I’ve already interviewed Nigerian trumpeter Jo Kunnuji (http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2014/11/10/carol-martin-interviews-nigerian-jazz-trumpeter-jo-lanre-kunnuji/ – posted 10 November 2014) but this time had a chance to hear his latest ‘Jo Kunnuji Experiment’ album-in-the-making live at the South African College of Music’s recital hall at the University of Cape Town. His tight band of four horns with backline presented a small paying audience with his impressive compositions which improvised on sounds from his own southern Nigerian community and from South African influences. His songs speak proudly about his small minority Badagry group near the Benin border with Nigeria. As happens with minorities, the leviathan of larger groups gobble up remnants of culture into a fused mix of behaviours, expressions, and – in this case – sounds with percussive rhythms of the dominant group, the Yoruba. Still, the songs Kunnuji was able to craft explore a new ‘high life’ of West African melodies and beats as this young gun forges a history of salvaging Ogun expressions.
I enjoyed the clear and well-arranged harmonies of the horns played by fellow jazz studies students (Robin Fassie Kock on flugel horn, Tristan Weitkamp on Tenor sax, Georgie Jones on Baritone sax, along with his trumpet). These instrumentalists were tightly in tune with each other, accompanied by clean piano runs of Blake Hellaby. The rhythm section added depth and included Graham Strickland on bass and Cameron Claassen on drums. Kunnuji badly needed a larger bongo or African drum player to bring out the traditional West African percussion flavours; he had to hold his trumpet under his arm as he played two hands on his small but soft Bongos, barely audible. A highlight of the generously offered two set program was singer Zoe Modiga with her crisp youthful voice. She will gain hoots and whistles for sure at this weekend’s CapeTown International Jazz Festival when she opens the Moses Molelekwa stage on Friday evening as well as performs at the Wednesday evening CTIJF free concert at Greenmarket Square.
The Kunnuji Experiment upcoming album promises to be a refreshingly new twist to ‘Afro jazz’ while showing off Kunnuji’s improvisational skills, a product no less seasoned by hard work and serious creative intentions he has pursued during his stay with us in South Africa.