One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.
One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.
In search of some live Brazilian music a few months ago, I found my way to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, in the Time Warner Center, where the Brazilian percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca was leading a quintet. I can’t say I knew much about Mr. Da Fonseca before I heard his band that night, and among the things I didn’t know was that his quintet’s regular reed player was a 38-year-old Israeli woman named Anat Cohen, who has lived in New York since 1999.
On the first few tunes of the set — mostly the kind of fast-paced, Brazilian-tinged jazz I’ve always loved — Ms. Cohen played the reed instrument most closely associated with postwar jazz: the tenor saxophone. It was immediately apparent that she was a terrific musician, fluid, full-throated, with a knack for creating beautifully crafted, even eloquent solos. Around the fifth song, however, the quintet began playing “Chorinho pra Ele,” a simple, infectious samba by Hermeto Pascoal, the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist. And that’s when Ms. Cohen did something you rarely see a jazz reed player do these days. She took out her clarinet.
As good as her saxophone playing was, Ms. Cohen on the clarinet was a revelation. Using the clarinet’s upper register, she could evoke infectious joy. In the lower register, her playing could conjure a deep, soulful melancholy. On up-tempo numbers, her improvisations weren’t just bebop fast; they had a clarity and deep intelligence that is really quite rare. She made it look effortless, even as she was playing the most technically difficult of all the reed instruments. She only played a handful of songs on the clarinet that night, but every time she did, she took my breath away.
Read more at Anat Cohen and Her Jazz Clarinet – NYTimes.com.
When Mark Winkler, a quintessentially West Coast swinger, filled an album with Bobby Troup tunes a decade ago, it was a blissful marriage of hipster sensibilities. Winkler and Laura Nyro seem stranger bedfellows—California cool meets East Coast boho—yet Winkler, a gifted writer himself, makes the union work equally well. Nor was Nyro all dark-basement angst. Less hard-edged than such contemporaries as Dylan and Paul Simon, she, like Joni Mitchell, tended to float beyond category, blending a heady potpourri of folk, pop, jazz and show tunes. When that crazy mélange is filtered through Winkler’s laidback aesthetic, the results are quite magical.
Winkler draws exclusively from Nyro’s first four albums, spanning the years 1967 through 1970, when many of the songs became best known via Top 40 cover versions from the likes of Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Fifth Dimension. Ably supported by a shifting cast that includes pianists Eli Brueggemann and Eric Reed and guitarist Larry Koonse, all of whom also contribute arrangements, he follows the lead of those long-ago pop groups by making each of these 11 tunes distinctly his own. So, “Time and Love” is reinterpreted as a dreamy ballad; “He’s a Runner” emerges as an intensely personal tale of betrayal; the wine-steeped “Sweet Blindness” erupts as a riotous party worthy of Louis Prima; and the jaunty post-Kennedy politics of “Save the Country” become a salve for various postmillennial malaises.
Miguel Zenón brought his multimedia project on Puerto Rican identity to New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on February 22 for a rare performance by his longtime quartet and a jazz orchestra (others will follow at SFJAZZ Center on June 1 and at Carnegie Hall on December 7) of music destined for a recording session in Germany early next year. Zenón himself conducted the interviews with the several New York-based, second-generation Puerto Ricans featured on the video portion of the program, and he composed and arranged all the music.
“Our conversations,” writes Zenón in accompanying program notes, “can basically be summarized into one single question: What makes a Puerto Rican a Puerto Rican?” The answers he gets—as implied by the project’s title, Identities are Changeable: Tales from the Diaspora—are various, malleable and interrelated. To reflect that, the music Zenón wrote is shot through with interlocking time signatures. “As a means to represent this unique concept of identity (multiple and changeable) in the music itself,” his notes continue, “all of the compositions explore the idea of multiple rhythmic structures coexisting with each other (e.g., 5 against 7, 3 against 2, 5 against 3). In addition, each piece is meant to be a narrative of the different questions and concerns addressed during the interviews.”
The major-label landscape hasn’t been hospitable to jazz in recent years, but there’s a bit of good news on the horizon: OKeh Records, the label that released historic early recordings by Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington, is being revived under the corporate umbrella of Sony Masterworks. The new OKeh roster will feature contemporary artists, including the guitarist Bill Frisell, the saxophonist David Sanborn and the pianist and keyboardist Bob James; its first release will be “A Different Time,” by the pianist John Medeski, on April 9.
Wulf Müller, who joined Sony Classical as a jazz consultant last fall, is overseeing the label revamp. Mr. Müller has nearly 30 years of experience in the music industry, many of them in the realm of A&R and marketing for PolyGram and Universal. At OKeh he’ll work with Chuck Mitchell, who was recently appointed senior vice president of Sony Masterworks (and comes with his own major-label jazz pedigree, having worked as an executive at Verve and eOne).
Actress Molly Ringwald, best known for her starring roles in such hit 1980s films as Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, will release a jazz vocal album, Except … Sometimes, next April. The album, Ringwald’s debut, will be released by Concord Records. It’s described in a press release “an homage to the Great American Songbook,” and will include nine standards plus “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club. Ringwald will also appear on selected tour dates.
A selection of notable releases in another year that found jazz evolving as boundaries and definitions shifted and fell, leaving only the music behind.
It’s been a solid year for jazz recordings: no truly great new albums (I doubt that any of them will make the decade’s top 10 list at the end of 2019), but all of the ones below are very good.
Rocking Horse – Soft Rock Country Band + The Glenn Robertson Jazz Band LIVE at Kaleidoscope Cafe on Friday 2nd November 2012.
Butter Chicken + Rice on the Menu – Soft Drinks Bar
Call Petro Schoeman 0216745761 to book!
From streaming services to direct download sites, SA has seen a range of new music offerings arrive in recent months. Now there are two more on the horizon, each with completely different models, but each wanting to give SA artists the dues, and revenue, they deserve.
The first, Biblo, was founded by musician Markus Wormstorm (Markus Sutcliffe-Smit to the taxman) and his wife Alison. It’s set to launch on Saturday and will serve as a boutique outlet for advertisers, filmmakers, broadcasters and brands looking to license curated, high-quality SA music.
“We want to create a shelter for local artists so they don’t get messed around and so they get proper fees,” Sutcliffe-Smit explains. “All the tracks are handpicked so the quality is a bit higher. We offer licensing across the board, from public performance, to Internet licences, and licences for television broadcast and film.”
A superb worldly mix of music that allows ones imagination fly to exotic places one has never been to before. Glen Helgerson is a new guitarist, composer and bandleader and to me and a truly pleasant surprise its been discovering his music, somewhat akin to our very own Tananas Orchestra Mundo.
Right for the opening tack African Song, one becomes captivated by this alluring musical tour, one truly sees it with ones own ears. It is a sophisticated set of tunes that seizes the soul of the listener and transposes time to the back of one mind offering an escape from the humdrum of daily life. We travel to exotic Africa, the Middle East, Cuba, Haiti and various Latin destinations. We enjoy the rich rhythms of those far-flung places that seep into ones psyche. The smooth fusion of the sounds makes this a very desirable album in ones CD Shuttle.
The astute mix of variety of drums and other instruments assists with the journey into the music of Glen Helgeson, using various finger picked instruments, including the sitar and harp guitars he enhances the heady atmosphere of the well-rounded sound that makes up the album Distant Borders Revisited.
African Song: Smooth Wes; The Mambo Told Me; Red Moon; A Wedding On Venus: Latin a la Linda; Room 231; River East; …If This; Sweet Ears; The Whirl; Southern Exposure.
Glen Helgeson: acoustic, electric, harp and sitar guitars; Peter Oshoushko: mandolin (5, 6, 8); Dean Magraw: guitar (2, 4, 10); Gary Schultz: violin (1, 3, 4, 11); Dave Stanoch: drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 11); Charles Fletcher: bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 11); Michael Bissonette: udu drums, congas, timbales, djembe (1, 3, 4, 11); Marc Anderson: berimbau, congas, doumbek, tabla, frame drum; Enrique Toussaint: bass (7, 8, 10, 12); Tim O’Keefe: riq, doumbek; Gordy Johnson: bass (6); Keni Holman: clarinet (5); Lee Blaske: keyboards (12); Tony Axtel: keyboards (2); Debbie Duncan vocals (7, 12)
Since Sean Jones debut on the Mack Avenue label, he has gone from strength to strength and has grown to be one of the genres top trumpet players and bandleaders. When I popped the advance copy of the album into CD player, I could not stop listening and played it repeatedly, it is due for worldwide release towards the end of March 2009.
The album is a journey of introspection for Jones who looks back on his career, to quote, This is a journey inside my soul thats taken place over the past 10 years. He says. Its an assessment of where I am in the present as well as how Ive learned from my mistakes and triumphs as a way of looking into the future. Jones continues. This album goes very deep for me. Its a spiritual and sonic journey for me.
It is a pleasing and easy album to listen to and enjoy, the backing band is outstanding and his guest performers deliver the goods. A couple of tracks that caught my attention is The Ambitious Violet and The Storm are two tunes Jones wrote, inspired by poet/philosopher Khalil Gibran. The Ambitious Violet he says, Its about how youd rather spend one day as a towering rose than all your days as a violet, Jones goes on to explain. Its about wanting more. Thats part of my storycoming from a small town but wanting more, whatever it takes.
I enjoyed Gregoire Marets harmonica solo on Life Cycles is fantastic, Joness mellifluous flugel horn highlights the compositional beauty of this Latin tinged ballad. Having met Maret and seen him perform with both Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller a few years ago. The man has taken the mantel of Toots Thielemans and is going on to great things in the future.
The young star takes his career to new heights with The Search Within and shows he is a composer of compassion and strength, something many older contemporaries have taken years to accomplish. The Search Within is an album that has found pride of place in my collection.
The Search Within (Interlude); Transitions; The Ambitious Violet; Life Cycles; The Storm; Letter of Resignation; The Search Within (For Less); Summer’s Spring; Sunday Reflections; Sean’s Jones Comes Down; Love’s Lullaby; The Search Within (Postlude); The Search Within (Bonus Track)
Sean Jones, Trumpet; Orrin Evans, piano and Fender Rhodes; Brian Hogans, alto saxophone; Walter Smith tenor saxophone; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums
The sophomore album by Moreira Chonguica continues where he left off on his self-imposed journey of learning about his African jazz and music roots. He certainly has paid his dues because the journey has thus far proved successful since the release of The Moreira Project Vol 1 – The Journey in 2005.
This is an outstanding and adroitly balanced jazz album from Africa. It is most defiantly not a world music album, as most American reviewers would classify it, yes they seem to guard the word/genre very jealously. Just because its from Africa does not automatically mean that it is a world music album, as so many reviews have wont to do. The roots of Africa are deeply embedded which is to be expected. The collaborations on the album highlight this with Moreiras continuing journey into musical expression, exploration and discovery.
Moreira has matured into one of the top African exponents of jazz from Africa, African jazz or do we create a new genre style and classify it Afro World Jazz! Yeah! Lets do it, if other reviewers in the Americas and Europe can invent new genres at will heres the new one Afro World Jazz. Jazz comes from Africa originally via the USA and Europe it is time for Africa to claim it back its musical heritage. Citizen of the World – Vol 2 goes a long way to substantiate that claim. Moreira does not disappoint, he has taken his journey along with his collaborators to the world and proves that he is a leader and an innovator in the ever expanding and growing world of jazz music.
MySpace Website: http://www.myspace.com/themoreiraproject
Record Company Website: http://www.moreiramusic.com/
South African Distribution Website: http://www.moreiramusic.com/contact.html
World Wide Distribution: http://www.moreiramusic.com/contact.html
Wikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moreira_Chonguica
Boarding Time; Umjita; West South Side; Beautiful Minds; The Art Of Love; Synergy; Eyes Don’t Lie; The Praise Poem; Blue Puzzle; Otupam; Relaxante; Now; The Geisha; Sambabenta; Retrospect; Utopia; Ashanti; A Ultima Vez
Moreira Chonguica, Alto, Soprano and Tenor Saxophones, Penny Whistle, Flutes; Mano Dibango, Tenor sax and Vocals; Najee, Flute; Ross McDonald, Trombone; Lenrick Boesack, Alto Sax; Simba, Martins Bernardo, Jaco Maria, Vocals; Mandla Mlangeni, Trumpet; Tony Paco, Frank Paco, Drums; John Hassan, Percussion; Ronan Skillian, Tabla; Angelo Syster, Guitar; Mark Fransman, Camillo Lombard, Piano, Keyboards; Conroy Scott, Shaun Johannes, Double Bass; Lucas Khumalo, Helder Gonzaga, Electric Bass; Dane Coetzer, Cello; Lee-Anne April, Violin
Tutu has performed extensively in South Africa with many great South African musicians. In 2001, she performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival Cape Town, leading an afro-latino band, Tucan Tucan. Puoane toured New York in 2000 as vocalist with the South African National Youth Big Band of 1999. Tutu is currently the vocalist for the Frits Bayens Big Band of Breda, Netherlands.
Ms Puoane has received several awards from major South African Jazz Competitions. In 2000 she was awarded the Old Mutual Jazz encounters for Cape Region and in 2001 she received a merit award for young promising talent at the Daimler Chrysler South African Jazz Competition. In 2004, Tutu was the recepient of the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award for Music in South Africa. Tutu has shared the same stage with the likes of S’bongile Khumalo, Marcus Wyatt, Jack van Poll, Hein van de Geyn, Hans van Oosterhout, Dre Pallemaerts, Stacy Rowles, Mark Murphy, Madeline Bell, Georgie Fame, Roy Hargrove, John Engels and Toots Thielemans.
Tutu leads her own quartet with Belgian piano player Ewout Pierreux, Dutch bass player Guus Bakker and Dutch drummer Jasper van Hulten.
Nontuthuzelo’s Band – THE TRIO
Pianist EWOUT PIERREUX – 1978 te Halle, Belgium
From a very young age Ewout started playing piano and alto saxophone. He got a traditional training at the music academies of Halle and Gooik, where he graduated in 1996. As from that moment he chose for the piano and continued his studies at the jazz department of the Lemmensinstituut in leuven, where he was taught by great Dutch pianist Ron Van Rossum. He graduated in 2001. During his studies he followed masterclasses of a.o. Brad Mehldau, Bobo Stenson, Kenny Werner, Bruce Barth and Bill Carrothers. At this moment he’s teaching himself at the music academy of Sint-Agatha-Berchem and at the Kunsthumaniora (Antwerp).
He plays piano in the quartet Jazzisfaction and in t-unit 7, a new project of saxophonist Tom Van Dyck. He’s the regular pianist of a new big band project called ‘tuesday night orchestra’. As a leader he has his own trio (ep3) with Yannick Peeters on bass and Steven Cassiers on drums.
He also plays keys in the rockproject Upperlip Orchestra and he’s busy as a sideman in several projects, among which ‘Goddam: a tribute to dr. Nina Simone’. Ewout played concerts with the Brussels jazz Orchestra and the High Voltage Sextet and with a.o. Toots Thielemans, Frank Vaganée, Kurt Van Herck, Bart Defoort, Bert Joris, Philippe Aerts, Dré Pallemaerts, Martijn Vink… He played on major festivals such as the Blue Note Festival Ghent (Joost Zweegers Sings Chet Baker, 2005), Jazz Middelheim (Maria Schneider Big Band Workshop, 2001), Gaume Jazzfestival (Jazzisfaction, 2004), Park Jazz Kortrijk (Tutu Puoane Quartet, 2004) and is named as one of the promising Belgian young jazz pianists.
Drummer JASPER VAN HULTEN – 1981 te Breda, Nederland
Jasper started playing drums at age 7, getting a degree in classical percussion from the local ‘Koninklijke Harmonie Cecilia’ in 1990. After that he began taking lessons at the music school in Breda during, which made him discover a wide range of styles. At home his mom was a classical singer and his father played guitar and sang songs of the beatles and French chansons. All of this made him into an allround drummer, with interests from jazz to pop, latin, brasilian, classical, rock and R&B.
He studied at the Conservatory of Rotterdam, graduating in 2002 summa cum laude. Among his teachers were Hans van Oosterhout, Peter Ypma and Fred Krens. After finishing his studies, Jasper has been playing a lot around the Netherlands, gaining experience with Dick de Graaf, Michiel Borstlap, Bert van den Brink, Lydia van Dam, Harmen Fraanje, Angelo Verploegen and many others.
At this moment he’s the drummer of ‘Sensual’, ‘State of Monc’ and ‘Young Sinatra’s’. He’s playing on a regular basis with great musicians like a.o. Eric Vloeimans, Ad Colen and Jeroen van Vliet.
Bassist GUUS BAKKER – 1970 te Doesburg, Nederland
Guus started to play guitar at age 11 and dedicated himself to the electric bass at 14. In 1989, he started to study at the Rotterdam Conservatory with electric bass as his main subject ànd double bass, an entirely unknown instrument for him at that time. He was taught by Wim Essed, Koos Serierse and Pieter Douma. He graduated in 1996. Ever since then Guus has been active especially as a performing musician, both in the Dutch and Belgian music scene, besides some teaching at SKVR (Rotterdam) and at ‘de Stoep’ (Spijkenisse).
The Netherlands: E.T. (Jeroen van Vliet), Pascal Vermeer 5tet, DTX (a.o. Berthil Busstra, Spencer Croes). As freelancer with a.o. Michiel Borstlap, Eric Vloeimans, Dick De Graaf, Ben Van Den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk.
Belgium: Frederic Delplanq 4tet, Robin Verheyen trio, Quintessence, Pentachrome, Bruno Vansina 4tet. As freelancer a.o. Kris Goessens, Bart Van Caenegem, Kurt van Herck, Tom Van Dyck, Dré Pallemaerts, Mimi Verderame, Teun Verbruggen.
Visit Tutu’s website at http://www.tutupuoane.info/home.html
Though she lives and works in the U.K. she is a South African who is reaching for her own place in the wide world of international jazz. Passionate about music from her formative years, Alison grew up singing and performing in her native Johannesburg, South Africa. From appearing in musicals (and several on-screen appearances) in South Africa, Alison gained a wealth of experience, which in turn focused her interest in carving a career in the music industry. Keen to explore a variety of genres, Alison went on to perform lead vocals with a professional pop band, performing regularly in Pretoria. Alison later joined Johannesburg based “No Surprise” with whom she recorded original material and performed live in South Africa. However in ’93 a trip to Europe lay just around the corner and was to introduce Alison to her greatest musical passion, jazz.
After a brief spell in the UK Alison moved to Switzerland in 1996, it was there she became hooked on jazz. Inspired by jazz legends (including the late, great, Shirley Horn) and determined to learn as much as possible Alison began a formal education in music at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Zürich. She went on to study further with the renowned Zürich Jazz School and enrolled with the St Gallen Jazz School.
Alison then spent a number of years performing with the acclaimed Swiss jazz trio Inbetween as guest vocalist. She then formed her own successful jazz quartet and built up a loyal following in Switzerland prior to moving to the UK in 2005.
In 2006 Alison released her first cd, a five track EP entitled Introducing Alison Dewar. The cd captured a variety of moods and vocal styles from the joyously upbeat Star Eyes to an intensely reflective interpretation of the beautiful Horace Silver ballad Peace. Upon release the cd garnered critical acclaim and entered the Best Sellers list at Ray’s Jazz in Foyles, London steadily climbing to No.7 in their chart. In Europe Alison’s EP was voted cd of the week on Italian radio, and Softly became track of the week and month respectively on Italian and Greek radio, where the cd reached Top 20. Introducing Alison also received airplay in the US, France, Columbia and South Africa. Not one to rest on her laurels, Alison continues to develop and define her craft, always learning from great teachers and mentors including Al Jarreau, BB King, Bobby McFerrin, Jay Clayton, Sandy Patton, Sheila Jordan, Take 6 and The Jackson 5 Gospel Singers.
Jazzwise Magazine Review
This 5-track sampler from the South African-born singer Alison Dewar (the full debut release is scheduled for early next year) features an elegantly phrased version of ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise’, the dreamily impressionistic bossa nova ‘O Barquino’, pleasing interpretations of ‘Too Close for Comfort’ and ‘Peace’, plus what is the undoubted highlight, ‘Star Eyes’.
Whether by luck or design the singer has hooked up with a great team for her debut. The EP is co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Derek Nash (unconfirmed reports state that Nash, possibly the hardest working man on the UK scene, hasn’t seen daylight in over a decade), with excellent arrangements courtesy of ex-Incognito and George Benson pianist Graham Harvey. Chamberlain and Skelton are two highly dependable talents to have in the engine room. Dewar’s own talents include her clarity of line and artless approach to the lyric. In what is already an overcrowded field, one can only wish the singer well.
Peter Quinn, Jazzwise Magazine, UK (July 2006)
If there are, broadly speaking, two types of jazz singer (the Ella Fitzgeralds/Stacey Kents, who prioritise the song rather than their emotions concerning it, and the Billie Holidays/Madeleine Peyroux, who basically do the opposite), then South African vocalist Alison Dewar, courtesy of her crystal-clear diction and unfussily straightforward approach to a lyric, is firmly in the former camp.
On this introductory EP, she is backed by a sparky but discreet band led by the impeccable pianist/arranger Graham Harvey, on a intelligently selected programme of standards (neat versions of Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise, Too Close for Comfort and Star Eyes), a pleasingly languorous bossa nova (O Barquino) and (a highlight) an absorbing visit to Horace Silver’s Peace, the long-held notes of which particularly suit her unaffected delivery.
An ear-catching sampler, Introducing will be followed by a debut CD release in early 2007.
Chris Parker, Vortex, London, UK (May 2006)
Vinilemania, Jazz Italia Review
Review by Fabrizio Ciccarelli
In her recording debut EP, Alison Dewar presents five of the most interesting pieces from the international music scene of jazz standard. Accompanied by instrumentalists of unquestionable calibre, she demonstrates vocal skills that are imbued with personality, marked by delicate and fluid phrasing, pleasing to the ear and beautifully pitched. All this as well as immediacy, a rounded brightness and mellow interpretation and style.
Alison manages to mould herself to the music that she performs without ever losing control, alternating continuously and successfully between tradition and innovation. Aided by the convincing arrangements from pianist Graham Harvey, of Incognito and George Benson fame, the melody’s expression is elevated.
The vocalist’s spontaneous execution thus gets the opportunity to shine through, ably supported by the timing of the rhythm section and the enveloping sax of Derek Nash, an artist who is both talented and capable of underscoring improvisation with a balanced sound, suitably devoid of any self-complacency.
For the rest, the interaction of the band brings out an exceptional sensitivity, revealing not only mastery of the instrument but also eclecticism in covering “evergreens” that are formally so different from each other, from the bossa nova of “O Barquinho” through the lyricism of Horace Silver’s unforgettable “Peace”, to “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”, one of the most intense songs from Romberg and Hammerstein and the first track on the CD – in the writer’s opinion the most “composed” and structured in the strictly jazz sense.
So we wait in hope that Alison will continue to nurture her potential and will soon be back with another equally agreeable CD.
CD Wherehouse Review
Just when you thought you were getting more of the same thing in the field of Jazz vocal, in comes Alison Dewar with her beautiful and somewhat bright voice. It’s actually hard to believe this is her debut album with the expatriate South African songbird gliding through a seelction of jazz standards such as “Softly In A Morning Sunrise” with such conviction and intimacy.
Her arranger/pianist (Graham Harvey) laces the cuts with some hard swing and a thin stripe of modern touch. By any standard, a definite world class recording. If you haven’t heard her music, jump at the opportunity. If you have, consider yourself privileged.
Xolani Nxumalo, CD Wherehouse, South Africa (April 2006)
Visit her website at http://www.alisondewar.com
Into the space between the jazzy torch songs of old, and a fresh homegrown infusion of earthy self-penned compositions, comes A STATE OF AYA.
The artist behind the album is Aya – and is her sonic “state of mind” that she is showcasing on her debut solo album. The often jubilant, fun and sweetly sophisticated jazz sounds allow her distinct vocals to shine – unveiling a scintillating new talent on South African scene.
A truly lively album – from the jaunty, sax-punctuated sounds of ‘Shame On You’ (Ngiyakudabukela) to the soul-stirring, Gospel-drenched magnificence of ‘Ngcwele’ and the elegant ‘Japanese Blue’, A STATE OF AYA maps out the musical ground that this prodigiously talented individual occupies.
Says Aya: “The album is a representation of my identity, the music I love, the songs that have influenced me, my direction and the dreams that I hold.”
It’s not going to be long before Aya imprints herself into the lives of music fans around the country and beyond – a destiny that she’s long-known is where her own personal state of being lies.
Born Ayanda Mpama, the 23-year-old has been waiting in the wings for several years, ready to make an impression on the recording industry. Aya’s work in stage performance, numerous intimate live gigs in Durban and a degree in Music and Drama from the University of Natal (now the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) have all assisted Aya in shaping the musical vision that is contained in her debut album.
That Aya’s sweet, soulful voice may be familiar to South Africans can be put down to her selection as a Top 10 Idols finalist in 2005. Says Aya: “That was an experience but not something that I am holding onto. The real benefit of the Idols experience was connecting with Dave Thompson who has helped nurture my recording career.”
Indeed, Thompson knew right from the moment he first heard Aya sing that hers was a special talent – and when Aya moved to Johannesburg, the A & R and Marketing head of Sony BMG wasted no time in inking a deal with the artist.
Right from the onset, Aya wanted a “fresh, jazzy sound – close to the old standards but relevant to who I am as well as the audience that I am playing to.”
Fine-tuning the sound that appears on A STATE OF AYA was no easy task. “I’m a diverse kind of girl – I think in both Zulu and English, I was born in Swaziland, lived in Zambia and spent much of my childhood in Durban and I am as much an urban girl as a rural one so that needed to be reflected in the music,” she exclaims, her trademark laugh rippling around her words.
In conversation, Aya is magnetic – unafraid to voice her opinions, singularly focused and full of what can only be described as a thoroughly engaging zest for life. Whether it’s recounting stories of living in a rural community for several weeks, or the downside of plying your singing trade in a restaurant where people are there for the food, Aya is capable of holding the attention of her listener.
But, she confesses, it’s in the studio and on the stage that she really comes alive. “I could not have waited much longer for this moment,” she says, “and am eternally grateful that I was able to find the right people to work with in creating an album that I am so very proud of.”
Aya found a wonderful creative collaborator in Crighton Goodwill who both produced and co-wrote the material on the album. I attempt to play the piano so most of my songs were melodies and lyrics that existed in my head. Crighton came in with the strong musicality and arrangement ideas and was able to flesh out these ideas. It was amazing feeling it is like seeing a baby that grows and all of a sudden becomes a person that is alive and fully-formed and strong.
Several of the songs were sourced from an international publisher, including I Dont Want To See You Cry and Japanese Blue, a gentle, inspirational song that Aya says is one of her favourites on the album.
Those that Aya and Goodwill wrote deal primarily with issues of gender and relationships in particular, a womans role in the world on songs like Ntombi and As A Woman. Its not surprising considering Aya is an only child who spent most of her childhood in with her mother her father having died in 1992. We are very close we talk at least three times a day so I guess a lot of my lyrics that revolve around lyrics are down to her as a role-model.
Given Ayas academic background, it is not surprising to find that the thread that connects the songs on the album is a sense of sophistication; a jazziness that is underpinned by a soulfulness that only comes from a place of authenticity.
Ayas very natural ability to switch between English and Zulu only adds to the albums appeal. I know just instinctively which words need to be conveyed in which language and I do think that the choice adds to the impact of the lyrics and the songs, she says.
Listening to A STATE OF AYA confirms this: one of the albums standout tracks, Thula Nhiliziyo Yami is an organic mix of English and Zulu, its understated beauty enhanced by a piano melody and horn playing that once again signifies the albums retro mood.
The composition, Everyday is another gem that provides the perfect platform for Aya to let her spirit fly through a song whose simplicity is part of its charm.
Ayas ability to convey emotions, like love gone wrong on the ballad I Dont Want To See You Cry, is a highpoint of A STATE OF AYA yet her innate feel for a song means she never veers into histrionics, preferring instead to let subtle intonation bring the message home.
Authentic, fresh, full of young life yet imbued with a sense of history, and with just enough sophistication to take it across generations, A STATE OF AYA is bound to be an integral part of the collection of South Africas discerning music lovers.
Aya intends supporting the release of her debut with a slate of live performances and she is up for the challenge of winning over audiences. If I can do it in front of a supper crowd and on national television in the pretty weird scenario that was Idols, then I think that I can convince an audience who appreciates fine music that mine is well worth the listen, she says.