Three South African musicians, all previous winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, and two well-known Swiss musicians offer an exciting and emotion-packed album, long overdue. This group has toured together in Europe and Grahamstown since 2013, and have finished their jaunts in Capetown last weekend.
Energetic drummer Kesivan Naidoo is now home after a finishing his Masters degree at Boston’s fine Berkelee School of Jazz; bassist Shane Cooper continues to grow his sometimes esoteric double bass styles with various groups of musicians, both local and international; pianist Kyle Shephard brings his extraordinary improv renditions to the aural table. Swiss tenor saxophonist Marc Stucki and trombonist Andreas Tschopp are no strangers to Grahamstown’s National Arts Festivals or to South Africa, generally. Tschopp has been on a three month residency in South Africa. Thanks to Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council and Concerts SA, they have launched their album here in South Africa with packed-out audiences.
The first song, “Taffatala”, sets the tension for the rest of the album. One hears Ethiopian chords in pentatonic scales with rumblings of elephants, or are they giraffe herds, and the characteristic spirited drumming of Kesivan Naidoo which comes through loud and clear throughout the album. Cooper states he resonates more now with African music and jazz idioms, particularly from Mali, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, as in this first song.
“Anonymous in New York” starts in a minor key, following on the Ethio-jazz tradition, but with a contemporary jazz mix of urban aloneness and Tschopp’s extended trombone voicings which sometimes sound mournful, then joyous and meandering.
“Grandmere Dasant” starts with a welcomed shift into Shepherd’s characteristic Cape ghoema beat which is immediately dominated by saxman Stucki who runs a small jazz club in Berne, Switzerland. Each musician adds his chat to the ghoema, with Naidoo’s drum signature ever-present.
Stucki’s ‘Black Box’ has pianist Shepherd conversing with both sax and trombone in a slow ballad. “Flying Without Leaving the Ground” suggests its title. Is there hesitancy or joy that spirit can hover and lead us? Some interesting chord combinations by the horns present wonderment. Then, surprisingly, the take-off happens as Shepherd’s keys up the tempo, propelling the melody into a sonic but terrestrial boom. Naidoo drums keep up the pace.
Slowing the pace comes “Sakura”, another minor key, contemplative ballad. It’s sadness comes across through Tshopp’s clear trombone chorded with the tenor sax, and an almost funereal drum praise.
A very moving piece in this album, for me, is “The Last Rainbow Doesn’t Fade”, again submerged in alternating minor and major keys, with a samba beat mixed with a bit of ghoema and other South African beats. Half way through, the tempo changes with Shepherd’s danceable Cape sound ….and the beat goes on with each musician nourishing the song.
An impressive and emotional end piece is “Freedom Dance” featuring recordings of Nelson Mandela expressing his hope for peace and harmony in the future. It contains his “….for which I am prepared to die” speech as he entered the free world fighting all the way for a unified and dignified democracy for the nation.
This is a wonderful album which shows the individual expertise and soul of each artist, brought together by a common thread of trans-nationalism and cross-culturalism. One can’t really determine whose composition is playing as the songs fuse each musician’s creativity. This is marvellous fusion.