This year’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival, like in 2020, is exciting, full of new entertainment from growing and seasoned artists, and yes, virtual, waiting for that pandemic to disappear so that we can have a decent fun-filled social and interactive Festival like in past days. I honed in on the Jazz Festival, and found these worthy delights, from both our local stock as well as international contributions. Accessible viewing until July 31, most of these recordings are available at any time, and at reasonable costs. Check these out at https://nationalartsfestival.co.za.
Melvin Peters Trio
Pianist Melvin Peters, now retired from years teaching at University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban and at the University of Pretoria, offers twists and turns on familiar favourites as well as his own compositions. A splash of the melodic Standard, ‘Secret Love’, hits this hour’s performance running as Peters launches his ambitious piano styles which are full of surprises. Being sure to mix the offerings, Peters’ own songs make sure to honour some of the pains of the day. His ‘Joy Comes in the Morning’ speaks to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. It is a beautiful rendition of scenes of mixed sorrow and joy, perhaps that life continues elsewhere. Bassist Trevor Donjeany solos with emotion and purpose, leading the piano to continue the melodious theme. Peters confidently solos in another favourite Standard, ‘All the Things You Are’, starting with a Bach-ish style that morphs into jazzy improv. Then a mellow R&B tune by Donjeany reveals just what expertise blesses the major South African city. Always appreciative of his able band members, Peters ends with a piece in swing by drummer Bruce Baker, rounding out this delightful repertoire of improvisational wizardry.
Bokani Dyer – Kelenosi
During his jazz studies at the UCT College of Music over ten years ago, pianist Bokani Dyer was selected for the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band which toured Sweden, after which he released his debut album in 2010, and subsequently received top awards for scholarships which spun him into vast jazz worlds. Now, a new and different Dyer presents a NAF program with funky beats and bluesy lyrics, his vocals included. The Setswana title of his recent album, Kelenosi, which means ‘alone’ or ‘on my own’, suggests there’s a new-found freedom which is absorbing and intertwining all those past experiences to make some surprisingly new styles: a bit of rap, some hiphop thrown in along with improvised R&B, even a touch of classical music. Written and recorded over two months during the extended lockdown period imposed on South African in 2020, songs in this album present Dyer’s dexterous tendencies to please.
Songs include ‘Quarantine’ with characteristic Dyer upper register runs, clean and distinct. His vocals follow with a moaning for wanting-it-all – Nectar and waterfalls – while scatting along with his piano accompaniment. In ‘Goofy’, Dyer retains his chordal jazz improv, and then switches into a slow, meditative mood portraying a 13th Century Sufi poet introduced with a spoken word voice-over. Dyer sings, raps fast, trying to pitch his at times wobbly voice to the complicated scales he harvests. About 39 minutes into this creative program, Dyer joins keyboardist Clement Carr in a solo duo that reveals a pleasantly agile conversation between the two instruments taking turns unfolding and articulating the melody according to mood. Carr’s staccato taps on his synthesizer keys add character to the piano runs and plucking which Dyer enjoys doing directly on the piano strings.
An interesting attempt at Nigerian highlife and pigeon English, in tribute to musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, provided some humourous vibes with the popular song, ‘She Go Say I Be Lady-O’, with Carr’s synthesizing pulses mimicking that highlife beat. This NAF presentation certainly peeks into Dyer’s windows of changing shades and styles of jazz as he mixes electronic dance music, R&B, rap, salsa and even classical music in his evolving repertoire.
Siya Charles Sextet
Trombonist and composer Siya Charles performed for the National Arts Festival 2021 at Gallery 44 on Long Street in Cape Town on 20 June 2021 to a very small audience in the otherwise very adequate auditorium at the Gallery which in olden days was a Cinema and Theater. Her recorded concert is now virtual in the SB Jazz Festival offerings and not to be missed.
Her sextet, composed of some of the best Cape Town-based jazz musicians, come with the musical DNA from the University of Cape Town’s College of Music; hence, the tight, orderly sound of the three horns: Zeke le Grange on tenor sax, Shaw Komori on trumpet, and Siya Charles on trombone; then Damian Kamineth on percussion and drums, Sibusiso Matsimela on double and electric bass, and the indomitable Blake Hellaby on keyboard.
This bebop lady has class, swing, melody, and versatility, caroling her band through mbaqanga, ghoema, and contemporary jazz beats, including swing and post-bop. After a few South African local beats, her sextet swung into Andrew Lilly’s “Education” and from then on, her love for swing and bebop took off. “I love the sextet because of the horns,” she explained as she confidently introduced her songs and band members’ solos. Young Komori’s trumpet offered clean runs while Matsimela beboped his way determinedly. Hellaby enjoyed his right hand rustles through the treble range. From African grooves to jazz swing, this was a concert that deserves an album which, hopefully, is soon in its making. The horizon looks sunny!
JUSTIN-LEE SCHULTZ & GERALD ALBRIGHT
Oh boy! Bob James and Jonathan Butler – move over! Here comes 14 year old pianist, scatter and talk-boxer, Justin-Lee Schultz, with a whopping portrayal of smooth, funky, and scatty vocals with piano that ring familiar, yet surprise with some chordal twists and turns. An ambitious band leader, Justin commands his keyboards and talk-box like a pro, and obviously enjoys modulating the vocal frequencies into various moods. Even his falsetto young male voice takes some wandering scat scales to clean heights, again like a pro. Known more in the USA, even though born and raised in Johannesburg until his family moved to Minneapolis, young Justin can top the charts, as did his debut album, Gruv Kid, in 2020. About 28 minutes in, saxman Gerald Albright enters to play a familiar tune….. Consistently, young Justin , who stood and played throughout his set, maintains clear, flawless upper register runs that simply made the piano sing. The use of moving digital images as a stage backdrop for visual effects, and controlled by Justin on his techy machines, tended to visually overpower the otherwise gentle smooth jazzy renditions of this group. A simpler and less techy background presentation would have suited just fine as the viewer watched the captivating highlights of the Schultz youth. Those distractions aside, Justin produced, along with Dad Julius on guitar and 16 year old sister Jamie-Lee on drums, a one hour musical heist worth every Rand penny (R50).
Playing in what appears a lush, tropical garden, this 7minute 19 second video shows closeups of Brazilian Guilherme Ribeiro on piano and accordion along with a cellist, drummer, and box drummer. Several scenes depict road signs as one travels through this Brazilian countryside, thereby making this engaging visual experience also enticing with the sonorous whims of nature. It’s a meditation, a reflective moment, to stop any actions or thoughts, and just try to ‘be’ for those seven plus minutes.
Chadleigh Gowar, bassist. ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’… at The Fringe
While joyous and hopeful, the spirit behind Chadleigh Gowar’s moving presentation pointedly aimed to engage our hearts and understanding about how artists, too, faced vast difficulties during the Covid pandemic grasp on lives near and dear. Gowar’s tributes to loved ones who passed during this time (like ‘Uncle Neville’ and others close and far) were both enticing and melodic, pushing boundaries of mourning into gospel and ballad modes. His band members musically produced a tight sound pleasing, yet saddening, as they portrayed what loss sounds like. Unfortunately, the band members’ names were not listed in the program, but one could see the soft drumming of Damien Kamineth and a yearning wail of trumpeter Jo Kunnuji. Written tributes and sentiments were also presented from Granville Skippers as well as from Gowar himself. Between songs, Gowar told his stories and included one guest, Wendy Julius, who sang her own tribute song and shared how her religious strength brought her through hard family losses. One could appreciate the realities of death these artists were facing, but which moved them to create and sing….. that gone is not to be forgotten.