teacher, teachers from the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department where I studied later, with Javanese ensembles, and many other groups. Then, at UCLA, I pursued the cultures and rhythms through music and dance.”

Kamasi Washington

On the other large Kippies Stage, saxophonist Kamasi Washington exploded with his 10-piece band, including his own brother, Rickey, on a delightful flute.

Kamasi Washington at CTIJF 2017  Kamasi Washington at CTIJF2017

Washington’s three-album The Epic (Brainfeeder label) stirred up critics’ charts and listeners in 2015, and contains his own compositions in collaboration with a variety of artists ranging from choral to hip hop to orchestral to electronic grooves.  Indeed, an epic fusion.

The Epic album cover

The Epic album cover

As we chatted, he explained his epic three-disc album : “ I wanted the album to speak my own mind for a change.  I had always been playing other people’s music.  I wanted something that was completely me, to put it all out there at once. There were some consultations about the songs with masterful musicians, but because the musicians were close friends, I could run with it freely.”  Thundercat, the electric bassist, is one of Washington’s top five musicians he applauds, as he led his Masterclass listeners to understand what influenced him to ‘break away’ from other mainstream jazz and make his own fusions with a variety of hip hop, R&B, and choral genres.

Washington humbly presented his wish to know South African musicians better, citing Hugh Masekela as a big influence on his early musical years.  “My father used to play Hugh’s records over and over, and I grew to really dig him.  This opened my ears also to other Africans, like Fela.”

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

As an African-American, Washington confirmed a desire to spend more time with Africans (aka indigenous or ‘black’) on this continent because he felt a connection. “I listened to the kids outside this hotel playing drums and dancing.  My African-American culture comes from here – it is African culture.  I feel a connection.  My dual connection is to Africa and to my own community – I think about troubles here in Africa as being similar to ours at home.” He says he learned a lot from the Academy of Music of Alexander High School in Beverlywood, Los Angeles, “but it’s in my home area of Watts (which experienced serious riots during the 1960s civil rights marches) where I hear the rhythms, language, tones, and emotions from my people, and where I feel free to express myself”.

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

What messages, i.e. political, is he trying to convey, if any, in his music?  “I guess music and politics are intertwined.  I don’t force the music either way, just infuse it with my views on society. I don’t see myself as a politician, but I have strong views on how the state of things should be or currently is. I don’t present anything directly political, but try to infuse my thoughts and sensitivities into a song.”

And how does he see jazz education in American black communities, mentioning how ‘decolonizing’ of curriculum is now an important issue in South African arts, in the curriculum, and in learning processes?  “We call it ‘institutionalizing’ which has caused lots of problems with the arts, with equality issues. Schools in urban African-American communities don’t have music programs at all.  And where music is taught in the other schools, African-American music isn’t necessarily taught. That’s why I’ve stayed close to my cultural community of Watts. Our other issue in schools is to obtain instruments, just to be able to have classes.  African-Americans grow up with music in churches where there’s some instruments, but our schools don’t have the instruments for teaching and learning.”

The CTIJF 2017 event was all the richer because of these two incredibly innovative artists and their bands.

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The unique Blue Note at Sea Jazz Cruise haunts the Caribbean

From 4 -11 February 2017, this maiden voyage of the ‘Blue Note at Sea’ out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the third back-to-back jazz cruise for some 6000 like-minded passengers organized by Entertainment Cruise Productions (ECP), a slick and well-experienced company having run over 60 full ship programs all over the world for decades. Named after the sponsoring jazz record label, the Blue Note cruise was hosted by the Blue Note Records President, Don Was, and program-managed by the very personable bassist, Marcus Miller, with interviews conducted by the fusion saxophonist extraordinaire, David Sanborn.

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

 

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Obviously, the artists featured on this cruise were all Blue Note labelled who could easily promote the brand. They were not only dons in their own jazz genre over the ages (aka decades) in American jazz circles, but were buddies, having mixed and matched their talents with various band configurations that promoted their own individual creativity over time, domestically as well as internationally. The offerings for 7 nights constituted one long well delivered type of ‘jam session’ starting from 5pm each day and lasting until well after 1am, as performers moved from one stage to another, remarkably (by the organizers) with very little overlap in schedules. Most bands borrowed each other’s artists, almost incestuously. And most performers could stay on the ship during the whole cruise with the exception of one or two. The only ‘oh-shucks’ moment came when four artists had to leave the ship early in order to travel to the Los Angeles-based Grammy Awards ceremony where their nominations translated into awards. These were, not surprisingly, multi-Grammy award recipients: Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, pianist Robert Glasper (USA), singer Gregory Porter(USA), and singer Lalah Hathaway.

Lalah Hathaway

Lalah Hathaway

Chucho Valdez on stage

Chucho Valdez on stage

A major import to this USA-based cruise was the exciting London-based Ronnie Scotts’ House Band which featured the thrilling singer, Natalie Williams, who unashamedly took late-nighters through energetic jam sessions in the appropriately named ‘Revelations’ Lounge. They also kicked off the music at day 1 disembarkation at the pool side,

Natalie Williams at poolside

Natalie Williams at poolside

What swelled for the following days and evenings were not the seawaves, but the swing, the cool sounds of jazz all over the ship. Another ‘house’ band which entertained, but incurred unfortunate time conflicts, was the Celebrity X Summit House Band led by South African-born, New Zealand- resident, Andrea Lisa who sang as well as played guitar. They offered youthful bursts of improvisations, a bit of rock and pop, and danceable songs that pleased the seasoned crowd.

Rubbing shoulders with the artists before and after their gigs, and taking selfies with these celebrities was permitted, but not interviews, at least formal ones. This is America’s music industry – one must work through the musicians’ agents. Nevertheless, Marcus Miller was easy to find wandering the ship

Program Manager Marcus Miller

Program Manager Marcus Miller

 

and availing his friendly self to passing chats with passengers, as were other artists when their time and energies permitted. Most, however, remained a bit hidden from the masses, and for due reason, many preparing for their daily gigs.

Energy is key on an event-filled cruise like this. Sleeping ‘late’ might mean missing a morning shore excursion in San Juan, or opportunity to just walk around on the sands of Haiti’s Labadee island (exclusive only to cruise ships) and enjoy the sea breezes. One might forsake those hefty lunches or dinners in order to slip away for a power nap (on the beach or cabin bed) that recharges for the evening rackets.

Most cruises offer choices of activities, but for the music lover, the jazz never stopped.

The Horns talk to us

The Horns talk to us

Marcus Miller, Dave Sanborn, and Don Was held interviews with featured musicians which took the listener to realms of the artist’s creativity not well known or previously broadcast.

The youngest on board, 23-year old saxophonist, Grace Kelly, held her own amongst these legends with grand poise.

Besides individual interviews, instrumental groups had their say, my favourite being the drummer group made up of the indomitable Greg Hutchinson, Miller’s drummer, Greg Bailey, The Bad Plus’s energetic drummer, Dave King, and the awesome Billy Kilson.

The drummers talk to us

The drummers talk to us

Sanborn’s conversational style steered the chats well, inserting his own multi-layered experiences playing with the various musicians. Bountiful stories emerged, adding dimensions of wit and depths of learning about what jazz and improvisation in the music industry is all about.

Day 1 set the pace with a blue-skyed Saturday, Feb 4, as the 2100 passenger Celebrity Summit left the Fort Lauderdale port to slowly steam eastward first to the Bahamas, then on to Puerto Rico. I didn’t have time to gape out of my ocean view cabin as there were other things to do, like listen to live jazz! As I got into the elevator, I tripped over Gregory Porter’s little boy wallowing on the elevator flour and heard Porter’s sonorous voice announce to fellow passengers how ‘this naughty boy’ is giving him a hard time!

Gregory Porter by poolside

Gregory Porter by poolside

Porter excused himself as he and child exited the elevator and wished us all good times! Later, I reminded Gregory how we met at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival a few years back, something he well remembered. What I recall back then, as I sat at his rehearsal led by conductor and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, was the band waiting some 45 min for Porter to arrive! Apparently his manager was not informed of the exact time of this important rehearsal for that evening’s performance!! Oh well….. Noone would have known!

During disembarkation at 4pm sharp, the poolside was bustling as the Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars kicked off the 7 day festival. Boy, did that set the pace! I took some videos of that fun bash, took free celebratory drinks on hand, then popped down to the Rendezvous lounge for Joshua Redman and his group – it was his drummer Greg Hutchinson that blew me away.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

He later played with the Peter Martin’s trio. At that point, after this energetic set, I didn’t care where I was going…..I was just going with that jazz flow!! The Greek-born, Ecuador-resident Captain Alex told us where we were going in his comical and zesty way. He was clearly into the vibe as well. Robert Glasper’s trio came on next at the main Celebrity Theater stage at 9pm.

Robert Glasper on stage

Robert Glasper on stage

Thanks to Glasper’s usual comic wit and not too subtle digs at his own fame and fortune, we enjoyed his self-toasting and, at times, roasting. This evening kick-off was just the beginning of evening sessions happening throughout the week which witnessed artists whimsically indulging in comical presentation about their often erratic mis-notes and fancy feelings about their own artistry, all in the name of entertainment. And it was.

 

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Around 10.30pm, I wonder up to the 11th floor’s Revelations Lounge which becomes the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club at sea, a small intimate venue for good listening and interactions. The Cuban trio of Harold Lopez-Nussa were performing, his brother on drums and a younger up and coming double bassist blowing me away. Boy, was this place humming with its blue ceiling lighting and purple hues that matched my jersey. Yeah, it was air conditioned and ‘chilly’, maybe around 20 degrees C, in spite of the warm(er) air outside. The cocktail booklet greeted my table with $10 drinks. Lopez’s melodic piano and his percussionist sitting on his box drum pounding away with a soft salsa was a welcomed change from Glasper’s philosophic and intense solo piano. By 11pm I was already on overload – but bassist Marcus Miller and Grammy-award singer, Lalah Hathaway, were just starting on the large theatre stage!

Lalah Hathaway on stage

Lalah Hathaway on stage with saxophonist Alex Han

What would the rest of the week be like, I pondered nervously, wondering if my age and beauty could keep up with it all!! It was a very sound sleep that followed after midnight. I was reaching the beginnings of my musical nirvana….

See more photos at: www.bluenoteatsea.com/gallery-2017

Sunset clouds

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Pianist Kyle Shepherd’s sonic scaffolding continues to enthrall: an Interview.

Grounding a song with left hand pounding out the steady chords, while the right fingers tickled lines, chords, and pearly runs up and down the heavily microphoned piano, the listener was carried through soundscapes of the Kyle Shepherd Trio’s vast repertoire once again.

Kyle Shepherd

                        Kyle Shepherd

On 25 February, Shepherd trio fans experienced another jolt as this 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year pianist, Kyle Shepherd, and his very loyal double bassist Shane Cooper and drummer Jonno Sweetman raised the Reeler Theater roof again at Capetown’s Rondebosh Boy’s High School.  Coopers’ intense plucks and plunks dialoguing with Sweetman’s clackety, forceful drums exploded into crescendos of delight as the trio maneuvered through old and new Shepherd compositions.

You could tell, see, hear, and feel these peers listening intently to each other. They had to; and have done so for the past 9 years.  That’s the make-up of these three masters of their craft as they collaborate, offering their individual sounds. Shepherd’s newer compositions crafted a lot of behind-the-beat, and in-front-of-the-beat, and delayed, punctuated beats on several songs, playing around with off beats that are becoming common in his forward-looking musical journey.

Kyle Shepherd trio in Japan, May  2016

Kyle Shepherd trio at Straight No Chaser; credit: Gregory Franz

The 94-minute session was only interrupted when the pianist looked into the audience, and apologized for the lights still being on.   They were quickly dimmed.  The thirsty pianist also had to ask for water which might have embarrassed the stage organizers somewhat.  But maybe not.

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

What Shepherd did not tell the audience, even amidst the cameras and sound recording equipment strewn across the stage, was that this concert was the second and final recital required for completing his Masters degree!  It would be submitted digitally as a video presentation.  But even if the audience knew this, I have no doubts that their applause, standing ovations, whistles and cat calls of appreciation would have been less intense,  for this concert was very special, indeed, a culmination of a decade’s worth of hard work, commitment, and growth in developing talents.

Kyle 1

I caught up with Kyle before his concert:

CM:  We live in a strange world where artistry is being stressed out. Some artists are more political than others.  Listeners don’t want to hear about politics either, preferring to listen to music to relax. Yet some artists are message-givers, like Gregory Porter, who writes his own lyrics.  What’s your message now?

KS:  In the beginning of my career, I focused on my ethnic and traditional background.  After the first 3 albums of this, I felt I had to move on towards more global sounds and transcending borders more.  I think borders are human fabrications. I discovered this after traveling for 10 years and meeting people from so many different places around the world, only to see how common we all are.  So the music I’m writing now reflects these realizations I’ve gleaned over the years.  I don’t feel the strong pull to create cultural music of the past.

CM:  Are you saying that perhaps your music is moving into, what some would say, is an ‘intellectual’ mode?

KS:  I think a little bit.  It had to happen a little bit. But it’s not purely intellectual.  I had to start combining other elements.   Now, the sound is more expansive, but in a concert setting I can go in between these two worlds, and can play just Cape cultural music for 30 or 40 minutes if I feel like it. Or, if I play with Xhosa or Zulu musicians, I feel very comfortable with their type of sound….playing Mbaqanga for 90 minutes or more.  Now, with my trio, we have metric challenges in the compositions, but for me, it’s what music I’m feeling in my heart that counts.

CM:  You’re starting to touch on style, and I was wondering how or if your band members are influencing you.  How do you collaborate?

KS:  We’ve been together for 9 years.  In the beginning, for the first 3 years, I had a singular vision on the sound I wanted to create.  I was studying all these cultural influences from South Africa, like what Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana and Winston Mankunku were doing, and I wanted to combine these with my jazz style.   And then, I hit a ceiling – from lack of inspiration, and that necessitates a whole different type of research.  I started this research with my band members because Shane and Jonno came from a totally different cultural and economic background to mine.  So the type of music they were talking about on our planes and buses wasn’t the type of music I grew up with.   I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, thankfully!  I realized that if I want to expand my scope, I can start with the people they were talking about…. Mostly rock musicians.  Rock wasn’t a sound I knew at all in my upbringing.  My Cape flats life – we listened to R&B, soul, smooth jazz – stuff like that.  Then I started listening to RadioHead smashing funk and rock, and loved the energy and found the spirit quite akin to what we as a trio do in jazz…..sometimes frantic, sometimes crazy, really energetic.  So that’s what we do but sonically on a much smaller scale!  So Shane and Jonno influenced me in that way.  I felt like writing music for all of us and keeping everyone’s musical personality in mind.  The emotional investment in the sound becomes like their own stuff. I found we are all connected on a much higher level as I wrote for them.

CM:  I notice that you seem to prefer the acoustic piano, yet have played the electric piano with other groups, like on Claude Cozen’s “Jubilee Jam” album.  Is that so?

KS:  I have no aversion to the electronic instruments at all –  I have a few keyboards at home.  I use the electronic more with the film and documentaries I’ve written for because I love the analog synthesizers.  If I could afford it, I’d have a room full of Moogs.  I love sounds and the analog ones.

This sound is coming back into contemporary music , like Radio Head, and the Little Dragon. They’re all using analogs now and  I love synthesizers.

But when I think of the trio,  I think acoustic, since we’re all playing acoustic. If others are playing electronic bass, for instance, I can play electric piano.  But it comes down to the sound you want to create with the individual band members.

CM:  Sometimes you put things on the piano strings – like cardboard or paper  –  to get a specific sound effect, which may alter the traditional acoustic sound…. But you convey a message.

KS:  Yeah, I like doing that.  It’s almost like using the analog synthesis without the wires.  As you know, I play a lot of other instruments. But I find that sonically, the piano is very one-dimensional. You plonk a note and it stays as that note.  With a bass or saxophone, you can bend notes.  So I like to create other textures using what we call ‘prepared piano’ which means putting things on the strings to get sound effects.

CM:  Cultivating the traditional instrumental jazz idiom, however it’s done, is a lifelong mission.  But you are now delving into the world of film scoring.  Is this because there are more opportunities in this genre, particularly here where there is a growing film industry in South Africa, or is it something you like?

KS:  On a practical level,  I had to make a decision.  Here in Capetown now, there are no more jazz venues to play at, whereas for years I had gigs 4-5 times a week with no problem.  I could pay the bills and perform.  Now, the film opportunity came.  I love film, my wife’s a film buff, and her father is a film director.  So we take note of the cinematography and the score – we’ve always done that.  And there’s composition in film.  It’s not just compiling pre-recorded music for film; it’s actually intense composition.   At first, I wasn’t sure it was for me, but when I got to the end of my first film scoring which was for Noem My Skollie, I felt that this was something I can do, that I would like to do.

CM:  Your songs were featured in other films, like Action Kommandant, about Ashley Kriel….

KS:  Yeah, those were already pre-recorded.  But for Noem, the songs were originally composed for the film.  Again, I loved the idea of Noem My Skollie because the sound you can operate in is so expansive – from orchestras to crazy sound module stuff which I love.   If I could do one or two films a year, I’d be very happy.  My ideal life going forward is doing both:  performing and film scoring.

CM:  You write poetry. Are you interested in writing lyrics for songs?

KS:  I used to write counterparts to my compositions, but not any more.  I used to read live as part of the performance.  It’s not something I’m particularly interested in doing now.   But if I compose something, and there’s an inspiration for a text, then that’s cool.

CM:  Interested in playing any other instruments?

KS:  (Ha ha ha!).  My practice routine now is …..  my music is heavily baseline driven.  I play this odd-metre repeated chords with my left hand, while with the right hand, I tap out on the snare drum for 30 minutes.  This helps to develop rootedness  and stamina of my left hand while also keeping the grooviness going.  You have to be groovy when you play drums, there’s no other way!!!  So that’s my practice thing, playing odd-time signatures and repeated patterns with the left hand but playing drums at the same time with a drum stick in the right hand. It’s also fun.

I had struggled to make practice fun which is part of the challenge!  After ten years of playing, you have to make fun.  Otherwise, it’s just mechanical.  I tell my private students this all the time.

CM:  Are you interested in teaching?

KS:  I’m finishing my  Masters degree at Stellenbosh University. It was funded by the British Council. I focused on half performance, half research  – an orthography of my own process of composing and improvising, and interrogated Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana’s process as I know it from their work and writings.  This opens up new opportunities, perhaps, for education and teaching, but I don’t see myself there yet.

CM:  There was a time when you were collaborating with another group in a festival – with the Beatenberg  band.  In terms of the future of South African jazz, is your music remaining in the ‘jazz’ genre, if that’s what you want to call it? Many ‘jazz’ musicians renounce the description, saying  “I just play music”!

KS:  Yeah.  I feel the same.  We can’t take improvisation away, because the way we phrase is jazz.  But now there’s so much influence from contemporary music  in what we’re doing, from classical music to ethnic or primitive music .  I can’t call it just one thing anymore.  But festival producers and record label producers – it helps them  to catalogue ‘jazz’.   The different textures and emotions and themes all piled into one sound – is hard to define.

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit:  Seigo Matsunaga

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit: Seigo Matsunaga

CM:  Speaking about emotions.  I found a quote you made that referenced ‘emotional disposition of a character in a scene’,  ‘sonic scaffolding for those emotions’,  – you’re using very poetic words here – ‘emotional anonymity’ ….

KS:  I had to learn how to write when doing my thesis – that was a big thing, to write properly!  What I meant by ‘emotional anonymity’, when I wrote my solo works on my own albums, there’s a deep emotional investment in it – like an emotional rollercoaster.  But what I like about composing for films is that there’s the requirement to just tell the story; my own emotions fall by the wayside, they don’t count.   By ‘emotional scaffolding’, I mean create the sound, the spine of what’s being seen.  What you see on the screen falls onto the sound.   The music is a very important part of filmmaking.

CM:  You would consider yourself to be a very visual person?  You’re driven by visuals.

KS:  Yeah,  I think so.  When I see star performances by actors in films, it tells me what kind of sound I have to produce, what I have to compose.  For me, it’s a welcome release from having to compose something solo or concert music because you have none of that emotional pictorial context.  All that content, all the narrative is coming from you, by yourself.

CM:  Have you considered doing slides and visuals put to your music?

KS:  Right now, I’m collaborating with a photographer.  We’re doing a performance on 11 May at the Youngblood Gallery in Bree Street.  I’ll work with his photo projections.

CM:  Anything else?

KS:  I went through a really bad period with the closing of venues in Capetown for gigs. It really depressed me.  My plea is do something, who’s going to help us musicians?  Traveling has become very difficult with prices so high.  Also, my trio has lost two possible performances in the U.S. because of the change of government there now, and the sponsoring organizations are not sure of funds coming in to support jazz/music efforts.  One in New York, one in Washington DC.

But with the film prospects in South Africa, the future is looking brighter now with many film productions in Capetown and a lot more funding is becoming available.  So there’s something to do there.  As a composer, I’m quite excited about that.  But as an artist, I would love to be able to play in concerts and gigs with my trio, with appreciative audiences, and with different collaborations – through jazz and also composing for visual media projects.  That’s what I’m working hard towards, where I would like things to go.  It’s like I’m at the beginning of my composing career!  It’s like ten years all over again.  You know, when my first few albums were released, I was flying all over the country doing gigs and launches, driving to radio stations to deliver my CDs, etc., essentially doing the leg work to promote my music.  Luckily, with the digital age, things have become a bit easier to promote oneself.  But now,  with my composing career, I’m doing the same thing, just not physically.

@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@

In an announcement made on Thursday, 16 Feb 2017, Kyle Shepherd, who composed the film score for Noem My Skollie / Call Me Thief, was nominated for South African Film & Television Award [SAFTA] for Best Achievement in an Original Music Score in a Feature Film.  In a major feat, the film scored 10 SAFTA nominations including Best Feature Film & Best Director (Daryne Joshua).  The original soundtrack of the film is now available for purchase, worldwide, on all major digital retail platforms via Gallo Record Company.

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

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.

&*&*&*&*&*&*&

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.

&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*

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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