Album Reviews

Album Reviews of the latest releases and re-issues from around the global village

Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane: Thinking Education and Spirituality in Music

Thirty-year old tenor/soprano saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane, remarked in 2018: “Jazz comes from a traditional perspective for me rather than thinking of jazz as an art form.”  So let’s follow this thought, as All Jazz Radio caught up with him during his brief, but revealing Cape Town tour this July.

A winner of a SAMRO Overseas Scholarship, after studying music at University of KwaZulu Natal, and before that with the late Dr. Brian Thusi’s famed Siyakhula Music Centre in Durban, Sikhakhane headed for the  New School for Social Research in New York in 2018.  He liked the teachers there; hence, the choice. 

After his two year program ended, earning him a Bachelors in music, he hoped to continue studying for his Masters degree.  As happened, the touring Covid pandemic settled him, rather, back home in South Africa where he mentored with piano maestro, Nduduzo Makhathini, and featured in several of the latter’s albums. Having released his first album before New York, Two Sides, One Mirror (2017), his grooming back home helped him release An Open Dialogue in 2020 which also won him the Apple Music’s Artist of the Month (November) award, the first South African to win such!

Nduduzo Makhathini-credit: Rod Taylor

It seems this soft-spoken Sikhakhane was especially destined to bring us musical joy blessed with a spiritual touch amidst otherwise hard human realities blasting South African society, like the riots of July 2021 in KZN and the silencing by the viral pandemic.  But his energies were never silenced; songs for his third album, Isambulo , just released (July 2022) under the US record label, Ropeadope, (the first South African to do so)  were cultivated after deep reflection on what his musical style is all about.  “Isambulo means ‘revelation’. The album shows a journey of religious concepts about what freedom is all about, on physical, psychological, and spiritual levels.” 

Now studying at Oslo’s Norwegian Academy of Music for his Masters in Music Performance, Sikhakhane will not only expand his musical horizons, but develop his philosophy of appreciation for ancestral teachings and the spiritual tools for living a good life.


Let’s talk about experiences of studying music overseas and what influences or changes help develop one’s ‘art’ or, as Sikhakhane would prefer to think, “one’s spiritual perspective”.

Jazz Curriculum: Honouring the Legacy

Sikhakhane admits that the jazz curriculum he found at the New School in New York was familiar since American jazz was imported into his UKZN music training. And besides the NY faculty members who enticed him to study there, the retention of jazz history in the curriculum impressed him:

“What is important to me is how the American jazz curriculum includes the history of jazz music, and that earlier renowned jazz musicians can still have a voice in the institutions.  In other words, the Coltranes and Miles Davis’s are still alive in USA contemporary music, but the Barney Rachebane’s or Tete Mbambisa’s aren’t heard any more here in South Africa! “

Many South African musicians have complained to educationists that the elders and legacy holders are not being honoured in present-day curriculum. “One thing I’m constantly thinking about is how do we create a home within this curriculum, a home that would be safe for our music, for our thoughts, for our Masters?   So my journey of studying is not only about gaining knowledge,  but how do we create a home for these knowledge systems?  It’s important that Bra Winston, Bra Molelekwa, and others not be erased.  How do we archive them and document them for educational longevity?”

We can still buy CDs about the music of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker today as their music has been preserved.  But in South Africa, we ask who is responsible for mapping out strategies for teaching jazz,  and where is this music curriculum coming from? From what sources?  Where would Sikhakhane begin if he were asked to upgrade the music/jazz curriculum:  

Linda Sikhakhane – credit: Ano Shumba

“For me, the first thing to do is to honour the source.  The institution receives students who audition but they’re already coming from another training, and siting their teachers. So the institution should honour where the student is coming from.  At the New School, I was given the opportunity to choose my own saxophone teacher on the faculty.  Likewise, if I was studying in a South African institution, I would love to be given the opportunity to study with (a non-faculty) Makhaya Mahlangu, but somehow there isn’t the opportunity. He’s not there.  It worries me also that I went to University of KZN, but I couldn’t study with Mam Busi Mhlongo [Busisiwe Victoria Mhlongo]  because she was also not in the curriculum.  So after school hours, we attend those concerts of influential artists, but somehow they are not honoured as teachers in the institution.”  LS would like to see the Barney Rachebane’s and the Tete Mbambisa’s brought into the classroom. 

Preserving Longevity of the Music

“You see, they are teaching already, but not in the institution!  I spent a lot of time with my mentor, Dr. Brian Thusi, learning from him, but when I graduated from UKZN, he’s not mentioned!”

Reference was made to’s approach (  compile materials for schools that archive the legacy of noteworthy past and present artists, like the late Barney Rachebane, by publishing their CD recordings, books, and histories for piloting by the Department of Education in Gauteng schools and elsewhere. Also, these learning materials are made available to the public, as well.  Recordings include, for instance, Amakholwa – Believers by singer Busi Mhlongo and Octavia Rachebane’s  Episode 05: Re – Invention with Octavia Rachabane

While in New York, LS was drawn to Cuban music. How is it that such music has experienced longevity in spite of Cuba’s problems with sanctions and economic stresses through the decades? “There’s something about being dislocated. Dislocation creates a search for something that connects you to home, so the Cubans have been able to use music as a way to help them remember who they are.” 

Spiritual Foundations

Future of his form of jazz?  LS finds more of his voice as he moves about American, European and African sounds. “ Music for me is a tool for discovering and not to judge or be judged.  I’m always looking to discover because this is a very innovative period and I’m paying attention to what is happening now.”  So what is it about the saxophone that works for LS?  “I’m trying to have my saxophone speak my language.  My spiritual language, my history, my people.  Zulu music. And the function of music itself.  I’m thinking about all these things.  My biggest goal is make this instrument understand myself and how I can translate whatever, my feelings, my spirit. Think about it:  My instrument is conventional. The saxophone is played all around the world. But our influences are not the same.  One example is Bra Winston Mankunku who really defines the sound of South African jazz and the saxophone.  And we cannot ignore how space influences our sound – like being in Cape Town, one is exposed to the mountain, and the water…ecological beauties which can influence our sound.”

“When we speak about freedom, for instance, we talk about the physical, but not the psychological and spiritual side also.  We need to deal with the totality of what freedom entails.”  LS talks about ‘religious concepts’ which imply religious institutions, such as the Abrahamic faith traditions.  But spirituality can belong to all. “I was brought up in a church, but my family has always been traditional, but also believed in practicing our religion in the church.  Even religious concepts are spiritual because it’s something we believe in”.   So how could he study overseas and write songs away from home, yet maintain a consistency and attachment to his traditional Zulu music forms?

“My studies and my music journey, I believe, belong together.  So I don’t become a different person when I’m studying….It’s all connected.  Take for instance my song, ‘uNongoma’,  a place in KZN where my family comes from.  The word stem means ‘mother of music’.  It speaks of longing, the male vocalist is quivering, chanting, speaking about longing for his father. He is missing his father.  I wrote these songs away.  For my previous album – most of the songs were written while I was in the USA”.  Clearly, Sikhakhane is culturally deeply rooted, and in Makhathini’s vision, ‘Listens to the Ground’.


The Isambulo album

Sikhakhane’s 6-week residency in 2021 in Basel, Switzerland, gave him reflective time to produce and record songs on his latest album, Isambulo“ Most of my band members are from Switzerland except for the singer Paras, the percussionist El Hadji Ngari Ndong, and singer Anna Widauer from Austria, and all band members were working with my residency. We could not perform in live gigs, so I concentrated on recording, instead.  Nduduzo Makhathini had recorded his Inner Dimensions album there so we knew these musicians from these connections.”   

Isambulo promotes a respect for tradition, ancestral learnings, and longing for the spiritual. It sets the mind and heart into reflective, sometimes daunting, sometimes contemplative, but always upbeat moods.  It seems certain notes and chords tweak certain areas of the body as well. Just listen to your own reactions.  Sikhakhane’s style of projecting soft long notes entertwined with fast-paced runs and wailings touch various emotional and contemplative levels of our being.  One just needs to listen soulfully with eyes wide shut.

The album starts with a rework of LS’s 2017 single, ‘Inner Freedom’ which takes us on a meditative journey one slow note at a time.  ‘Gog_uIdah’ is his prayer to his grandmother when she passed away, but did not resignate until years later when the song emerged in his Spirit.  An awakening.  Other subsequent songs feature a frantic, energetic, sax keeping pace with fast beats of the drums and bass.  Vocalist Anna Widauer presents lyrics in English that talk about procrastination and our lazy tendency to just wait-and-see in ‘A Day Passed’.  Next, in ‘Ikhandlela’, a subtle samba rhythm entices the tenor sax to join in a joy, an upliftment.  Fabien Iannone’s double bass casts a different slow mood compared to his style in other album songs.  Appropriately ending with ‘Hymn for the Majors’, Sikhakhane continues this lower register meditation with more joyful pulses and reflective moods, obviously honouring the musical Masters that went before.

His home knowledge systems clearly embolden his musical achievements so far. We look forward to more of the Sikhakhane therapeutic sounds for the weary souls out there!

Streaming of Isambulo album is available on all major music platforms.  A delightful video in the House on the Hill series tells us lots more about how Sikhakhane has informed and cultivated his music.  (Nov 21, 2021).  Produced by Language 12.

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Reedman McCoy Mrubata Meets Strings in the Sonic Chambers of a Pandemic

Unholy alliances emerge from the lockdown blues, it seems, while we tend to listen to our own noise and seek redress from unpleasant pandemic restrictions. Reedman and eclectic jazz artist, McCoy Mrubata, decided during 2020 and 2021 to just be quiet, reflective, and continue the creative bent that has characterized his unending career in music. Two albums later, we revel in his generous offerings.

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Quiet Please (2021)
Speaking to SABC Morning Live one day, Mrubata was adamant: “We talk too much, there’s too much narrative, and not enough sitting back and listening to the youth, the musicians, with each other. We need to listen more.” Quiet Please , a compendium of long-worked compositions over time, represents his thoughts and tributes towards many musicians he has worked with, including pianist Paul Hanmer on 4 tracks and bassist Lex Futshane on 2 tracks. With clever finesse during those quiet days of the pandemic, Mrubata decided to throw in four stringed instruments into his repertoire, thanks to assistance from arranger Gareth Harvey.

“The real influence was Andile Yenana. He was in KZN, me in JGB. We went into Studio in December 2020 face-to-face after sharing notes on songs.”

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Andile Yenana

Four short ‘Lockdown Suites’ were assisted by Yenana and Hanmer and feature 2 violins, viola, and cello, with soothing flutes of Sydney Mnisi and Mrubata in a rare harmony. The bouncy mbaqanga ‘Ndlelantle’ breaks the previous soft ballad mode, as though the pandemic was finally breaking up and freeing us all. Yenana’s own ‘Saka Ke’ brings back the ballad with stunning piano runs.

“This is the first time I brought in strings. It was challenging in a studio setting, but Gareth Harvey did the strings arrangement. “ Quiet Please intended just that: “Let’s pause and listen to the young ones. It’s nice to zoom, but at the end of the day, we have to work. There’s too much narration.”

Quiet-spoken, 63 year old Mrubata, known for his subtle on-stage jokes and stories behind his songs, has yet to ‘take a break’, pushing his desires and intentions to produce more strings in inter-generational

The Strings Attached Project – First Green (2022)

Mrubata’s Strings project had been long in the making, thanks to collaboration with excellent chamber musicians based in Daveyton near Johannesburg, and skillful arrangements by composers Viwe Mkiswana and Gareth Harvey who also had his hand in producing Quiet Please.

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Honouring women, an important cross-generational hum through Mrubata’s musical and ethical veins, runs thematically through the album starting with Swedish vocalist, Eva Rune’s ‘First Green’ composition about spring in Sweden. This is a soothing chat between soprano sax and cello, mellow with intention to entice. Gradually, the songs swing into familiar rhythms without strings domination. Continuing with the melodic ‘Two Ma Sophies’ , one hears the steady percussion and bass rooting the song. Familiar South African chords and choral structures take over in ‘Zodwa Wam’, a tribute to Mrubata’s best love and partner, his wife. To the glee of Norway-based saxophonist Shannon Mowday, Mrubata presents her ‘Women in Africa’ as Track 8, written as a tribute to the brutal death of Mrubata’s daughter in 2006. Mowday says on her Facebook page:

“When experiences like this come into your ‘inner circle’, you are reminded of the harsh reality of SA having one of the highest rates of abuse against women and children. A fear that ultimately saw me leave my country. A song in her dedication flowed out of me-whilst upbeat and seemingly ‘positive’ – honouring women for the gift of life and nurturing mankind, overcoming all obstacles thrown at them with positivity; it also asks in return, how is it then that they are treated so unkindly, alluding to rape and murder.”

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Mrubata tosses between orchestral chamber sounds and jazzy arrangements, switching instruments between his lilting flute in early songs to broader temperaments of his saxophones, ending off with his expressive, jivey tenor sax. His influencers and co-producers, bassist Viwe Mkiswana, arranger Gareth Harvey, and others add weight. He enjoys mood ranges: the rhythmic ‘Tunisia’ with drums, darbuka, and percussion which reflect co-composer Greg Georgiades’s own style of middle eastern cadencies, followed by a thoughtful duet between soprano sax and cello in ‘You Are Not Alone’ composed by Mkiswana. Ziza Muftic’s vocals in ‘Ziphi’ add texture and strength along with Godfrey Mgcina’s drumcussion, another ‘McCoy’ special.

More mbaqanga with strings follow in the homey jive in ‘Khumbul’ekhaya’, a danceable tune skillfully arranged by Harvey. A tribute to Ma Madosini with younger musicians, vocalist Thandeka Dladla and fugelhornist Marco Maritz round out the feminine touch to this unusual album.

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Stephen de Souza, bass; McCoy Mrubata sax; Marco Maritz trumpet

What’s next? More Quiet? Strings? Intergenerational collaborations? …… YES!

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Pianist Sibusiso Mashiloane offers communal sounds from his people

Durban-based pianist, composer, arranger, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, has moved from trio stage in earlier albums, including a solo piano album, into vocal chanting and other communal sounds of horns and percussion, including three tenor saxophones and a flute. This is Volume 1 of Music From My People, recently released, portraying music from Sibu Mash’s home ground. But he is far from finished. “Due to lockdown, my band had to record online and I didn’t have access to a long piano – the Yamaha – which is what I wanted to play on,” he laments.

Mash’s music is to be performed in the living flesh, in an acoustic setup, on a stage with that eager listening audience. As the Covid viral safari subsides somewhat, only now can he find solace to play live with his band, while still using a studio setting where he could record this latest album. “For live, I might do without the drums and just stay with percussion. Tlale* knows the sound. My wish, also, is to play with the singer, Siya Makuzeni, because her musicality transcends; she knows the nuisances of what sounds I want.” So there’s more to come.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane

Fifteen instrumentalists feature in the album along with three vocalists, giving varieties of texture, breath of sound, and instrumental melodies to Mash’s foundational expressions, especially in his left hand’s lower register which firmly grounds the harmonic vocals. The theme of 1976 Youth protests to freedom days of the 1990s onward are spelled out by these intergenerational musicians, including the younger Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, and the flute of Tseleng Mkhatla, who trained at the Moses Molelekwa Foundation school in Johannesburg.

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The album’s creatively pictorial cover and inserts, designed by Elashna Amruthlal, show stick figures of people reacting to those 1976 shootings of youth in protest, giving a haunting reminder that ‘home music’ was also surrounded by violence and tragic fatalities of young leaders. There are suitcases of people leaving, portrayed in ‘Umagoduka’ (always leaving); “people visit you, then quickly say they’re leaving now, suddenly. The door means we are going now, we are leaving now.” Little circles on the cover design depict the communality of people.

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Stylistic texture comes across, for example, from Bheki Khosa’s guitar in the bouncy ‘Sabela Uyabizwa’: “Bheki makes you respond to a call, like when your Mom calls you, you don’t hesitate to come inside to her!” Similarly, his guitar maintains that intimate rapport with Khaya Mahlangu’s tenor sax in ‘Between You & Me’. Mash’s wish is that the younger ones must listen carefully to the older musicians, like Bheki and Khaya. “I draw a lot on experience, like visiting a village. I want to visit Goema music and hear it. What is that ‘bokaap’ sound? In Europe, I want to hear how they hear our South African music. During my visit to the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar, the most beautiful thing for me was to listen to a variety of musicians from the African continent. In my album, there’s lots of bass rhythm motion which is what I picked up from those African guys. Like in ‘African Communal’, you can hear the African rhythms in it.”

Mash’s doctoral studies, like for many actively engaged musicians, are challenging his energy levels. “Researching is at the expense of the music; there’s no time to align with playing music. When I write, this one [playing music] stops. While I was in full time research for several weeks, when I went to the piano, I made so many mistakes in my playing!! My notes slip. I got worried! A B flat became a B,” he moaned.

Are they mistakes, though? “It took me long time to get my ankle rhythm [wearing ankle shakes] and my hand rhythm just right. I’m afraid to lose that.” Mash’s honesty and trepidation perhaps makes him the fine teacher he is, as witnessed in some interesting videos he occasionally posts, and his passion to groom younger players.

Mashiloane will touch down in Cape Town the weekend of February 17, 2022 for more concerts to promote his brand of music from his people. Check his Facebook page! The album is available on all digital platforms and in CD format.

Sibu Mash –  piano/synth/composition/production; Mawande Kunene  –  Rhodes; Qhubekani Mthethwa –  Electric bass; Shaun Johannes  –  Double Bass; Bheki Khoza and Keenan Ahrends  –  guitars; Xolisa Roro Dlamini, Nomthandazo Madiya and Wandithanda Makhandula  –  vocals; Thabo Sikhakhane  –  Trumpet; Thembinkosi Khumalo  –  trombone; Khaya  Mahlangu, Buddy Wells and Linda Sikhakhane  –  Tenor Saxophones; Tseleng Mkhatla  –  flute; *Tlale Makhene  –  percussion; Billy Williams and Siya Xulu –  drums;

Mix and Mastering by Jonathan Eato, Deep Bit Audio. Recorded:  Unlockedkeys Studio. Overdubs by Moyasound, subflora studio and Maltre Productions. Artwork direction by Mzwandile Ntsele. Design by Elashna Amruthlal

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Bassist Herbie Tsoaeli Minces African Timing with Ancestral Voicings

Self-taught bassist, Herbie Tsoaeli, hails from Nyanga East, a Cape Town Location, where he grew up trying to find musical instruments that suited his ‘sound’ needs. He studied at music schools in Cape Town, like Nyanga Art Center, MAPP and at the Merton Barrow Jazz Workshop. Much experience was gained from the 1990s onwards as part of the Live at the Market Band with the late Sibongile Khumalo, Khaya Mahlangu, Themba Mkhize, Prince Lengoasa, & Vusi Khumalo. Other bands included Mahube with Steve Dyer.

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His ancestral calling resonates around musical concepts of ‘African Time’, his debut album by the same name winning him a SAMA award for best jazz album in 2013. This recent album just launched, At This Point in Time: Voices in Volumes (2021) strikes lyrical cords as he laces his compositions with pentatonics, ballads, a bit of bebop, then some swing here and there, all seemingly spirit-driven with ancestral overtones. He talks to All Jazz Radio Internet Radio about his concepts of Time and the Now, influenced by some Covid Lockdown blues with contemplation on how to voice hope for the future. It’s a very thoughtful and appealing album for those who enjoy the ‘jazz’ genre with improvisational character and changing time signatures.

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The album opens with ‘Wozani nonke Sizothandaza’ (‘Come all we will pray’) with a distinct drum accompaniment of Ayanda Sikade’s drums, Tsoaeli’s bass solo, all layered with his raspy vocals, and horn harmonies carrying the tune. One can forgive Tsoaeli’s sometimes off-tune vocals which adds emotion to his different voicings.

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Ayanda Sikade-courtesy: Music in Africa

Voicings and timing go together. We talked about the ‘art of slow’ which Tsoaeli immediately could identify with. “We all struggle with our voices as we go thru the Lockdowns. Lockdown is just a continuation of my African timing, coming to your Art of Slow, telling us to just slow down! Some people say, ugh man, you’re just old, slowing down anyway. But yes, wise move.” In the album notes, he talks about voicing against societal malfunctioning: “inequality, unemployment, gender-based violence and mismanagement”.

The tenor saxophone genius of Sisonke Xonti shines as he gives visual movement to the amorphous concept of ‘timing’. In ‘Alone on Your Own’, he seems to depict a child softly skipping along, not in any hurry. Then the sax becomes frantic as though life is too slow. Time to catch up…. The song ends with the bass and drum having a boppish tete-a-tete sealed with the sax approval.

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Sisonke Xonti

The Samba beat appears on several songs, like in ‘Abadala Baholo’ (‘elders’), which bring out tight three horn harmonies, with men’s voices giving an “appreciative gesture to elders who shepherd young ones away from criminality and gangsterism in located areas” (album notes).

Tsoaeli likes free jazz. But what is it in the African context? “Free jazz is the same as avant-garde. African time has its own timing. When I was young, I was dabbling in all genres of music – rock, pop, TV hip, etc. It’s what I call the 3Gs – ‘Genres Generic Genes’; there’s pop and rock elements in my ‘African time’. The 3Gs is my blood heart & soul as I have apprenticed with so many different sounds.” Here is an example of why writer Attiyah Khan calls Tsoaeli a “neologist’, someone who creates new words or concepts. “There’s structure. I tell my students they must learn structure when learning music. “ One hears those chordal structure changes in ‘Umntu’, for example. A free improvisational piano of Yonela Mnana in ‘Palama’ (‘come, let’s leave’) speaks to our hurry to get in that idling car after spending hours visiting family or friends, and then saying the goodbyes. The impetuousness of contemporary life. Then, there’s that sometimes frantic but impressive command from Xonti’s sax in ‘Backyard Background’.

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Yonela Mnana

So, are no filters that harness the essence of a ‘free’ jazz? “All my songs are composed randomly, but I know what notes to give out. I like that – doing things on the spot – composing ‘improvisingly’. When meeting my band members for a rehearsal, I call it ESSMG: Energy Scanning Screening Meeting Gathering – but without instruments. Just a few notes.” (Neologically said.)

Compositional Creativity
“I don’t write scores anymore. I used to.” So how does Tsoaeli teach structure with his students? It’s about African Time: “African Time is from the garden, the soil. After planting those carrots, in time, they will mature and become something useful, like to eat. You gather your hands in the soil and pull out that carrot. That’s the way I teach my students.” But then one remembers that the younger ones are in a hurry, and aren’t interested in the art of slow. Computer software is there to quickly compose, edit, transcribe, etc They don’t want to take time to grow that flower, or carrot, right? “I told my son recently to take a picture of that building that housed the Jazz Workshop where Milton Barrow gave me free lessons. That building had a particular time structure to it, during apartheid, as I was finding my way with music.”

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Herbie Tsoaeli at Blue Room, CapeTown Dec 2021

Young Tsoaeli grew up frustrated that he couldn’t learn saxophone, or play guitar like Grant Green or Wes Montgomery. Then he found the upright bass. “I remember with my uncle, we used to listen to all the Blue Notes, the Stanley Turrentines, the Brotherhood of Breath, the trumpeter Blue Mitchell , and that sound of Jimmy Smith on organ. Then mix that with the Mbaqanga in that house. The sound then escalates with my neighbours who were church people, and then there was the Zion church, and in the back were the traditional healers. On Friday and Saturday were burial stuff, and sounds that go with that.”

This mixture of influences with tight horn trios comes through in Mbaqanga-styled ‘East Gugs Skomline to Khaltsha’ about a commuter train route through Cape Town’s townships that leaves many passengers behind. This song remembers township residents being bypassed during Apartheid – for housing, or left on the tracks, or lined up in job queues. This song cries out for healing.

Ancestral Healing with Hope
One hears in several songs a low register male repetitive chant followed by higher register vocals, such as in ‘Palama’. But could not ancestralism have bad blood as well? “For me, when I do music, people are talking spirituality. I don’t say I’m a spiritual healer, so people can’t say that I am a spiritual musician. People may find it in my music, but I never pronounce it on paper that I am spiritual. I’m just making music for my inner healing. That’s beautiful, if it also heals others. My sounds come from different formats; they may be coming from the rock, or from the swing, or from the mbaqanga.” One result can be enjoyed in the contemplative ‘Woza Moya’ (‘At this point in time’) which portrays a sense of joy and purpose.

Yet, there’s a yearning hope in ‘Siwa Sivuka’ (‘straight to the point’), a song meant to convey how our human Spirit can rise and triumph. Tsoaeli demonstrates his compositional interplay with bass, horns, and piano announcing a better future through soft female vocals. One just sings along, gleefully.

‘Siyabulela’ (‘thank you’) concludes the album very peacefully, with female vocals closing out the volumes of voices that puncture Time. Yet, the volume of voices still need to protest against the immediate injustices and other society ills inflicted on the marginalized. One hopes it won’t take another ten years to hear Tsoaeli’s next album message, no doubt, geared to Youth. …….Speaking of the Art of Slow…….

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Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini’s voice speaks ‘Ntu’ through the fires of discontent

In preparation for his two live concerts in Cape Town on 1 and 2 October at Norval Foundation, maestro Nduduzo Makhathini spoke with All Jazz Radio about how ‘Ntu’ can address current fires of discontent facing youth in South Africa.

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A philosopher and healer himself, Makhathini’s illustrious background as a composer, arranger, and music producer has gained him award accolades, a sign-on to the notable U.S. jazz label, Blue Note, and academic growth that propels his style of improvisation further into the musical portals of African spirituality. See the 38 minute conversation recording below.

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In the backdrop of colonialism and slavery, with vestiges still existing today, Makhathini journeys into African cosmology to uncover that Spirit of Ntu which he draws from his immediate Zulu culture. In the context of the riots and killings recently in South Africa, the notion of burning fires which appears as a code for reacting against injustices from apartheid days, still continue in the society. “In my previous album (Letters from the Underworld), this regular burning was presented in the track ‘Umlotha’ (ashes) as a query about what is left from the post-colonial period. The ashes represent the things we refuse to erase from our memory.”

Regarding the recent burnings and looting in parts of South Africa, travel by members of the Standard Bank Youth Band to East London for practice was greatly disrupted. “So I talked to them about what sounds would come out of burning fires. I realized that we need to actually go into those fires to elicit the appropriate sounds they make! And to find the voice that speaks through these fires.”

To Makhathini, the post-colonial South Africa is an illusion, anyway. “We need to question what it means to live in a post-colonial Africa. The fires are symptomatic of people’s tiredness, people being promised post-1994 free education, free health care, housing… without these promises being fulfilled.”

We query: Why has humanity lost its sensitivity to people’s anger and frustrations ? One answer: “Ntu is about a restoration, about what vibration can be in our sound that seeks to restore our humanness.”

It’s like music therapy, addressed towards mental health issues and strong anxieties. There’s confused social and political messaging from youth who are desperate. The trick is: How does Ntu deal with the therapeutic aspects? How does the sound become therapeutic?

“Everything in the universe operates under some sort of logic or equation. Ntu is found in 4 areas of human endeavor: the people – the environment – in time and space – and in aesthetics, like music. These four conventions of Ntu represent the energy, that vital force that connects everything in the sound. A ritual is always toward a unifying energy. For me, it’s how the composer or sound producer deliberately aligns this vibration of Ntu which people can experience. Find a way of harnessing this sound in the way we channel our prayers.”

The sound. Thinking of jazz as an improvisational format, how would this sound, which acts as a vibration as well as a pleasant melody or rhythm, enter the body and change the listener’s mood, for instance? Think of First Peoples who combine sound with dance, rhythm.

“Ntu is a way of determining the essence of all things. So at the core of any composition or any manifestation are the same elements. Sounds and form are driven by a similar vibration. Bodies are listening for that tuning into center, for that vibration. Some sounds help us learn and know our essence. The intention in the sound is for people to go deeper within themselves, to a memory of our own essence. Sound assists this process because sound is the closest to the compositional vibration of any material. Take liquid. There are many experiments on how sound affects the movement or behavior of water . Those sounds are created from intention, and if musicians spend time seeking this clarity, then we end up living in this frequency of Ntu . Positive intention would have positive effects, so our relationship with intentionality is important.”

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courtesy: Jazziz

So take traditional forms of music, specifically the role of chants and chanting. When you’re trying to create vibration, is chant entering into your Ntu vocabulary?

“Absolutely. Sounds are reaching this point of resonance, of agreement. If you go to a traditional healer, particularly in the Zulu tradition, when they are divining, they keep chanting. If you are seeking help, you chant back in surrendering. So healing is that moment when we allow ourselves to tap into this vortex of energy that the musicians create. Chanting is beautiful – there’s a sense in which the planet chants, and everything around us is in a constant chant. It’s like with the chakras of the body – certain vibrations open up these energy points. Certain sounds trigger these chakras.”

Thinking practically, what about this disconnect young people are experiencing globally? There’s a cultural disconnect. How do you restore his or her membership, how do you restore his or her essence, by this creative force called ‘Ntu’? How does that work?

“We forget. When we were kids, we might act wrongly, and are reminded of this all the time. This essence of Ntu is part of the coding we all have – we define it in different ways, but might call it ‘conscience’. We say in Zulu, “I am because of the others.” At my University, a student is killed. Unbelievably negative things are happening around us. Why? Because we have forgotten our communal essence of being. Our (younger) generation is forgetting our core values; there’s a forgetfulness amongst us, at different levels – society, community, family levels.”

Perhaps because of a lack of compassion in our lives? A lack of harmony among us?

“Harmony is built into our being. We can see beauty, yet nature can be aggressive. We need to remember how to exercise compassion, forgiveness, and love. That’s our pure state. Rituals were for alignment when we go off-tune, which is why our ancestors set up all these rituals that were aimed at bringing harmony back to ourselves, environment, and communities. And sound can take us to that place of memory, to surrender, or re-member, and help us tune in to vibrational states that heal.”

All Jazz Radio flashed: Since we live in a digital age, your work might migrate to developing a ‘Ntu’ app for cellphones, so that we can tune in to good vibrations (laughter). So that youth could be mesmerized and absorbed by these sounds and vibrations! “I’ve been thinking about this technology and what it means to show up on these digital platforms as a sangoma, or healer, and wait for people to come to me. We need to reimagine the field as well. There’s a sense that we (healers) need to speak the current language.”

Regarding his concert coming up over the weekend, Makhathini was asked to speak about what he would like to accomplish, and about choosing his fellow musicians from Cape Town for the band. “ It’s always tough to select the music, but 80% will be taken from my upcoming album, ‘In the Spirit of Ntu’. It’s a new music, but some songs will come from my previous albums, like Listening to the Ground and Letters from the UnderWorld, since I see the continuum of songs and stories that culminate into my current work. Also, I’m playing with these young musicians, some at UCT school of music, with whom I’ve recorded. Mine is one long project, don’t you think?

Indeed, yes. The album, Listening to the Ground, was a pioneering work in 2015 that has maintained a continuum of that same spiritual theme in his music. But in terms of reaching the listener, some of his music is highly improvisational, and may not contain ‘nice melodies’. Some of it is discordant.

“But that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be hairy fairy nice music. That’s why I move between all of these things with a sense of wholeness, while tapping into all of these frequencies that are available to us. While there are songs I like that are coming from ancient times, I see them as codes which the ancestors wanted us to use to align with the cosmology. “

Maybe we need to talk about the ‘Ntu Swing’….. (laughter)


For the future, Makhathini plans to tour the European Shenghen countries next month, and tour in New York and USA in 2022, playing the same concert about Ntu in those places. No doubt, the Ntu ‘swing’ will predominate and become another important signature in South African jazz!

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Reedman Salim Washington: Decolonise and Fund Jazz Education, Please

During his recent Afrika Love concert tour in Cape Town, reed and wind instrumentalist, Professor Salim Washington came with a purpose and message about the jazz art form. As head of the Performing Arts Department at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in Durban, American-born Washington was bidding farewell to South Africa for a year to create and teach at Columbia University in his former home of New York City.

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Respecting both African and African-American traditions, he wanted to pay tribute to one of CapeTown’s leading jazz legends, Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi, who lived and thrived in Gugulethu’s jazz culture during Apartheid days. Winston would have turned 78 this year, had he lived. Thanks to Winston’s brother, Thuli Ngozi, who continues to keep Winston’s tenor saxophone under safe cover, Washington was able to perform his Kwa Sec concert in Gugulethu with that precious saxophone to the fans’ delight.

Respecting the life of such elders, Washington laid flowers at Winston’s grave in the huge Gugulethu cemetery; this seemed to spur Washington to eloquently reverberate through that saxophone Winston’s living Spirit in such songs as the ever popular ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’.

Besides several recent albums (Dogon Revisited (2018) and Sankofa (2017), plus his composition in The Alchemy Project entitled, ‘Afrika Love’, honouring his ever loyal pianist, Afrika Mkize, Washington continues to focus on the importance of jazz education that heralds past legacies as well as current new themes. This importance attracted All Jazz Radio (and others) to pursue with Washington what his strategies are for promoting both formal and non-formal jazz education. Courting wisdom from decades of political activism, writing and composing, performing, and raising four children in New York, Washington was earlier drawn to South Africa’s experiences in dismantling institutional Apartheid, as well as the contemporary currents running through its jazz culture. A Fulbright Scholarship landed him at Durban’s UKZN in 2009 after which he continued his fascinating journey from 2013 to cultivate South African jazz talents, musicality, and the contributions of transatlantic and Pan-African jazz culture.

Critical Issues Facing South African Jazz

Washington admits that South Africa has one of the finest jazz cultures in the world. However, he sees two burning issues facing the jazz scene in South Africa: One is the lack of official support for the art form, and secondly, the notion of credentialing for lecturers at tertiary and secondary education levels needs reform.

Jazz in South Africa gets more support from the Nordic countries than from government. In KZN, this government gives millions of Rands to support the Philharmonic Orchestra, which is lovely to have, but maskandi musicians don’t get millions of Rands, jazz musicians don’t get millions of Rands. We’re supposed to be decolonial, post-colonial, but the European art form is supported in a way that jazz can’t dream of receiving such support. So that’s a big concern to me.

Regarding the credentialing for lecturers of music, there are jazz experts who have not pursued graduate and post-graduate degrees, but get their expertise from the bandstand. Their lifestyle and mentoring with others makes them jazz masters. But these masters are not allowed to teach jazz in the formal way, in schools! It is a concern of mine because somebody like Winston Mankunku Ngozi could not teach saxophone!

Winston Mankunku with Mike Perry: Credit Mike Perry Images

So we have a whole generation of students who are learning from teachers who may be experientially removed from this lifestyle jazz culture. Yet, these people are called ‘experts’. The real experts are sometimes languishing in peculiar situations, [poverty, lack of opportunities, etc] when they could be called on to teach the younger generations. I’ve noticed there are a lot of great players emerging who are also consulting with those legendary musicians out there to learn more. So I’m not afraid of these seasoned musicians’ contributions dying out.

Schools can tend to be elitist, yes, and young musicians, like Sisonki Xonti and others from the area townships schools, could have benefited from a Winston in the classroom – a win-win for both, giving employment to the jazz master. Yet, in the past twenty years, UCT has churned out teachers of music who are teaching at secondary and tertiary levels, which are producing more and more trained musicians. Then there are the smaller music programs, like IMAD (Institute for Music and Indigenous Arts Development), the Cape Town Music Academy, and The Little Giants, that are training youth and offering performance venues.

And that’s a great thing. I just wish we had it in the other provinces. KZN schools in townships don’t have music programs, even extracurricular activities at all. This is one of the stronger points about the Western Cape, though.


In my own way, in my own teaching and as head of the Department of the Performing Arts at UKZN, I’m trying to introduce mentoring. This means there’s a pedagogical distinction which brings different results from a ‘schooled’ candidate. In a school, the candidate is chosen to be mentored. Even though I’m entrenched in the formal school system, I try to bring the nonformal aspects into learning as well.

So what does that look like?

I didn’t learn jazz in school. In fact, I dropped out of school; that wasn’t the place where I would learn the music that I wanted to play. And the opportunities to join a big band were dwindling so a young person is almost forced to go into a school to learn. I think we need to know how to transform the conservatory for the purpose of jazz, because its pedagogy is set up on this 19th Century conservatory model, which has its virtues, but there are other virtues to bring to the music perspective.

Regarding mentoring, the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) had funded a mentorship program called Sisters in Sound, more or less patterned on the USA program of Sisters in Jazz. As happens in the arts, the funding ran out – for both programs. Washington thinks such mentoring is extremely important for young females and should be revived.

That would be a beautiful thing. Jazz has been a boys’ club for too long a time. It’s time to expand. Female teachers are important. Women have been instrumental as teachers and as models – the black female voice is the sound of jazz. Young girls’ working conditions are horrible and, unfortunately, they are sexually molested, so they give up. We need to bring to account these men who abuse women as this might help increase females to enter and stay in the industry. I have talented women who underperform, and I expect there are things they’re not telling me because I’m a man. Maybe more female educators would help that. In the US , there are a number of scandals in the tertiary institutions, so there may be more scandals outside of the schools that affect women negatively.

Back to New York – What Next

In September, Washington becomes an international visiting professor for the academic year with Columbia University’s newly minted African American and African Diasporic Studies Department.

I’m super excited about that. I will be teaching two classes which I think will center around either South African jazz literature or South African practices. I’m still formulating it all in my mind. I also plan to teach a seminar on John Coltrane who formed the body of my earlier PhD research. I plan to use this seminar to help me write a book about him and his music. Teaching at Columbia will require a lot of preparation…. And I’ll be performing in New York as well. I raised my 4 children there. We lived in Harlem before it became gentrified.

Albums and Lockdown

Two albums were produced during Washington’s tenure with South African music: Dogon Revisited (2018) preceded by Sankofa, released in 2017.

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Sankofa (2017) represented my experiences in living in South Africa and the influences South African music had on me. The Sankofa bird is a Ghanaian symbol of the return of Diasporic Africans to the motherland. The idea is that you keep your eye on the past while moving forward with the wisdom of the past. So all that embodies my personal journey which means ‘ Sankofa’ as I had returned to the Motherland. I brought together South African musicians whom I felt shared my sentiments about music and life.

Dogon was recorded earlier but released in 2018. It was supposed to be a recording when I knew I would be moving to South Africa to do my Fulbright in Durban. So it is emblematic of what it was like for me to be a New York jazz musician.

The lockdown period since March 2020 proved fruitful for Washington as he could complete eight orchestral scores.

I’ve had this dream for a decade, and now, these compositions are finally being finished. I want a jazz ensemble, a philharmonic orchestra, a choir – either an African American or South African choir – I think a South African choir, and a 3-person percussion ensemble that could play African, South African, Brazilian and Cuban styles. I’d also like to have a female and a male poet to bridge between the semantic content and music, and give vent to direct social commentary to compliment the music.

This process started with the Sankofa album and will continue during his USA residence.

An earlier album, Harlem Homecoming (2006), was the result of the songs that grew up on the bandstand during my New York performance days. At that time we were recording live at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem and we were also recording me with strings. So this was an earlier attempt to get to this grand vision I had to perform with strings. I was dabbling, trying to get my chops together.

The Alchemy Project with ‘Afrika Love’

Another current project Washington will enjoy contributing to is The Alchemy Project involving 5 musicians who come together from different parts of USA (and Washington’s South Africa) to perform and record each other’s compositions. Washington’s ‘Afrika Love’ song offers an endearing and memorable tribute to a favourite South African pianist, Afrika Mkize, who, one day, just phoned Washington to say ‘I love you’. Musicians include Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet, oboe), Erica Lindsay (tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute), Samantha Bashnack (trumpet), Michael Ventoso (trombone), Sumi Tonooka (piano), David Arend (double bass), and Chad Taylor (drums).

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We have two grants from the Chamber Music of America to perform and record new works. Erica Lindsay and Sumi Tonooka are the grant holders but our work together was interrupted by Covid so we couldn’t meet up and perform. But we start work for 2021/2022 with rehearsals as soon as I get to New York. It’s a great group and has really helped me to grow as a composer. And I’ll be in the company of other seasoned, adventurous, intelligent composers.

No doubt, his exploits in USA will enrich his pedagogical baggage when he arrives back in Durban in 2022. As long as he doesn’t get too lost in his favourite city of New York which he considers the cultural capitol of planet Earth!

New York was my golden period, particularly in the 1970s with pop music. I thought that was how music was supposed to sound. Now, when I hear the current music, I realize that that was a golden era! Like when I was performing at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem, it was an extraordinary time, and I said to myself, let me enjoy it while it’s happening.

Washington’s albums are available on all major digital platforms.

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Reedman McCoy Mrubata – a life with jazz accents made visual

Petite in stature, but ferociously melodic on stage, he blasts a soprano saxophone entry with his able quartet, then mellows into a tenor sax ballad, switching adeptly into a flute solo that rounds out his first set. By the end of the evening, the audience would have danced to a mbaqanga jive or a ghoema ditty, all very South African in tone and intent.

McCoy Mrubata, a son of the Cape Town soil, never fails to deliver what rhythms and sonic pulses have grown in his bones for almost 60 years, as he turns a youthful 62 in June. And he’s videotaping just that!

“I drink green tea, always, in the morning with slices of ginger, some honey and lemon in my cup,” he smiles, proud of this steady ritual, which (he says) helps tone down some hand arthritis creeping in. One would certainly not suspect such an affront to his seasoned dexterity.

Based in Johannesburg for most of his life, and raising four children there, McCoy greets multitudes of fans when he travels to perform in Cape Town. Sometimes, hiding is in order! Thanks to hosting by Jazz in the Native Yards, his three performances end of May brought the hordes: to the cozy (but far too small for this gentle giant) basement whiskey bar of the Athletic Club & Social and the Alliance Francaise, both in central Cape Town, and then to the outdoor Sunday afternoon hustle at Gugulethu’s popular Kwa Sec. Indeed, maintaining Covid-19 protocols were strained amidst the lack of larger economical venues, but fans will be fans. “I am very careful with the protocols for myself,” McCoy admits, “and I encourage others to do so.” His quartet swung, soloed, and supported with amazing facility, delivering some of the best and tightly executed performances for many: the improvising wizardry of pianist Lonwabo Mafani excited many; the energetic ‘talking drums’ of Tefo Mahola cast spells; and Wesley Rustin’s expert plucking on double bass – all well synced with this wind and reed man.

Pianist Lonwabo Mafani at Alliance Francaise May 2021

But what is jazz to McCoy? See his interview with John Perlman at

McCoy boasts a large repertoire of his own jazz compositions performed over the decades, beginning with his early days growing up in Langa learning the flute, and then saxophone, under the tutelage of Madoda Gxabeka, the Ngcukanas brothers, Winston Ngozi Mankunku, and many other Langa musicians. “It’s important to always include songs by our earlier jazz legends where I grew up. You see, I was just a few blocks from Ezra Nqcukana, then down the road was Winston’s house, and over there lived Louis Maholo!

Living under Apartheid and faced by the 1976 uprisings in the country, McCoy made music his passion and traveled to Johannesburg to join the other early greats during the 1980s, forming his own bands, like the Brotherhood in 1989 with guitarist Jimmy Dludlu and the now late pianist, Moses Molelekwa. In 1992 he began touring with Hugh Masekela’s Lerapo band and formed a decades long friendship with pianist Paul Hanmer with whom many recordings have emerged. Other stints with Norwegian groups, residencies in Switzerland and tours elsewhere produced a list of albums. In 2015 Brasskap Sessions Volume 2 won the SAMA’s best Jazz Album category.

That same year, his stint in Switzerland with three different bands resulted in a double CD recording in Basel: McCoy Mrubata Live At the Bird’s Eye. Gobble up McCoy’s experiences at

McCoy’s cultural philosophy focuses on intergenerational learning, in society, family environs, and with his musical collaborators. The Brasskap sessions series is a platform for the young, the old and the legends to interact musically and draw positive energies from one another. When asked how Brasskap Vol 3 differs with Volumes 1 and 2, McCoy replied, “Not much different. I don’t want to dig around to try to find something else new. I didn’t want to go the Marrabenta route of music from Mozambique in the song, ‘Xhai Xhai’, for example, but preferred to add a Caribbean twist with Andy Narell on steel pans playing that song with South African young musicians. “

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How does he filter acceptable quality from the many young musicians coming out in the last decade? How does he choose whom to groom, to capture? “So many are coming to me! Brasskap 2 featured Sisonke on baritone sax, then Vol 3 with Mthunzi Mvubu on saxes and flute. Then, when I heard drummer Lumanyano Mzi, who heads his Unity Band, he knocked me out! My producer Luyanda said yes, get him on! I love Lumanyano, he’s a great band leader, has a wonderful sound, and is very proficient to work with.”

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McCoy Mrubata with Unity Band 2017

Baritone saxophonist Gareth Harvey is another young gun McCoy employs to arrange his compositions occasionally to ensure excellence in output. “When I was recording in Cape Town with his Unity Band earlier in 2018, I asked Gareth to arrange my songs as well as Unity’s compositions. It worked out well.”


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These days, one can see McCoy more often with a Sony video camera on a tripod than with a saxophone. He’s making his own documentary, a selfie, with a self-taught approach including learning and using Final Cut Pro, his editing tool. “The purpose is to show my upbringing in an urban township of Cape Town, even though my ancestry comes from Heuwu village in the Cala area of the Eastern Cape. Then explain the musical journey I’ve had, again focusing on intergenerational relationships.” For instance, during his recent studio recording session in Cape Town with the legendary ‘Mama Kaap’ singer, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, also a long time resident in Langa, he filmed her with his tripod setup. “It was so emotional: she was crying as she sang, because the lyrics of my song were written by her own son who works with me!”

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – 1997: Nelson Mandela singing and dancing with South African jazz singer Sylvia Mdunyelwa at his staff party at Green Dolphin Restaurant, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive/Getty Images)

Inspired by recent tours within the United States, McCoy was able to share his music as therapy. In 2018, he told this writer: “Paul Hanmer and I are finishing 30 years celebration of working together, touring USA just as a duo for 3 weeks in different cities. We did a live recording in Princeton which includes a video and DVD and produced it on Paul’s and my respective labels. We, also, gave short courses, workshops, and master classes. “

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Paul Hanmer and McCoy Mrubata

McCoy returned to Philadelphia in 2019 to contribute to a conference on music and trauma. He admits he was writing his story of how he grew up, the trauma of the 1976 uprisings and violence during the Apartheid era. “My songs are with spoken word and instrumentals. Also, while at Berklee, we were doing music therapy sessions.” Other tours have taken McCoy to Kuwait (in 2019) and Algeria with Greg Georgiades, a South African who comes from eastern Europe and plays the oud and different guitars. A master performance with other South Africans brought McCoy together with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York in September 2019 which kicked off with a composition by trumpeter Feya Faku followed by other South Africa Songbook specials.

Back home, his project with bassist Lex Muchana, called ‘The Summit’ operates in Soweto to bring ‘home-grown’ sounds into various communities, homes, centers, and local venues. “We host ticketed concerts in our houses.” This strikes a similar cord in what Cape Town’s own Jazz in the Native Yards is trying to do in communities to reach various audiences around this large city. Another local project McCoy started to support youth musical development is the “Strings Attached” program involving young string players from Daveyton, a quartet of 1st and 2nd violins, viola, and cello playing with a backline. Currently, he is an ambassador for a number of youth development causes, including the Kasi Angels Foundation which provides shoes for children and youth and other items that encourage learners to attend school.

“I will continue to record in video form my performances with musicians, record my travels, workshops, how I and my family live, my neighborhood, and my life in general, so as to educate people about my passion for music and its role in inspiring a wholesome personal development.”

This major musical Legend has loads ahead to offer. Stay tuned at

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UKZN Jazz Pianist Neil Gonsalves Celebrates Authenticity in Blessings and Blues (2021)

Style and melody characterize jazz pianist Neil Gonsalves’ recent album, Blessings and Blues, which journeys through memorable soundscapes and landscapes in his native South Africa and elsewhere.

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His temperament was celebratory upon turning 50 years in 2019 with a determination to cast compositions in a joyful and authentic light.

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Neil Gonsalves – credit Doub Mostert (UKVibe)

Then the COVID pandemic hit! Rightfully, this sensitive composer tweaked songs in order to counteract the negativities emerging from that year-long+ viral safari. For instance, he overlaid some songs with a synthesizer meant to create a mood, perhaps an upliftment from the bluesy sounds. Here is where Gonsalves meets his authenticity. As he reveals on his website, it’s time to recenter, refocus, rejuvenate, repent, remember and return to ourselves. For Gonsalves, the album improvises a journey within. It’s time to reconnect in a changing world.

Stylistically, the songs begin with phrases which return back to close the song. Look at a row of boxes; they have a similar form and shape and contain and hold their contents. But once you open a box and rummage inside, all sorts of items pop out with life’s textures, colours, shapes, impressionistic whims, free flowing beats, and judgmental sounds. Close the box up and it returns to its foundational purpose – to contain and preserve. Similarly, Blessings and Blues takes the listener inside multi-textured melodies and rhythms ranging from a bit of hymnal, to blues, to bebop improvisation, to African Cape ghoema, to some gyrating hop, and some Zulu cadences.

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Ildo Nandja

Gonsalves doesn’t skimp on feeling; his left hand likes some heavy chordal emphasis to energize his versatile trio of double bass and drums that navigate with their own peculiar depth. He allows them, former KZN University students, this wonderful space to explore: Mozambiquan double bassist Ildo Nanja, presently studying in The Netherlands, brings surprises with his solo fingering and bowing, creating the right moods. Durban-based drummer Riley Giandhari adds a gelling synchronicity through conversations with piano and bass that add meaning. Together, the ensemble depict how blessings received are founded on blues experienced.

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Riley Giandhari

The opening piece, “The Calling”, sets up the stylistic themes of the album. It is hymnal, but not typically, juxtaposing free drumming, and then strange moody guitar sounds “overlaying things from my different experiences”, and ending with traditional African ululating expressions. Gonsalves says, “The hymn aspect of this song is basically a set up for the second piece.” Gonsalves’ keyboard creates a quieter, meditative mood in “Let’s Do It Again”. Such songs activate the listeners’ memories of some fondness, joy, or shadow of past uncertainties.

The song that seems to stand out from what social platform listeners have stated – you know, that melody that vibrates in the head for days – is ‘Southern Migration’. The remarkable haunting melody jumps around in that box, being repeated, while the bass soothingly rocks back and forth with the theme, not afraid to jump into solo flights with the glee. To Gonsalves, the prominence of today’s human migrations elicits universal concern and hopes for soft landings. Another piece that rings in the head for its bounciness is “African Time”. Here, Nandja skillfully bows his double bass which opens the song followed by a melodic, energetic piano with, again, a heavy chordal lower register. Once in, an abrupt change of pace might indicate some confusion and restlessness. Then back to the root theme. The haunting melody reminds the listener of that soundtrack theme in the 1993 Academy Award film, The Piano.

Another example of the piano’s heavy bass is in “The Breadmaker’s Blues” with a frantic attitude of drums complimented by the bowed bass which sustains the main sound energy. Gonsalves had visited a bread maker with his brother outside of London. Is there trepidation that the dough won’t rise well, as the piano fingers out a ditty about the chemical performance, followed by the bowed bass which seems to give instructions to correct the situation?

As the album is wrapped in textures, the whispering drum refrains in the opening song, “The Calling” are repeated, closing the album as the last song, “Qantani” ends. This clever resolve of story perhaps indicates new beginnings? This beautiful composition was inspired by watching scenery changes in the Maluti mountains as hikers and trekkers in the Golden Gate National Park of the northern Drakensberg range absorb these natural beauties. Watch this rendition:

This and his previous releases are available on Bandcamp and other digital platforms.

I wanted to dig a bit deeper into what Lecturer Gonsalves thought about where South African jazz is going, how it is being taught, and indigenizing jazz.

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CM: Quo vadis? Where is the South African jazz sound going?
NG: There’s more focus being given on uncovering and developing indigenous sounds, thanks to musicians like Nduduzo Makhathini, who has become a flag bearer for this growing platform and trust that is very rooted within South African culture and knowledge systems. His working group is building. Followers may not be so ethnocentric but they portray themselves as being on this side of the ‘Black Atlantic’, around Black Lives Matter issues. The Orbit jazz club in Johannesburg was a home for this, to offer a sense of how the South African jazz styles were growing, with that spiritual aspect of endeavor.

CM: I’m trying to understand how to describe, at least in English, this ‘indigenous’ sound and feeling in our jazz. One can listen to ‘indigenous music in jazz’ people, like Sibu Mashiloane, Nduduzo Makhathini, Hilton Schilder in the Cape, Blake Hellaby, etc. and the younger musicians from UCT combining hip hop and other modalities. Are they being properly heard?

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Capetown-based Hilton Schilder

NG: My fear is that some of these things can become marginalized. For instance, Nduduzo has had a lot of exposure to this music and knows how this game is played, and how to engage social media. And other South African jazz sounds out there are not any less credible or worthy. In terms of musicianship, craft, or authenticity, there’s an amazingly diverse kind of musician that should be getting more press and media coverage, but they’re not.

CM: Agreed. Given this plethora of sounds and ethnicities, when you’re teaching at tertiary level, how do you decide what to teach as jazz? What does the curriculum look like?
NG: My focus tends to be on craft, to get a student from point A to point B. Students come with little formal background, from a pentecostal church background, and already have a sense of the blues feel, have a great ear for music and natural feel for music. This is a typical South African trait, being rooted in this pentacostal environment, whereas other continental Africans come from more traditional musical backgrounds.

Decolonizing South African Jazz

CM: So, this leads to the ‘decolonizing’ of our jazz curriculum as musicians, like what Nduduzo and others are trying to do in an indigenizing way. True, you have the church–oriented people carrying a culture of music. Many of our hymns come from Western hymns, like organ music. How does this link with the art of messaging, of indigenizing?
NG: As a musician, I’m not looking to judge these aspects that link up the sounds or have a political perspective. What I love about jazz is that it expresses freedom, and for me, can help deal with issues of resistance. I grew up Catholic so the religious hymnal kinds of songs are a bit rigidly structured, in musical terms, but I still love hymns which are part of my music making. So in my freedom, I can use a structure to relocate the song, open it up, and infiltrate it with something else. We deal with what we have – a history of colonization. We resist it but we also absorb it. Look at how we have absorbed American TV. We need to work with these colonizations.

This idea of ‘decolonization’ – I try to make sense of it in my teaching. In my own background I’ve had lots of different influences, lots of African, Zulu music , Indian music etc. However, recently, teaching practice has changed in that I’m teaching more of my own music, and my repertoire and songs are starting to filter into my students’ exam repertoire. My teaching practice and my practice as a musician are not two separate activities.

I teach jazz. For me, jazz is not a way of playing music, per se, but a passing down of its tradition on to young students, in a jazzy sort of way. It’s an oral tradition – we learn by listening and watching. It’s more authentic for me to pass things on in the first person. Yes, I still teach about Coltrane and the past masters because that’s all part of the tradition. But if I’m teaching about myself, then I’m giving my students an experience of getting the information first-hand. This is similar to what Miles, and Coltrane and others did because we all come from the same tradition, and have the same aspirations because we are jazz people. This is tied to decolonization because I am feeling much more confident in my story, having grown up under apartheid, under colonial rule. I was made to feel a second class citizen, not good enough, plus being an introvert . Now, I’m growing much more into myself , not just as a performer, but also as a teacher. This reveals what I mean by decolonial thinking.

CM: I like that. It’s a subject that seems to be a heady issue among artists.
NG: What’s disturbing, though, about this decolonial thinking is that it puts people off balance. Not that that is a bad thing, but it means you’ve got to make a move to come back into balance. People can only operate fully, functionally and authentically if they’re working out of confidence, and not uncertainty. People want to do the right thing, but they’re not sure what the right thing to do is. They just have to find something which is authentic for themselves, and engage with their environment and the people around them.

Lack of Women Representation in Jazz

But for me, the main issue for jazz is not the decolonization issue, but the lack of women in jazz, their lack of representation. You don’t see that in Indian classical music, or Western art music or in African traditional music. You see those women artists at international competitions; but when it comes to the jazz category…. It’s just full of guys.

In terms of patriarchy in South African culture as an indigenous culture, it’s interesting to see those jazz musicians who are rooting their music in the indigenous culture and traditions (which has female participation). But if you look at South African jazz, women are still underrepresented. So, I wonder how musicians are trying to offset this imbalance, finding that male and female temperament?

CM: Yes, that’s ironic because there tends to be a balance of female/male students at tertiary level in jazz, but fewer women entering the performance arena after they graduate. If they become teachers, that’s great. But doing live performance?
NG: I’m thinking of that typical live jazz scenario of the late night club setup – like a boy’s club… In South Africa, we really have to change this situation.

The Pandemic Effects

CM: Regarding the Covid pandemic affects on artists, I’m trying to understand what a viral depression would sound like musically, other than the blues. Is there a certain type of chord, or run, that depicts depression?
NG: The album was recorded in Dec 2019, so Covid wasn’t a consideration when I composed the songs. During Covid, I just added the synthesizer to some parts as I had additional time to do this. I was fortunate to have a paid day job, yet time to work on productions, also. It was actually during this 2020 Covid pause that I recorded another album, Concert for One, that reflects my experience with the pandemic.

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That’s a completely improvised album, trying to make sense of this new life – with lockdown, staying at home, staying away from friends, and behaving in this anti-social way. I think we, as musicians, don’t think of chords or runs as a direct representation of something you can put into words. So, when I turned 50, Blessings and Blues was a celebration of stuff in my life with no Covid.

CM: Yes, you are sounding celebratory –
NG: The pandemic brings about questioning and a feeling of discomfort. There’s also this duality that as we retreat from these blues, other opportunities present themselves more. So I don’t think a pandemic album could be completely divorced from some joy or light shining…..


CM: What’s in the future? Where are you going next, musically?
NG: I’ve never taken too seriously before about promoting my albums, so I’m spending more time now figuring out how to promote this latest album, how to put it on playlists and use social media. I compose music all the time, on my iPad, so I have lots stored on that. I’ll hope to release another album maybe later this year or next…

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Jo Kunnuji Mentors on YouTube “African Music Conversations” and fuses Jazz with Ogu traditions in Avale album

The COVID pandemic has not stopped some artists from ‘performing’. Beginning 2021 with aplomb, Nigerian trumpeter, story teller and composer, Jo Kunnuji, has developed some fascinating informational videos about African music through his African Music Conversations YouTube channel. He confidently proves that jazz can fuse with some traditional music he grew up with in southern Nigeria.

In his 14 minute introductory video, Kunnuji asks ten questions about what ‘African music’ is all about: These include such areas as how to describe the differences and similarities of musical instruments in the Southern African region, how people changed their musical practices over the past centuries, and the early writings on African musical traditions. He cautions, and rightly so, that early interpretations of African musicality tended to be Euro-centric, but that scholarship now, including his recent ethnomusicology studies about his own Ogu music of southern Nigeria, is under covering key rudiments of African musical traditions apart from Western thinking. His present post-doctoral research, particularly with musician practitioners, as seen in these Conversations, deals with reimagining African musical traditions, while considering the marginality of ethnic minorities and its implications for their music.

About six years ago, I sat down with the then Masters degree student, Kunnuji, to discover his love for ethnic appreciation of one’s cultural expression.

Now, his continued research at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music, and occasional trips back home to work with Ogu music, have molded his abilities to adeptly interpret just what constitutes “African Music” as he journeys through the rich polyrhythmic styles fusing the traditional with contemporary improvisation. His eagerness to teach and share his findings has resulted in clearly articulated and informative YouTube videos which could well excite high school and college students in South Africa and beyond to look further, as cultural curricula become more and more ‘decolonized’. He’s honest, factual, and determined; indeed, one goes away with a better understanding about the deeper aspects of the diverse African musical landscape.

Kunnuji’s motivation for presenting his Conversations channel on YouTube is explained in his Intro video #1 at and Intro video #2

A riveting conversation with trumpeter and lyricist, Mandisi Dyantyis, talks about music and identity. (14 min) This is followed up with a second video with Dyantyis at (21 min 33 sec) which speaks to: “Music is for communicating. How are we going to communicate without music? It’s about language.”

Thabisa Dinga, a professional musician and dancer, shares instructions and performance about how to play the Xhosa musical bow, Umrhubhe. (12 min 15 sec).

Zinzi Nogavu narrates how she discovered her African voice and, more specifically, umonbelo, a Xhosa traditional singing style. (15 min 15 sec) Having grown up in Cape Town and studied at UCT, she admits to her lack of exposure to culture and African instruments which she has had to discover for herself.

Kunnuji’s 2019 album, Avale, attests to his expertise in how to fuse jazz improvisation with more traditional Nigerian musical styles. ‘The Jo Kunnuji Experiment’ is an impressive array of musicians from diverse musical backgrounds, including an indigenous Ogu band (Gogoke) from Badagry in Lagos on mainly percussion and vocals, and seven South Africans making up the horn section with jazz harmony.

Songs fuse Ogu beats with vocals, jazz improvisation, gospel, pop, and soul, making this album very listenable and certainly danceable in the tradition of African movements to sound. Kunnuji uses video effectively where possible. Watch his album promotional video:

Kunnuji describes Avale as combining familiar modern jazz practices with polyrhythmic turns, percussive undertones, syncopated instrumentation and enchanting vocals.

The beginning track, ‘Avale’, sets the pace for the rest of the album with a melodic fusion of improvised sax and vocals backed with mixed percussion and the trusted Ogu rhythm. ‘Pentho’ presents female vocal harmonies backed by an improvised trumpet and keyboard solo complemented with traditional horn harmonies. ‘Mautin Adokun’ is a contemporary ballad lead by Kunnuji’s melodic trumpet and enhanced with soft piano and drum accompaniment. A vast contrast with the West African sounds and rhythms – a reprieve in the album so one can catch one’s breath. The piece strikes of a memorial to that which was… the late Adokun Mautin was the Secretary of the Gogoke Band.

In ‘Adura Fun Afrika’, South African vocalist, Thandeka Dladla, sings the Lord’s Prayer in both English and an African language. In the background, Kunnuji’s trumpet improvises with blues, giving this song a gospel feel. He is reflecting about the need for peace and stability in African regions torn by gender-based violence, femicide, and xenophobia. Lastly, back to some West African percussive styles, an improvised baritone sax brings syncopation in ‘Awa dagbe’. Clear fusion. It’s all about pleasant melody, vocal messaging, beats which urge movement, and honest interpretation that the traditional styles can combine with contemporary jazz and soul in profoundly moving ways. A gem of an album!

The Avale album is available on Spotify.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane’s Solo Piano Unveils Native Hymns about Origins

Unlike his previous four albums, jazz pianist Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane’s new album, iHubo Labomdabu (released this January 2021 by his own record label, Unlockedkeys Records ), exhibits how solo piano can pull out layers of rootedness as he explores what nativeness means musically. This exploration continues his journey articulating stories of ‘home’, following themes begun in Closer to Home (2018), his third album, which was nominated for a SAMA Award for Best Jazz Album in 2019. Mash seeks to understand the rudiments of South African musical identities in order to decolonialize his own (and certainly the listener’s) mind about Africanness. For this, his current Ph.D. study focuses on ‘ home’ music, and what constitutes the fundamental roots of musical expression in his African context. It’s about soul, rhythm, and emotion rippling through a divine connection.

The album cover suggests this connection by showing Mash sitting with other dark figures, but all highlighted with yellow halos around their heads, presumably realizing their human meaning and purpose blessed by the Divine. His pursuit of nativeness falls also during the now globally recognized annual Black History Month of February celebrations which incorporate not only the historical realities of the early American slave societies but from this, the emerging global call to address all forms of Black colonialization and liberation still operating in our contemporary world.

Solo piano often means pure ‘heart’ playing, configuring sounds driven by feelings in the ‘now’, often reflective and whimsical, but always ‘ in the present moment’. To Mash, therefore, no song can be repeated in quite the same way. Which makes this album very textural and even ephemeral, each song touching the listener’s soul and emotions directly, like a contemplative oracle.

The tracks in the album cause spikes of alertness, calm, care, and wonderment, about that daunting wilderness we all face at times, and particularly in the time of the COVID pandemic.

‘Sabela Uyabizwe’ starts off the album with an aggressive, repetitive left hand phrasing that holds tight the somewhat auspicious undertones expressed by right hand chords that fall into each other. This is not something subtle but alerts to what is to come. Like the post-romantic impressionist painters Monet and Renoir, who experimented with form and colour, Mashiloane paints his songs through the senses, with textures familiar to such impressionist composers like Saint-Saens or Debussy who would please at his rhythmic African twist. One hears in his songs a tidy wind, the forest of chirps, rain cascading on rocks, or sees a foggy window obstructing nature’s beauty, or the stumbling of people wearing torn shoes (reminiscent of his days witnessing township living). There’s images of child’s play or dance (in “Ihubo Lasekhaya”) and dissonance ( in “Uthando Olunameva”) to arrive at my favourite piece on the whole album, “Colour of Peace”, a masterful song, so thoughtful, with calculated notes, and a highly meditative and soothing progression of chords and runs. Here, one can see how Mash considers himself multi-ethnic in the African sense, having grown up with influences from different parts of South Africa. That Peace is universal.

In “World of the Free”, there’s a familiar liberatory message as Mash starts and ends with a harmonic melody, but in between is a restless piano scurrying in and out of discordant runs, accompanied with a bluesy attitude. All resolves into “Choices of Life” as the album ends with caution, returning to that left hand which fingers a query: Is there hope imbedded in Mash’s future, one wonders? He winks a ‘ yes’……

Without knowing the songs’ translations into English, one can simply hear and imagine, with eyes wide closed, how sound connects with the visceral, with rootedness, and then with Spirit which is Beauty. Mash intended this. He speaks to a spirituality he is experiencing through his sometime one-note finger play on the keys. He is known to carry this spiritual thread into his teaching and mentoring, namely at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban.

Clearly, such mastery on the keys can only continue his climb to musical gianthood.

His album can be bought on all digital platforms. Follow his journey at
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Pianist Thembelihle Dunjana dreams in debut double album, Intyatyambo

When young musicians issue their debut albums onto the fan stage as a double album, they speak certainty and confidence. How ambitious is that?!

For pianist, vocalist, composer, and teacher Thembelihle Dunjana, her December 2020 released album entitled Intyatyambo showcases songs composed and recorded diligently over a 12 month period, but sometimes awkwardly during the COVID pandemic. Her ‘home’ band of fellow colleagues from university days at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music all stuck together in musical solidarity, patient to allow this enthusiastic pianist/vocalist creative space to cast her sonic spell. It’s one of those oxymoronic expressions that the horrible blessings of the viral curse during year 2020 allowed time and [enforced] spacial lockdown for quiet, methodical song writing, collective revisions with loyal band members, and recordings at various Cape Town studios.

Grant Van Rooyen (left), T. Dunjana, Tefo Mahola (rt)

Influenced by kwaito and hip hop, as a complement to her love for the more traditional jazz styles of South Africa’s improvisations and other influencers, such as American pianist McCoy Tyner, her double album seeks this confluence, through vocals and instrumentals. Album #1 deals with R&B and Soul, expressed through harmonic overlays of her vocals accompanied by her trio of zealots including drummer Tefo Mahola and electric bassist Grant Van Rooyen. Album #2 resonates with South African instrumental styles of improvisation, with the characteristic ‘jazz’ heard in the 4th and 5th chords in the lower scale register, or what Dunjana calls ‘trading fourths’.

I preferred Album #2, an instrumental album, which showcases Dunjana’s journey with chords, rhythms, and piano runs, all which allow her four band members to express their own wizardry, including two seasoned soloists of note: Tshegofatso Matlou on a lilting alto saxophone and Muneeb Hermans on trumpet.

Muneeb Hermans

A wandering bluesy expression in Dunjana’s piano meets a neat and clean concordance with her fellow actors. Her two takes of “Ngexesha” display this along with Mahola’s ‘talking drum’ sizzling with drum rolls which characterize his artistic vigour. In the first take, Hermans’ trumpet leads the tune, with some effective muted overdubbing, whereas in the alternate take which ends the album, Dunjana’s piano runs take over with a sax introduction and more of a ‘traditional’ jazz feel. Either way, Dunjana’s compositional skills display different horn and piano textures, all which thrill drummer Mahola to react accordingly. “Emlanjeni” has abit of an emotional crescendo affair between piano and drums that drops into a pleasant bebop with melody and some distinct blues sounds. One can tell Mahola and Dunjana have a ‘thing’, having grown up with tight coordination in reading each other’s soul vibe. This lovely composition of 10 minutes left me understanding better….

T. Dunjana – credit Gregory Franz

There’s a story line to the brief Interlude of “I Wonder Where” with lyrics followed by the longer instrumental Suite which seems to question. It speaks of a freedom. Mahola’s drums chat away and seem to know things. This seems to be his song.

In the trio’s video discussion about making this double album Mahola admits he tries to include “that soft, warm 1-4-5 chordal texture” which, to him, pervades South African music. Van Rooyen likes the simplicity of South African jazz sounds which allows the listener to think about what they’re hearing. One can obviously hear on the albums how both colleagues appreciate working in “Tembe’s classroom” – learning and growing together. Band members concur that in Dunjana’s teaching, mentorship, and performances, she is truly living her dream. This double album certainly confirms just that.

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Pianist/Composer Dave Brubeck’s Centennial TIME OUT TAKES of unheard 1959 recordings

In celebration of the late jazz piano master, Dave Brubeck, who would have turned 100 years old on December 6, 2020, his family and promoters have launched unreleased recordings from his 1959 studio sessions for the Columbia Record album, Time Out, which was the first jazz album ever to sell a million copies. The alternate takes on seven songs, now issued by the new Brubeck Editions record label, give the listener familiar with Brubeck’s music, a joy ride through these timeless and memorable compositions…which is why this newly released album is entitled Time Out Takes. Enhancing the CD album are the extensive liner notes written by Brubeck’s children (the males all being musicians) and commentators, such as Professor of History and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Douglas Brinkley , and multi-Grammy winning producer, Kabir Sehgal.

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Brinkley gives anecdotal stories quoting the then President Bill Clinton’s chat with Brubeck who was so surprised to learn that “Blue Rondo a la Turk” was his favourite song on the Time Out album, that he challenged the President to ‘hum the bridge’ which was in 9/8 time. Apparently, Clinton hummed it correctly!

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Sehgal remarks about the 40-minute recording session of “Take Five”: “There were many takes of this song, as the band struggled to gel over the 5/4 meter. The song was supposed to stand on its own as a drum feature. Little did they know it would become on the most celebrated anthems of jazz and American culture.”

A highlight of these alternate recordings is the band members’ chatter as they arrange and rearrange songs in the first three recording sessions. Listening to the last track, “Band Banter”, steers one’s curiosity to understand how these four men created, explored, and even became frustrated and impatient over just getting it right – the sound, the rhythm meters, the technique – but always with Brubeck’s gentle coaching. This is a fascinating 4 minutes 35 seconds of aural exploration.

The polyrhythms in unusual meters as 5/4 (like in “Take Five”), 9/8 (like in “Blue Rondo a la Turk) and 6/4 time (like in “Three to Get Ready”) are all there in characteristic Brubeck style with his famous quartet of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, the drummer Joe Morello, and the bassist Eugene Wright, who was Black and challenged to move with the band in those apartheid spots of southern United States practicing racism and segregation towards people of colour. Brubeck conscientiously refused to perform there.

As multi-instrumentalist son Chris Brubeck has said, “These newly discovered recordings feature wonderful performances that are every bit as compelling as their famous counterparts!” ‘Family Insights’ in the album’s Liner Notes reveal their deep love for the musicians:

“Throughout our lives, these honorary uncles encouraged us and were an important part of our extended family…, the melodic lyricism of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, the intense swing and technical brilliance of drummer Joe Morello, the deep, dependable bass grooves laid down by bassist Gene Wright and the undeniable inventiveness of our father’s piano prowess — polytonal, polyrhythmic, swinging and playful. His compositions were fresh, the odd time signatures “game-changing”, and his tunes served as a springboard for innovative solos.”

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Joe Morello-courtesy Jazz Times

Pianist son Darius Brubeck remarks in the Liner Notes that his father
“could invent rhythms that hadn’t been used in jazz. ‘Three to Get Ready,’ with two bars of 3 /4 followed by two bars of 4/4, is an alternation of waltz and swing that implies a humorous dialogue between styles…. I would have chosen this version of ‘Three To Get Ready’ even then because Dave’s solo is so adventurous and compositionally advanced. The ‘dialogue’ becomes an ‘argument’ with overlaps and interruptions and flashes of virtuosity leading to reconciliation.”

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Darius Brubeck

Remarking about Dave’s composition, ‘Strange Meadowlark’, cellist son Matt Brubeck recalls: “I recall my father listening to birdsong and pointing out little scraps of tunes to me as we took walks together when I was young.”

Drummer son Dan Brubeck says he fell in love with drummer Joe Morella’s ‘Take Five’ with its” 5/4 Krupa-like drum solo, while showing off some of Joe’s incomparable left hand and bass drum technique. Daughter Cathy Brubeck Yaghsizian’s dance antics during her brothers’ and Dave’s rehearsals won her cudos in father Dave’s heart, and a song named after her, ‘Cathy’s Waltz’.

The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended some, but not all, well-intentioned centennial live concerts, events, symposia and exhibitions planned to mark Brubeck’s legacy during 2020 and 2021. Check them at Darius writes about a dazzling start to year 2020 in establishing the Brubeck Living Legacy, a family-run charitable trust, and setting up an exhibition of Dave’s works in the legendary birthplace of jazz, New Orleans.

Siblings Darius and Dan had even contracted a bad case of the COVID-19 virus while performing Brubecks Play Brubeck concerts in the U.K. (at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club). However, the Brubeck siblings, who are scattered between Canada, Connecticut (USA) and England, worked closely with two authors, details at : about Philip Clark’s new biography, Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, and Stephen Crist’s Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, focusing on this significant and popular jazz LP of all time. It was Crist who informed the Brubeck family that he had discovered outtakes from the Time Out sessions while researching archives for his book. Besides the new Brubeck Editions recording label being established, it has produced two albums in 2020: the Time Out Takes album, and Brubeck’s last studio album, Lullabies, recorded for his grandchildren.

What will some Brubecks be doing to celebrate December 6? Chris and wife Tish will be listening to Dave’s orchestral and jazz recordings along with reviewing other music associated with Dave’s career for consideration as next releases for the new Brubeck Editions label. Darius writes:

“If this year hadn’t been so crazy we would have planned a party at my parents’ wonderful house in Wilton Connecticut but we’ll have to settle for a family toast across continents, oceans and time-zones to Dave’s 100th on Sunday.”

Available for purchase and download from major platforms: http://Time OutTakes ( including Amazon, and MVD Entertainment Group for CD, LP, and Digital. Follow the twitter news on Dave Brubeck http://@TheDaveBrubeck) / Twitter.

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Bongani Sotshononda’s Marimba & Indigenous Orchestra Meets Jazz: Live in Cape Town

There’s something light, playful, and pleasantly swinging about the xylophone….or should one say, the African chromatic marimba which plays both black and white keys.

Bongani Sotshononda is reputably one of the very few in South Africa who has mastered his marimba, custom-made to his own specification by a manufacturer in Grahamstown. Sotshononda was encouraged, or in his own words, ‘forced’ by his then manager, Henry Shields, who ran the Marimba Restaurant at Cape Town’s International Convention Center back in the early 2000s, to acquire and master a chromatic marimba.

This second album with his Indigenous Orchestra, Live in Cape Town, just released, attests to this mastery, resonating joy, Africanness, swing, and soft ballads with an honest intent to please the ear, heart, and soul. Some up-and-coming stars, like the self-taught Stephen Sokuyeka on trombone, and Mpumelelo Mnyanana on saxophone display a daring creativity, effectively mixing their solos with some otherwise intricate rhythms from the percussions. Watch this riveting YouTube of his Artscape concert In October 2020:

All songs presented are composed by Sotshononda except for two songs with Hebrew lyrics inspired by Shields and arranged by Sotshononda. For instance, ‘Malacha Hayam’ offers a soft Middle Eastern sonic lift held together by the horns, marimba and Ricky Kleinsmith’s piano. The steel pans and African drum add that Caribbean and West African rhythmic ting with freshness and innovativeness, as in ‘Alvinu Malchenu’. This being the longest song on the album showcases the tight expressions of all instrumentalists.

Besides his 10-piece instrumental orchestra, lead singer Fancy Galada faithfully carries longing, joy, and emotion, thanks to her deep, broad vocal style that soothes. Her rendition of ‘Bulelwa’, a song Sotshononda wrote for his sister, the last born after four brothers, is both beautiful and lilting in tone accompanied by the soft ballad rings of Dave Reynold’s steel pans.

What’s the message in this album, I asked?

“Music is not about where you are based. It’s about all the different backgrounds, combining sounds and techniques so as to come out with something different. The western influence, along with African and Arabic influences, and others, are all combined for exciting arrangements. I was always fascinated by the Arabic scales when practicing. Track 8 has a lot of Arabic influence.”

The album sings to a ‘new day’, full of lessons to be learned. Sotshononda writes on his album cover: “Decision was mine…Let the lesson be mine”, an ominous suggestion to always be aware and upbeat about what’s happening. Ironically, after these uplifting songs, the album ends with warnings about the ineptitudes and failures of government to attend to its people, in “Ubulala” (You Killing the People). Lessons are indeed to be learned. And who says the classical Harp can’t fit with African indigenous sounds?

Dave Reynolds

All Jazz Radio had a chat with Bongani Sotshononda about his album and beyond.

CM/AJR: This year of the COVID has really hit you creatives hard, hasn’t it? How have you treated the year?
BS: For me, it has been a time to be creative and compose. I got to record this second album, for instance. We have to think outside the box now and find outlets for our music. I wasn’t particularly happy with my first album – it wasn’t really a professional product and I wasn’t mature enough to see some shortcomings.

CM: So times of stress, like happenings this year, perhaps pushed you to produce?
BS: Yes, there were different levels of stress during this pandemic. I also realized that being married to someone who was not an artist was a blessing! My wife could work full time as she is in marketing.

CM: Talk about how and why you chose the marimba and vibraphone as your main instruments.
BS: My schooling at St. Mary’s here allowed me to start with a music program, followed by high School in Bokaap, then two years at UCT and music tuition at MAPP. I loved the mallets and the traditional marimba, but it was diatonic and limited to only two key scales. This meant I couldn’t play diverse sounds with other instruments, so I moved to the chromatic marimba, similar to the xylophone, with all the other keys. So my marimba was custom made by someone in Grahamstown. Growing up, I listened a lot to mostly American vibraphonists, like Milt Jackson, and Bobby Hutchinson. Also, Dizu Plaatjies was a huge influence on me with his Amapondo band and his encyclopedia of traditional instruments. Then playing with the Phambili Marimba and Brass Ensemble. I was also fortunate enough to work with our local musicians like Basil Coetzee, Robby Jansen, Hotep Galeta, Lulu Gontzana, and Rene McLean at the Waterfront, early 2000s!

CM: You have modern instruments in your band, including the classical harp, the horns, all mixed with other indigenous instruments, like the marimbas, African harp or kora.
BS: Yes, I’m working on getting more flutes, too – modern ones, like what Buddy Wells plays and also traditional flutes.

CM: Maybe the flute made from seaweed….? Let’s talk about where you are fitting into the jazz or improvisation genre with your instruments?
BS: It’s world music so I travel with my instruments and I’m always influenced by other people’s traditional instruments. I end up melding different musical traditions and rhythms. For instance, I have mixed up the lyrics: in the second track of my album, ‘Anozarwa’ is chanted in Shona language of Zimbabwe and means a baby is born. In tracks 7 and 8, Henry Shields inspired me and introduced me to a Gaza musician and activist, Hair Dalal, so I learned a lot about Jewish and Arab music. I just gave them an African touch. Also, I’ve chosen singer Fancy Galada because we have worked together since the 90s, and I like her very strong vocal technique, and skills in arranging from my lyrics.

Fancy Galada

CM: This seems to confirm your ‘indigenous’ orchestra which absorbs ethnic expressions. So where do you see your instruments moving African jazz?
BS: In South Africa, I think I’m one of the few using the chromatic marimba in jazz. I have a project with guitarist Jean Pierre ‘JAV’Josefinn from Reunion Island, our first album being Trapdanza with musicians also from Madagascar and Mozambique. JAV has produced two more albums: Baladiroots, which includes Jean Pierre and other musicians from Reunion. The other album has no name yet, but includes the same musicians as in Trapdanza album. Then, I am collaborating now with retired UCT professor, Mike Campbell’s Big Band, which also brings together Jean Pierre’s JAV band with Reunion influences which are mixed sounds from the south west Indian Ocean peoples. It’s a nice partnership to bring our two bands together, with singer Nonfundo Xalala, to produce Southern Indian Ocean sounds in jazz.

CM: What musicians would you like to collaborate with… within the jazz tribes in this country: the Joburgers? The Port Elizabeth/Capetown types? Or the Durbanites? What about a possible working relationship with Nduduzo Makhathini?
BS: It will happen. I like the way he thinks – out of the box. More South Africans need to do this. A mix of unusual combinations is needed. And Sibu Mashiloane – He’s another one. Those guys are more indigenous jazz. Moses Molelekwa started that revolution. I saw him in 1997, in France, performing for the first time live.

Next year, I want to do a lot of concerts in this project (Indigenous Orchestra). I can put together an 8 piece band to perform at Kwa Sec on a low budget. The thinking here is let’s share our music and be happy with a small remuneration.

CM: What about live streaming as some platforms and artists are doing these days? I’m thinking of people like Leonardo Fortuin and Blake Hellaby who are pushing the music virtually – a positive side of COVID. Or check out the Urban Sessions organized by Aymeric. What do you think?
BS: South Africa will take a while to get into this. It’s good, though, to give people a month of a ticket so that people can watch streams at their own time.

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Jazz Meets the Political: Women instrumentalists Seek Harmony in 2020

Regina Carter, Nubya Garcia, and Lakecia Benjamin speak political swing, Afro-European identity, and social healing as bandleader instrumentalists moving musical boundaries during the turbulent year of 2020.

Regina Carter’s Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground (Tiger Tune/eOne, 2020) talks Jazz and Social Justice

BeBop and Swing meet demographic shifts as jazz violinist Regina Carter playfully addresses the 2020 American political theatrics. Her Freedom Band eloquently splashes humour, remorse, and hope onto the palette of electoral uncertainties as a few States vie to ‘win the election’. It’s a screamingly awkward political process – with that complicated Electoral College determinant. But Carter presents a bouncy album, with pride, choosing well-known American songs to match with a State, such as Colorado (‘Rocky Mountain High’), Louisiana (‘You Are My Sunshine’), and Kansas (‘Home on the Range’). Other songs merely portray a ‘Pennsylvania’ or ‘Wisconsin’ temperament.

Her excellently placed band members, who represent their State on the album, play in ‘swing’ style that jazzes up the current reality. New Orleans pianist, Jon Batiste, adds his flavour of cat-calls, and ‘do ya dig it’ quips that liven up the album as do the masterful John Daversa on trumpet and flugelhorn (talks about his Florida Everglades), Harvey Mason on drums (on Kansas), Kabir Sehgal on bass and percussion, and Alexis Cuadrado on double bass.

The opening piece, ‘Welcome’, layers a patriotic ‘America the Beautiful’ over Carter’s narrative plea of appreciation for the ethnic and cultural diversity she grew up with her in her native Detroit. The rest of the album swings with hope – as long as you VOTE! Her rendition of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ mesmerises. ‘On Wisconsin’ expresses at first a carnival bounce and moves to a more remorseful tone, then resolve, with the violin mimicking the band laughing. Cynicism? Lost hope? Carter ends with ‘Faygo’ after her favourite faygo pop snack at her corner store.

Carter first gained attention with her Straight Ahead, an all-female jazz quintet, some 25 years ago. Her career has spiraled with inspiration for many female jazz artists as she has taught, performed, won awards, and composed and arranged her works with a multitude of colleagues. This is a fun album: occasionally carnival in tempo, sometimes serious in ballad, but always reverent to that fabric in a democracy – the VOTE!

She and her drummer husband, Alvester Garnett, are using this time of 2020 lockdown to explore their creative musical juices together. See: Noted for her instructional capabilities, she shows how improvisation works during her Kennedy Center performance, with Cuba-born percussionist, Mayra Casales: The National Jazz Museum in Harlem hosted an interesting discussion in September 2020 about Carter’s album and voting challenges:
“Jazz and Social Justice: Regina Carter: Swing States, and Getting Out the Vote” at

Nubya Garcia explores her roots in Source (Concord Jazz August 2020)

Out of London’s young and exciting jazz scene comes saxophonist Nubya Garcia with her debut album, Source, which journeys through her family histories, folklore, afro-diasporic connections, and global outlooks where she calls home: from London to Bogota to British West Indies. The album speaks to our capacity to overcome challenges, both individual and collective, in our modern day realities. Her trio of Joe Armon-Jones on keys, Daniel Casimir on bass, and Sam Jones on drums, with several vocalists, faithfully carry her sonic messages through the moving themes and heartfelt stories she seeks to evoke.

The title track, ‘Source’, being the longest on the album, gives evidence to Garcia’s mood and tones, quiet to fiery, as she moves between reggae, soul, and improvisation. She talks of family in the soft ballad, ‘Together is a Beautiful Place to Be’, recalling her dear late stepfather. In ‘Stand with Each Other’, three vocalists accompany various reggae rhythms and celebrate their collectivism – a female solidarity in the wider community. Latin rhythms in ‘Inner Game’ pleasantly move her temperament into ‘La cumbia me está llamando” to celebrate her abstractions from Columbia’s traditional music, chants and rhythms. Still excavating family histories, ‘Before Us: In Demerara & Caura’ presents an emotional longing for understanding Caribbean sources.

Born of a Guyanese mother and Trinidadian father, Nubya Garcia completed her studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in the UK, and has explored musical horizons widely with the contemporary septet, Nerija. Even her 2017 debut EP vinyl, NUBYA’s 5IVE sold out on vinyl within 24 hours. Presently, Garcia also boasts DJ skills through her popular radio residency on NTS, and continues to play a growing number of live sets across Europe. See: (10 min 57 sec) at New York City’s Winter Jazzfest 2018.

Lakecia Benjamin pursues the mystical healing of the Coltranes

Lakecia Benjamin’s latest album, Pursuance: The Coltranes (March 2020) boasts an impressive array of musicians who complement Benjamin’s sizzling alto saxophone. These include bassist Lonnie Plaxico and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, the bass clarinet of Marcus Strickland, singer/guitarist Me’Shell NdegeOcello, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s scats, and violinist Regina Carter. The song presentations alternate between compositions of John and Alice, giving an audio feel of how these two masterful legends seemed to influence each other. Watch her trailer:

While saxophonist John Coltrane needs no introduction, his wife, Alice Coltrane, born in 1937 in Detroit, was one of the few harpists in jazz history, along with her remarkable proficiency on keyboard and organ. She recorded many albums as a bandleader, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Impulse! and other major record labels. She replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with the John Coltrane quartet, married John in 1965, and continued to play and record with the band until John’s death in 1967 which left her raising their four young children. Always experiencing a strong connection with the Higher Being, she journeyed a spiritual life in India, adopting her name as Turiyasangitananda (Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss). As Founder and Director of The Vedantic Center in 1975, she later established a spiritual community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. She passed away in 2007.

The Coltranes’ respective compositions were chosen by Benjamin to express a common spirituality readily adaptable to our present day healing needs. Apparently, Benjamin listened to Alice Coltrane first while at school. Notable of Alice’s chosen songs are: ‘Walk with Me’ with a gospel tone set by violinist Regina Carter; ‘Going Home’, a classical slow gospel ballad mellowed by Strickland’s bass clarinet and Brandee Younger’s harp, perhaps as Alice would have played it; ‘Om Shanti’ moves with backing vocals in a smooth groove of soul searching bordering on rock with expressive chops of bassist Me’Shell NdegeOcello.

John Coltrane’s songs include: ‘Central Park West’ with the scatting vocals of Jazzmeia Horn; the swinging bebop ‘Seedya’s Song Flute’ featuring Ron Carter on bass and Keyon Harrold on trumpet; ‘Spiral’ with its samba upbeat chats between Benjamin’s and Steve Wilson saxes; ‘Alabama’ which follows Alice’s ‘Om Shanti’ in similar soul pursuits. Here, Benjamin’s concept of ‘Pursuance’ with the fast-paced bass of Jonathan Michel comes to fruition as both composers become one and end the album with acknowledging that to find God is to find Him, and subsequent healing in Oneness, in sound. Watch the band’s concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center in March 2020:

The listener should have reached the edges of Nirvana blessings if he/she made it to the end of this album. It’s a fulfilling journey in sound, resounding, uplifting in spirit, and deeply respectful of two sonic-breakers of earlier years. Benjamin’s interpretations and delivery with fellow resonators excels.

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Singing jazz violinists: a journey with Johanna Burnheart, Yilian Canizares and Iva Bittova

German-born Johanna Burnheart and Cuban-born Yilian Canizares are two jazz violinists who sing along with their strokes, a whiley combination of both visual and audio sensations that have been pleasing their audiences far and wide. Czeck violin folklorist and vocal improviser, Iva Bittova, wows audiences with imaginative tones, textures, and temperaments mixed with many musical genres. Listening to their offerings makes for a dizzying journey in sound and emotion.

Techno Meets Improvisation ala London Scene

Johanna Burnheart’s childhood classical training in violin allowed her to tour European countries with an orchestra, honing her musical skills to make her eligible for further training in her native Berlin. There, she fused its techno club and house sounds with the electronic scene which explains how she has approached her instrument using jazz improvisation. Her musical influences have come more from horn players, singers and the mix of jazz and electronics, all which lead her to join the London jazz scene. London and Berlin remain her chosen havens for composing and performing with other notables in the electro-jazz milieu. Her debut album, simply titled Burnheart, contains 8 tracks with Burnheart also on synthesizer, David Swan on Wurlitzer/synthesizer, Jonny Wickham on double bass, and Boz Martin-Jones on drums/shaker.

The album is an exciting mix of rhythm, percussion, rings and bells, and soft electronica, all overlaid with an expressive violin that skillfully complements with syncopation: in ‘Mensch’ with a bit of wailing and sad, discordant questioning. Emotion exudes with a nervous violin, off-key at times, overlapping textures between the synthesizer, drum wisps, and double bass. This is a beautifully constructed piece. In ‘Forever Dance’, the syncopation between violin, bass and synthesizer runs create a bouncy, danceable samba feel. Her voice overs harmonize mournfully in an interesting re-arrangement of the classic Jay Livingston’s, ‘Never Let Me Go’. She scats in ‘Silence is Golden’ along with syncopated rhythms between voice, clapping and percussion. This song is full of different textures, electronic whistles and calls, like the rest of the album which is sure to please.

Its upcoming launch on October 30 on social media platforms is on November 30 at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Stellar performances can be viewed on YouTube videos, recommended for getting a better taste of what this young up and coming musician is producing in the London world of musical fusions. At the Ropeadope Festival:

Plucking violin and scatting with singer, Appolonie:


Modern Pride Calls out African Ancestry

Hailed as one of the impressive virtuosos from Cuba, violinist/singer/composer Yilian Cañizares brings zest and sonic modernity to a content-laden album that reflects her pride in her African ancestry. Now a Swiss citizen, her roots remain strong, as portrayed in her November 2019 released album, Erzulie.

Erzulie, the goddess of love, came to Canizares in a dream and steered her spirit to produce music that honoured her Haitian/African/Cuban heritage. She evokes the legacy of ‘Cimarron’, the runaway slave, while acknowledging the oneness of the human and divine that runs in her veins. The album pulls the listener into her story of African survival, from suffrage to liberation in colonial worlds. She seems to look at contradictions between slave and European culture in ‘Contradicciones’ which starts off with a distinct Gaelic dance rhythm and moves into a bluesy query with African percussive beats. Spirit whispers pervade her piece, ‘Erzulie’, as Canizares adopts a contemplative tone in her vocals which are multiplied. Perhaps she is receiving the message.

Her violin is earthy and often slides into an electronic rock style, like in ‘Cimarron’, a fast paced percussive piece where Canizares’s scat holds the rhythm with African overtones as she honours the slave longings for freedom. A rock guitar is heard in the background. ‘Gloria mia’ evokes a spiritual tone with soft slow vocals with a meditative Cuban percussion sound.

The song tracks seem to move into a celebratory mood in ‘Libertad’ with highly effusive and happy vocals, spoken word, and fast percussion as freedom is announced, followed by ‘Yeye’ which speaks for itself. Canizares has crafted an emotionally pleasing but truthful musical story about her realities, both with her vocals and lyrics, which predominate on the album, and her violin which seems to play a supportive backdrop. Even the master of Cuban music, Chucho Valdes, took Canizares under his wing of discovery and support as has Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, a frequent musical collaborator. Canizares can best be viewed in exciting videos of her various performances with Sosa: And with Haitian guitarist Paul Beaubrun:


A Study in the Art of Tones, Textures, and Temperaments melded with Imagination

Another violinist, singer, and composer, from Moravia, Czech Republic, is the indomitable Iva Bittova who combines folklore, jazz, rock, and opera through an emotional, expressive violin and vocal wizardry, the latter which includes moans, chirps, yelps, and deep throat noises. Her mission is to wed sounds of nature with cultural expressions including Moravian folk songs. Having recorded 8 solo albums, her repertoire of singing while playing violin focuses on a vast compendium of improvised rhythms and various vocal tones, textures, and theatrics: (5.58 minutes)

Hers is not a ‘traditional’ singing voice, and hardly mellifluous, but a ballsy, high pitched quivery expression, sometimes employing a weird mask-wearing, or clicks and howls. Her violin plucks while the horn section provides melody, resulting in a bouncy improvisation with voice blurbs and screams: (6.58 minutes). It was during a ten year period (1970-1980) when she put her violin away to study drama and play roles in film, that she learned how to use her voice in different ways.

The now 62-year old Bittova had settled in 2007 in upper New York State where she continues to compose. In January 2008, she and her sister, also a professional musician, performed their first concert together to sold out crowds in Prague to celebrate their love of music. Bittova’s classical loves include the aria of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni as well as Janacek and Bartok for their inspiration in folk music. Hers is a unique, nameless, yet recognizable sound, and a magnificent study in the art of tones, textures, and temperaments melded with imagination. Check her website for details: including her Filmography credits and an extensive Discography.

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Every Month is for Women Jazz Musicians: the South African case

A number of young, world-traveled, South African women musicians have been emerging and tuning our ears to a decade of exploratory sounds and beats that excite what ‘South African jazz’ is becoming. Thanks to current recording technologies and available studios, the 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown has been able to fortunately convert some of those unemployment blues faced by artists without paying audiences into albums, some debut, and some not so bluesy but innovative. Women artists continue to be faced, also, with recurring themes in their industry of sexist portrayal, male hierarchical displays, and even gender-based violence issues. Let’s see what some leading South African women jazz artists are doing or saying….

Thandi Ntuli
After her successful Exile album (2018), and debut album in 2014, The Offering, (see pianist Thandi Ntuli has followed up with Live at Jazzwerkstatt recorded and produced in Switzerland and released in March 2020. During her residency with jazz artists in Switzerland, Ntuli was able to gain more intercultural experience by navigating her new Swiss colleagues’ sounds, particularly with a string quartet that she had barely played with while in Switzerland. This album is a bit of a surprise, combining different genres of Spoken Word, Electronic and World Music along with pointed lyrics. Her story talks about Exile, Black Love and its disappointments, but also a New Way, and Rainbows. Her bold exploration of orchestral arrangements augers well for what South Africans can envision and execute on popular stages. Watch

Here, she is discovering and applying a classical feel with strings, horns, and woodwinds performed by her European colleagues. But South African bassist, Shane Cooper, revs up the spirit with his bass slaps and beats, adding Afro-rhythms for the eager clapping hands of the young audience at that recording. Reworking songs from her Exile album, this compendium of orchestral jive does convince that Ntuli has been well on her way to compositional heights and meaningful collaborations.

Siya Makuzeni
Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2016, singer and trombonist, Siya Makuzeni, pulls on board a seasoned sextet in her 2016 released Out of This World album which includes the Bank’s 2017 winner for Jazz, Thandi Ntuli, on piano and keyboard . Besides playing trombone, Maluzeni also uses her vocal lyrics pedal to loop, sing and scat, portraying often wild, emoting sounds from her six compositions. A seventh song is Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Through the Years’, arranged by another Standard Bank winner, Afrika Mkhize. Makuzeni has been known for her vocal acrobatics ranging from howls and high pitched whines to mellow, lower register yowls which fuse her Xhosa sounds with some basic other roots of bebop and improvisational contemporary jazz. Watch: And her journeys…….

Amanda Tiffin
Singer, pianist, educator Amanda Tiffin’s Facing South album haunts with lyrical, thoughtful ballads meant to storytell and warm the ear with soft Latin and South African rhythms and tones. Songs are collaborative: Brazilian Guilherme Ribeiro on piano, accordion, vocal/body percussion and Dutch double bassist, Hein Van De Heyn, now homed in Cape Town, contribute their specific wizardries to guitarist David Leadbettter and Tiffin’s mix of lyrics and harmonies. Opening with ‘Peregrino’ , a Latin clap percussion with guitar/piano harmonies sets the stage for this delightful mix of the musicians’ own compositions. A syncronicity between Tiffin’s vocals and Ribeiro’s accordion in ‘Akkerman’ and ‘Hermato’ proves how expert these musicians can join their sounds at the right pitch and with believable emotions. The Tiffin/Leadbetter collaborations span over decades in Cape Town as one can hear in “Waiting for Stillness’and ‘Desert Road’. Watch: And the delightful Portuguese lyrics with piano and guitar in ‘Pes na Areia’ (footprints in the sand) solidified with a subtle samba spark. This is a perfect album for any Lockdown – or liberation of spirit!

Shannon Mowday
Norway-based South African saxophonist, Shannon Mowday, gives an honest expose of what a female musician faces in the industry. Watch this 14 minute video:, courtesy of the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA)( Capetonian Mowday specialises in saxophones and woodwinds as well as being a composer, director, educator and a mom. In her 4th of 5 very personal and insightful videos produced by CTMA, she talks about some frustrations and stumbling blocks she has experienced being a woman in the world of jazz when all she wanted to do was to play music. As Mowday was researching album covers of lead female saxophonists and musicians, she discovered the fantasy-orientated, sexist, and pictorial vulgarities of women posing (sometimes in compromising positions) with their respective instruments.

She wrote recently on her Facebook page on June 18, 2020:
“I’m working on my album cover and just for fun searched up some images of ‘saxophone covers’ from yester-year. WOW!!!!!!….and one ‘wonders’ why there are so many connotations of female saxophone players or how many ‘battles’ we have to fight before we have played a note…. Really??????? Whilst the ‘giants’ of jazz were doing their thing and being all creative and such and setting the ‘blueprint’ for jazz -this was the ‘image’ created for a woman with a saxophone….Yeah!! let’s have that ‘Me Too’ discussion again!!!! This is a really special site with so many more of all these horrors……..

Check out another CTMA video referred to by Mowday, with Amanda Tiffin talking about “Gender Dynamics in the Music Industry” (CTMA Moments with Masters).

For more info on Shannon Mowday: and follow her on Facebook

Francesca Bioncoli

Italian-born singer Francesca Bioncoli who has made Cape Town her home, presents her debut album, Ikigai, which rings out mellow and lyrical expressions in her love-lorn messages. “Everything changes and evolves, I am the ocean that crashes on the rock” in Hunter; Bioncoli’s voice overs in most songs offers vocal conversations: “when the wind is blowing, it is hard to breathe” in Wind. This album is listenable, casting a pop-ish sound, but with little change of rhythm. …… Listen on Spotify.

Others….. to follow….. Stay tuned!

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Jazz from Denmark, China, Ivory Coast, Korea and U.S. Speak diversity: CD Reviews

on the tender spot of every calloused moment by Ambrose Akinmusire (2020)

A timely release by Blue Note Records, considering the racial unrest that has exploded visibly world-wide, American jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire voices complexities of black life in America, unpacking it and breathing through his trumpet some beautiful, shape-shifting art to the ear. This album is a stunner, boasting 11 new original compositions on this, his fifth Blue Note album. It unpacks the feelings of ‘otherness’ in a racially distraught America , but, unlike the seething emotions that underlie his previous albums, this one simmers as he examines the past “with pondering eyes and not a furrowed brow”. This is a study of blues in a contemporary context, with songs that celebrate while admitting defeats, as in ‘Reset’, and the chilling ‘Blues’ and ‘Hooded procession’ which ends the album with a depiction of names of those who have suffered from racial injustices. Released as a CD in May 2020, the album will be available on digital platforms and on vinyl in August 2020. Hear some tracks on Spotify.

Peace in the World (2020) with Guo Gan (China) & Aly Keita (Ivory Coast)

This album is a gem. Well-known Guo Gan, thought to be the ‘grand Master’of the Chinese Erhu (a two stringed instrument), had studied in France in the early 2000s obtaining his Master’s degree from the National Music School of Fresnes in Paris. Recognized world over, he has performed with key orchestras, and casts his “sonic perfume” on classical music, jazz, ballet, opera, and contemporary soundtracks. Teamed up with Aly Keita from Ivory Coast, a seasoned player of the West African balafon, a musical ancestor of the xylophone and marimba, the melodic and dreamy sounds, soft and contemplative, will enthral and spin the listener into peaceful depths which the world needs now. Keita uses different sized calabash resonators to produce special sounds. Both Guo Gan and Aly Keita learned their instruments from their fathers. The Keita family practiced the griot profession (an art of storytelling) through their balafons and singing.
Peace in the World, first issued in 2016 is re-issued now for obvious reasons. It’s sure to help pacify the otherwise stressful social and political upheavals emerging in this infamous year of 2020. The album is released by Felway Records, Italy.

Racing A Butterfly (2020) by Anne Mette Iversen Quartet +1

Danish bassist/composer/bandleader Anne Mette Iversen had a touching encounter with a butterfly while jogging in southern France. “It was the fun, the enjoyment, the playfulness and lightness that was so beautiful and which nature displayed so naturally, that made me feel that I really ought to celebrate those sides of life more than I have previously done in my music.” A New Yorker since 1998, her well-established band of John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Peter Dahlgren (trombone), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums & cymbals) playfully maneuver themes always tilting toward that flitting butterfly, gently and melodically. The horns mesmerize with their chats, faithful to the composer’s wishes, sometimes exchanging opposite runs, sometimes joining in “parallel flying” along with this silent insect. This album will mellow, soothe, and even amuse. Just listen to the butterfly’s silence!

Iversen has eleven recordings available as a bandleader, including one as composer and artistic director for the Norrbotten Big Band with whom she served as Composer in Residence in 2016. She tours regularly in Europe and the U.S., and is active with the musician’s organization, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, in New York, also the name of her recording label which has released this album. Check Spotify and muse with Iversen’s butterfly!

Lion’s Den III: Arium by South Korean Rhy Dongju (2020)

Growing up in South Korea with a classical pianist mother, Dongju moved his ear and musical awareness from classical to traditional Korean to contemporary performance art to different genres of jazz, rock, blues, and World. His guitar training took hold, as did many opportunities to travel, compose, join orchestras, and hone his own styles which cross cultural, racial, and religious borders.

He started Lions Den Records to do just that, Arium being his third album on the label. His compositions depict personalities and art forms, such as ‘Picasso’, then rocking in ‘Elvis’, and a dramatic ‘Rachmaninoff’ with a bit of orchestral samba lift-off. As he says about his Label, “We promote different styles of music (Progressive, Contemporary, Classical, Jazz, Rock/Metal and World Music) with over 30,000 radio stations and more than 2,000 music magazines, reviewers, DJs and internet radio station / potcasts through our contact network system.” Ambitious as young Dungju is, he’s definitely someone to watch. Listen to track excerpts from:

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Latest jazz albums for your Lockdown walks

Listen to some hearty jazzy funk and blues, if you’re down with the COVID lock, and find joy in spotifying or youtubing a few of these artists, local and worldwide. All Jazz Radio receives loads of albums sent for broadcasting, so here are a few briefly reviewed for your tastes – some Japanese, Croatian sentiments, choral harmonies, South Africans crossing African boundaries…. Don’t get locked down!!

Don Laka PASSION (2020)
Away from making music for some 8 years, jazz pianist Don Laka is back with his album, Passion, which is filled with rhythm and melody. At age 60, it’s like a new turn for Laka’s creative bent, reflecting on nostalgias of old, soft and thoughtful, like in “Passion”, along with a contemporary smooth style in newer materials, like in “Take My Hand, I Will Walk With You”. Laka has let his South African rhythms spill out in the ghoema-styled “Domans Dance” and jivey sounds in “Thula Mabota”. You might find yourself dancing by the seaside on this one, during your Lockdown walks!!
[Buy on Raru: ]

Shunzo Ohno RUNNER (2020)
Renowned Japanese trumpeter and composer, Shunzo Ohno’s 18th album as leader promises orchestral-like delights within a short 30 minutes. His four piece “Epic” uses trumpet, clarinet, and cello which paints dramatic moods and soft colourful visions of universality. This is followed by a stunning title track with electronic guitar, two bassists, drums, and clavinet as an ode to the perseverance of marathon runners. The final piece sounds out a duo of trumpet and bassoon – all unusual configurations for a jazz album.

Ohno is no stranger to collaborations with key American jazz musicians from the 1970s, and brings to this album colourful musical landscapes. Because of his own bout with physical damage to lips and a throat cancer that left him having to improvise ways to play trumpet, a documentary was made about is journey, Never Defeated: The Shunzo Ohno Story , available on YouTube. When the 2011Tohoku Earthquake devastated Northern Japan, Ohno focused on helping to revive music programs for children affected. His story and music reeks of perseverance we all need to get us through this present pandemic.

Thana Alexa ONA (2020
This self-produced album expresses what it means to be a woman. Croatian-American Thana Alexa discovers the wild woman spirit in her and tells us how she sets it free. “Ona” means “she” in Alexa’s native Croatian tongue and that title track begins the album with choral chanting, drumming and foot stomping that feel primordial and real. Her lyrics are carefully logical and assertive; some spoken, some sung, all bellowed with convincing honesty. Her contralto voice is persuasive, aggressive, determined, with powerful political messages in “The Resistance” , suggesting we revolutionize our minds, and then rise up in the dramatic “Pachamama” featuring violinist Regina Carter. Thirteen vocalists feature on the various songs, along with guitar, piano, bass and drums, the latter played by her multi-Grammy husband, Antonio Sanchez. Her musical moods rarely settle down because the subject matter is serious. Her interesting vocalizing in “Teardrop” explodes with a spirt of twangy electric guitar blues that repeats that assertiveness. The album ends with a satirical resolve in having fought the worthy battle to gain that freedom so elusive in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. The control and tightness of musical output is impressive and nothing short of bold as Alexa uncovers the truth of life. Watch her YouTube videos looping her vocals with multiple Grammy-awardee drummer husband, Antonio Sanchez.

Simphiwe Dana  BAMAKO

Here is a gem for some jazzy swing, pop, choral chanting, and joyful lyrics.  Like with Thana Alexa’s female chorus, South African Simphiwe Dana has crafted songs that carry conversations, often witty as in “Bye Bye Naughty Baby”.  Soft beats from West Africa with cora runs soothe the soul with Bamako vocal inflections in “Masibambaneni” between a male and several women vocalists.  Here, Dana has crossed African sonic borders.  Her album starts with “Usikhonzile” which sets a stage of gentle, chatty messaging which thematically runs throughout.  Rhythmic lulls with lullabies hum about Dana’s own convictions as she stereophonically massages the listener’s ears and heart. 

Dana’s intended exit from the music industry bodes sadness for fans who will find solace in this, Dana’s last recorded album.  She says her popular single, “Uzokhala”, is exactly what the doctor ordered in these depressing Covid-19 times.  As a single mother, Dana will look for other outlets that treat talents better than musicians are treated, she is reported as lamenting.  Catch this album fast for its delightfully melodic, if not melodramically lyrical, resonance with Xhosa and West African musical styles.  Bamako is sure to give ear and mind health during these strange Corona virus lockdown protocols.

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Singer Maya Spector Knows the Honey and the Heartache: A CD Review

Need soothing sounds during a Lockdown walk by the sea? Or a lullaby during visual contemplation on a red apple? Maybe you’re considering distancing (and not socially this time) from a relationship that hurts. Or just turning off all radios and TVs and listening to your soul sing through someone else’s pulses. Honey & Heartache just might be for you.

This debut album by Capetownian singer and song-writer, Maya Spector, will resurrect memories of a poignant experience you once had with someone, or just remind you about the quirky randomness of life.

Spector voices experience with life’s challenges, having grown up with rich international opportunities for wide travels and country residences, thanks to her American diplomat father and musically endowed Capetownian mother. Spector mingles Jazz with Soul, if such labels can be adequately justified, and tells her stories, sometimes intimately, about loves and painful separations. Her earlier hit single, “Eyes for You”, made waves among fans, hinting at more heart-throbbing songs to come on this album.

And heart-felt they are, thanks to Spector’s glassy clear vocals and careful pitch that doesn’t pierce, but rather convinces one that her stories are true. Hers is a pleasant duo of engaging melody with emotive lyrics that feel, search for, and exude pain and resolve, all carefully controlled by sometimes happy, sometimes sassy, sometimes bluesy inflections in her voicings.

Her official video entices. Like the album, it pulls you into her light-heartedness with a mellow swing and then moves into darker passages as her voice makes melancholic pitches, straining to hold back tears.

As the album reaches ïts middle with “Anchors Away”, she queries: Do I stay or go? Am I loosing love and drifting? What is the sky saying? I’m floating. Then, a “Bittersweet” goodby. One hears trumpeter, Tumi Pheko, wail in the breakup. The album ends with a formidable vocalizing of the popular South African lullaby, “Thula Baba”, based on the children’s story, “Goodnight Moon”, which seems to resolve Spector’s quest for who she is.

Band members are well known session artists from Cape Town’s music arena. Graham Ward (worked with Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, and Ray Charles, among others) on drums and percussion proudly did the digital mixing through his Wardwide Music. The young pianist Nobuhle Ashanti and versatile bassist/pianist Nick Williams take turns at keyboard, with Williams mostly on bass. The rare appearance of master teacher and Cape guitarist, Alvin Dyer, is welcomed, although not obvious on the songs as Spector and her own backup vocals carry this album’s weight.

As a global citizen, Spector has also performed in musical theatre, with notable performances in ‘Langarm’, ‘Rent!’, ‘The Silence of the Music’, ‘The Man of La Mancha’, ‘Jimbo’ and ‘My Fair Lady’. Her lyricist talents certainly developed there, as did her exposure to other political and cultural societies in Asia, the United States, and in South Africa.

Her catchy, sing-along tunes will linger on after a seaside walk.  Tune up to her album release soon on the various digital music platforms.  You won’t regret one second of sound!

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Kristjan Randalu and Dave Liebman Revisit Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: CD Review

Fans of classical/jazz fusions, who also might like Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, will love this album. Remember his Pictures at an Exhibition , written in 1874 for artist and architect, Victor Hartmann, who died a year before? Or, if not a fan, but an enthusiast of interpretive music, the listener will experience the sonically versatile choreography of two masterful musicians reshaping Mussorgsky’s piece. Estonian-born pianist Kristjan Randalu, and American soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman of jazz note, plunge unabashedly into musical theatrics. Imagine these two wandering at night through an empty gallery, aurally revisiting and rebrushing the works of art with sound textures and discordant and harmonic rhythms according to the light changes cast on the pictures.

Mussorgsky Pictures Revisited, released recently by Budapest Music Center Records (BMC), offers reworked gems of Mussorgsky’s originals, while holding true to his stories. Five ‘Promenades’ with different key scales are interspersed to provide a continuity of themes, while breaking up the moods and lyrical textures of the musical interpretation. Slow, methodic and careful styles feature in the first five tracks of this duo’s exploits, but in the sixth track, ‘Les Tuileries’ (Parisian gardens), melodies become abstract with a wandering piano, punctuated by a free improvisation of the saxophone. While a bit chaotic amidst a social order, this sets the tone for the rest of the album. Imagine viewing pictures of characters and scenes in Paris depicting life, fantasy, ballet, Parisian catacombs, castles, and competitive women at the market.

Then, gentility enters. Liebman pitches his soprano sax high enough to sound like a lilting medieval wooden flute as in ‘Promenade IV’ after which the sax morphs into a frantic and amusing self-explanatory run in “Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens’. Where did that come from, one wonders? Keeping to the Parisian bustles, the duo sonically paints women hustling in the market for gains in ‘Limoges – The Market’, and a solemn visit to the catacombs casts a dark lighting change in ‘Catracombae’. The album ends with one of the longer pieces, ‘The Heroic Gate’, depicting victory, finality, even relief. The music has burst out of the frames.

The 42 year old Randalu , known to break some rules, but with humble precision, hails as one of Europe’s stellar talents of improvisation, and boasts various awards: Jazz Album of the Year at the 2012 Estonian Music Awards, the 2007 Jazz Award of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the 2014 Music Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, and the 2020 National Culture Prize in Estonia.

Liebman, well known in improv circles for some five decades, starting in the 1970s with various bands including Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, has built his career around teaching, writing, composing, and performing. His autobiography, What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, covers his fascinating career, which also includes founding and acting as the Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) existing since 1989.

The stylistic genius of this duo makes this album undeniably a collector’s item.

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Nduduzo Makhatini joins Blue Note Label album and thrills Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane

Modes of Communication – Letters from the Under World, soon to be released on 3 April 2020, is probably one of the more unusual offerings by this new Blue Note Label composer, producer, and pianist, Nduduzo Makhathini, who proudly becomes Africa’s and South Africa’s second jazz artist to sign on to this oldest running New York-based American jazz record label.  The first artist was our own Mama Kaap, Sylvia Ncediwe Mdunyelwa who signed on in 1999 under Blue Note South Africa label for EMI Records. 

Having listened to his previous 8 albums, produced in South Africa, I excitedly but delicately tuned my ears, in anticipation for that something ‘new ‘ in sound and tempo. Makhathini had already explained his spiritual purpose in bridging the trans-Atlantic cultural realms of music, and specifically jazz, between African spiritual traditions and the African-American musical experiences.    This purpose had brought him and other South Africans to launch the ‘South African Songbook’ with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra in September of 2019.

This album enraptures. A thoughtfully crafted synchronicity of horns holds together choral harmonies without sounding big band-ish; each horn is allowed an individual freedom to express a song’s theme in solo improvisation. The three saxophones and one trumpet, when playing together, or rather sometimes digitally mixed together, are actually having a conversation, sometimes in 4/6 time; sometimes in a lilting ¾ time. This is when we hear saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane, on his tenor and soprano saxes with trumpeter, Ndabo Zulu, not far away.

Logan Richardson

They are embellished by the very seasoned American alto saxophonist, Logan Richardson, who claims an impressive list of recordings on the Blue Note Label with other illustrious Grammy awardees, such as Pat Matheny, Max Roach, and a host of post-bop and some newer-age artists.

The young Logan had studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City where much later, in 2019, the young Sikhakhane completed his Bachelors degree in Music, thanks to a SAMRO Overseas scholarship and transfer of his University of KwaZulu Natal credits towards the USA Bachelors.

See him perform at age 22 years before traveling to USA: ( ) which won him his SAMRO scholarship. Now, five years later, Sikhakhane has returned to his South African home to perform and rub off his talents onto his peer masters, as well as reflect and figure out what’s next. Even in 2017 during his studies, he managed to have his debut album, Two Sides One Mirror, produced by Nduduzo Makhatini’s label.

Makhathini’s journey of discovering and composing African ancestral themes means he is taking other young musicians along who have a like-minded spiritual bent on what guides and enables us. Besides Sikhakhane, drummer Ayanda Sikade shines in this album, with fast rhythms in undercurrents that scurry around Makhathini’s lower register piano chords which in themselves sound quite daunting. The opening track, ‘Yehlisan’umoya’ sets the mood, with Makhathini’s wife’s vocals, with calls to the ancestors:

It’s a long journey that we have to walk
Help shine your light
You who live in our dreams
Send us your guiding stars
Open all doors
To relieve us from all sicknesses
And our spirit can reach a hiding place

This happens to be Sikhakhane’s favourite song on the album. The horns have a masterful synergy, thanks to the composition style of Makhathini, in ‘Unyazi’ and ‘Umlotha’. One hears the distinct style of Richardson in the discordant ‘Umyalez’oPhuthumayo’ which matches a restless piano. ‘Úmlotha’(ashes) is one of the most moving pieces on the album which features trumpeter Ndabo Zulu showing his metallic expressions. ‘Beneath the Earth’ features Makhathini’s praise vocals followed by a chorus of wife Omagugu and their three children. Vocalist and co-author, Asanda Msaki , adds feminine texture to this Spirit-calling piece. The album’s notes say that the tune is also based on the musical style amahubo, an art form found in Zulu praise and lament songs, or ‘Zulu hymns’ as it is sometimes described.

Catching up with saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane , before the album release, we remembered our chats in the then Grahamstown in 2018 when he was performing at the National Arts Festival’s Youth Jazz Festival. His days with that popular jazz education annual retreat go back to 2007 when he was a very young teenager. His ride with music explains his joyful nature.

Linda Sikhakhane at NAF 2018

“My family comes from northern KwaZulu Natal, so the reason I was attracted to the modern Jazz, like the music of John Coltrane, was because our traditional music is parallel to what modern music brings to the table. That’s why the music of Madala Kunene, for instance, is also so relevant to my ears.”

This album is special to the young Sikhakhane; he considers himself very fortunate :

“It really connects America and South Africa, especially to have Logan Richardson from USA play with us. Being on the Blue Note Label is special for us in Africa. It’s time for us to shine. This album is like a bridge for many of us. The whole world can now see what’s happening in South Africa and hear the roots of jazz coming from the likes of our past legends, like Ezra Nqkukana and Bheki Mseleku and many others. We have an important archive with so many important recordings, so we see the afterlife of the music itself as a way of healing through these sonic energies. That’s our contribution to the Blue Note Label, I think.”

And what’s in the future for this young man?

“I was accepted for a Masters program at the New School, but the plan was rather to come back home and figure out how to finance such schooling. It’s a Masters in Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. But since I’ve come back, I need time to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far.”

When the Corona virus safari ends its own journey, Sikhakhane and his peers will be able to get back to financing their art with live concerts. In the meantime, he has been writing film scores with a design company, Pacinamix, which had also assisted him with his New York finances. As a result of his past collaboration with the UK’s Shabaka Hutchings, he was scheduled to perform at a Hutchings-curated music festival in the UK recently. But worldly pursuits for this eager young saxophonist will have to wait for now, but will certainly find their place in a new world after Corona. Just watch!

Download his album, Two Sides One Mirror (2017) at CD Baby and Amazon. It features: Sakhile Simani on trumpet & flugelhorn ,Sanele Phakathi on piano, Nhlanhla Radebe on bass ,Omagugu Makhathini on vocals ,Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums ,El Hadji Ndong on percussion.

Producer : Nduduzo Makhathini
Engineer : Peter Auret & Luyanda Molao
Mastering : Oyvind Die Berg

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Drummer Clement Benny slithers with octopus grace in his debut album By Way of Introduction

Drumming takes skeleton control as homo sapiens moves stiffly, sometimes in contorted ways, to carefully maneuver sounds across the drum set. However, jazz artist, Clement Benny, wants to do it differently, and his debut album, By Way of Introduction, presents his own sound with a fluidity and grace that pleases.

Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, Benny arrived in Cape Town just in time to join the independent music school, MAPP, for several years to obtain an initial musical footing, after which he joined the growing UCT Jazz Studies crowd in the mid 1990s. Exciting times brought Benny in contact with a set of musicians now renowned for their 20 years plus experience in transforming South Africa’s jazz music. Hence, his choice for his album of pianist Hilton Schilder with whom Benny toured Reunion Island, and who remains a vast influence on his life; saxman Buddy Wells whom Benny first met through a music competition in 1997 and whom he continued to play with through UCT study days. Others on the album, double bassist Dave Ridgeway and guitarist Allou April were all emerging dons during that early era. His studies under Cuban percussionist, Efrain Toro at UCT, sustained his undying thirst to learn more and more about the drumming craft. Very humbly, Benny admits this as his future mission… to keep on learning.

We talked more deeply about his musical vision and his album.

CM: You’ve got 9 tracks on your album with interesting mixtures: some ghoema, some mainstream be-bop, lovely ballads, some lamentations, a little bit of minor keys. What‘s the album all about?

CB: I’m not much of a composer, but I’ve worked with these young composers at the forefront of what jazz is about. And also with Khaya Mahlangu and Africa Mkize – these incredible musicians. But I didn’t want this to sound like a drummer’s album, because I’m still busy practicing. I’m glad I did the last track on the album, ‘Drum Speak’, as you will hear my solo with me falling over my own self and making ‘mistakes’, although Miles Davis said there is nothing like a mistake in jazz! The nice part of the album was that the tracks were all recorded basically live in studio and once. My band members were simply happy with the spontaneity of our collaboration and sound. The only edited track was the Spoken Word one, ‘There I Were’, which featured an amazing influence in my life, the Reverend Robert Steiner whom I had met in my favourite sports bar, and he became my good friend. He being part Italian, I asked him to write me a poem about what it means to become a God. That’s what that song is about – There I Were – which is also a play on words leading to the title of my album, By Way of Introduction, where I’m introducing myself as a digital debutante!

CM: That Track, ‘There I Were’ …. it sounds like a lamentation, it’s sort of funereal, yet sounds celebratory in a melodic sort of way.

CB: Well, it’s a bit of intellectual music because it’s inside me, and we hear music in beats of 3s as waltzes, and in beats of 4, and then the counterpoint between the bass and the sax searching for the beginning of this song. I didn’t mean the song to be confusing, but I trusted the band would find a solution. And if you meet the Reverend Steiner, you will find him a very relaxed, approachable man. He’s very serious about being the best version of oneself.

CM: Yes, it’s a very moving piece. I also found your album cover rather intriguing with a drummer, arms flying about, but in the shape of an octopus. And then a written form “@seven of nine”. What was that all about?

CB: The seventh daughter of nine refers to a character on Star Trek, and I thought a name like “Seven of Nine” was an unusual way to call someone. And then, when I was studying with Efrain Toro, he made reference to the 9 colours of the rainbow, that we can only see seven primary colours, but not the other two. He told me a rhythm is only up to 9 beats and homo sapiens really doesn’t function beyond that, just as we have 88 keys on the piano, but we actually only consciously hear two. This is how playing divisions of 7 inside a metre of 9 becomes actually 7 bars. So to me, it’s really an intellectual reference to how I came up with the Seven in Nine on the album cover. Again, a play on words….a bit of math… At a time when musicians talk about technical terms like ‘reharmonization’ and ‘modulations’ and ‘inversions’ ….. For me on drums, I can understand the 7 of 9 rhythms where musicians on other instruments may not know these rhythms. It’s like your body rhythms are ordered, are like the planets: they don’t crash into each other, but rather carry a rhythm!

CM: (chuckle)…..OK! You’ve also got on your album cover an octopus figure. I’m beginning to see between your Seven of Nine and having been influenced by Star Trek, maybe there’s an octopus message in all of this! It’s an interesting design but what were you thinking? What reference does it have to your music?

CB: I remember as a kid walking on the beach in East London on very jagged rocks, and I’d see a little octopus in the water, then it would just disappear before I could catch it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal move that gracefully and when you see it in water, it’s like watching a beautiful ballet, a beautiful dance, so serene. I was thinking of how can I sit at the drum set, thinking of that slithering octopus, and try to get my bones, my skeleton, more liquid. I mean an octopus doesn’t have a skeleton like ours, does it? Yet it holds itself together. I was imagining how to move, to be more liquid, more fluid, and graceful behind the drum set. When I approached my dear friend, Terence Visagie…… He knew I was a Salvador Dali fan. I told him I needed something abstract and silly with a poignant message. That we should all try to move like that.

Clement Benny-courtesy Milestone Studios

CM: So Terence did the design of the cover?
CB: Yes. I told him I wanted it to be very colourful, with purple and orange to be the theme, with an octopus playing the drum set. You take a drummer like Virgil Donati who plays like an octopus. At the end of the day, and after watching a lot of YouTubes of musicians, you have to find who you are and explore, is it enough what you’re doing. There are ten year old kids who are playing drums more than I could ever imagine of myself. So I have to have that feeling that I’m OK, and that I have to do what I have to do. And always learn more.

CM: You’ve summed up the temperament of this album with this liquidity, this graceful serene dancing. It certainly comes through when you’re drumming. In fact, I was amazed, from a sound standpoint, at how subdued your drumming was. It makes sense now, because of the flowing melodic nature of the songs in the album. Anything else about the album? Any other album to come out in the near future?

CB: You know that I’m a reluctant band leader, so am not hopeful about having another album out soon. To be honest, there was a group of people who approached me to help fund an album, but I must calculate what that means. I’m still having a debt to pay off for this present album which is why I haven’t gone out to make hard copies of it yet. So money is playing a big role. But I also think the next album I would want to do would be more of a concert album.

CM: You mean an album recorded in a live concert?

CB: I’m talking personnel, configuration, orchestration. I’m also thinking of how the drum set could be presented in a more musically creative way. I remember walking into one of my first classes with Efrain Toro and playing what I thought were complex, four way Cuban rhythms for him. And he says, but where’s the gravity? What brings everything you’re playing back to the center, back to its core? I really didn’t know the answer, and so ….. Well, I love playing music and whatever people want to hear. But, I do gravitate away from that music where the drum set is there to be just a wall paper, I suppose.

CM: Yes, well, that was certainly fulfilled in your Tune Recreation Committee work , and in Marcus Wyatt’s Language 12, and very differently in Abraham Mennen’s album, ‘The…..Story’….

CB: I remember what a privilege it was to play at the then Mahogany Room in Cape Town with these incredible young guys, like Mandla Mlangeni and Nicolas Williams, and others. How fortunate I was to be able to play with musicians as old as my Dad and as young as my son! Those days! In my next project, it’s still a mixed secret for me to unravel, but that will come if I keep studying, and practicing and be open to learning from others. And then the next idea makes up your mind for you.

CM: As you say, you allow your bones to wrap around that fluidity, in that caring environment, or spirit, to help you produce what you should be producing; what comes from within, from your talents. This album is a nice beginning.

CB: One thing I would like to change about my approach is to work more with commercial musicians. I wonder, can I do pop work now? I grew up playing pop /funk music, and didn’t really know what ‘jazz’ was until I met these other jazz musicians, like Errol Dyers, Fred Kuit, other musicians at UCT jazz studies. Then listening to Coltrane and Monk and others. But still, there’s so much to learn, even on my principal instrument!

CM: Where do we buy your album?
CB: Streaming on line. I haven’t made hard copies. You can find the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and You Tube.

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Bassist Sean Sanby’s steps out of the candlelight into creative spaces: an album review

As viral clouds permeate our unsuspecting Sapien world, a sonic light of hope shines into our being. Bassist Sean Sanby wants us to realise our own potentials in his ambitious debut album, Out of the Candlelight.

“Most of the songs were written in high school, like in ‘Take Me Somewhere’, and during and after College,” he says during our chat.

“I had just gotten my driver’s license and was studying for those stressful exams; I just wanted to escape to somewhere, even though Cape Town where I come from is such a beautiful place. You know, in High School you rise in the food chain, but then when you enter College, you get knocked down to the bottom of that food chain and have to make your way up again. Like being thrown into the deep end, and needing to go somewhere…”

This song certainly took this listener off into ghoema beats and Moses Molelekwa influences. It appropriately ends this story-filled album.

After graduating from the University of Cape Town School of Music in jazz studies, and touring a bit with his band, even venturing to China for an 18 month tour with Matilda the Musical, Sanby became excited to find an explosion of original music in Cape Town among his peers. It was time to crack open his many compositions for public consumption. His sound is influenced not only by the great pianists, Molelekwa as well as Bheki Mseleku, but by Sanby’s childhood romps around South Africa with his family, camping as ‘Starscrapers’, a song describing a fairy-like twinkling of stars in open spaces. Other influences touched Sanby as he performed in various festivals like Italy’s Achevia Jazz Festival where he wrote ‘Letters Home’, a slow, whimsical nostalgia of missing home. This piece, as well as ‘Take Me Somewhere’, showcases the close synergy between Muneeb Hermans’ trumpet and Jesse Jullies’ tenor saxophone, both swinging with Cape rhythms and styles.

Other young musicians featured on the album have their time to shine: Bradley Prince on guitar, Brathew van Schalkwyk on piano as in ‘Give Me Time’, and Damian Kamineth on drums. They all grew up with Sanby as a Cape brotherhood that has allowed for collaborative experimentation over the years as they share their musical thoughts. “Dreamers” which enters half way in the album opens a waltzy dreamy temperament as the musicians dream up big ideas that might happen. Sanby believes in dreams; it’s part of pursuing that light of progress from the candlelight. “Rise and Fall” seems to give space to the musicians who effectively take turns at exploring that timidity that comes from moving in and out of sonic opportunities. A well-composed piece.

He gives about equal play time on the electric and acoustic bass. “I prefer to play acoustic bass on those African-inspired songs, like ‘Out of the Candlelight’, ‘Letters Home’, and ‘Take me Somewhere’. The acoustic bass has that natural sound, a wooden, weighted African sound and feel to it. The electric bass is more agile and allows me to paint more colours. You can get away with a lot more.” For instance, there was more chordal playing in ‘Starscrapers’ which, he felt, was not suitable for the double bass.

“I find it’s fun to adapt songs to either the double bass or electric bass. I sometimes bring to a live gig one of my basses to see how the song might come out differently because the instrument changes the feel and flow of the song. I explore what is the best way for the song to sound.”

The album was recorded and mixed in a few days, and as expected, has a different feel from his live gig launch where drummer Kamineth shows his soft and aggressive approach to the sonic life, as in the bouncy ‘Give Me Time’. Sanby’s upcoming album has songs already plugged in for “a more focused album”, he says. It will include more musicians collaborating, and should be a must-hear for fans wanting more from this spirited group of Cape Town friends.

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Guitarist Michael Bester pulls tension in debut album, Now Not Yet

Bluesy and jazzy guitar moods of Cape Town-based guitarist and composer, Michael Bester, delight the discriminating ears in his debut album released late 2019.

This guitarist, songwriter, composer, arranger and musical director, as well as proud new Dad and frisbee enthusiast, has made Cape Town his home where he cultivates his growing creative bents. After completing Jazz Studies at Cape Town’s UCT School of Music in mid 2000s, Bester took time off to travel and perform in UK, China, and the USA. One hears in the album with its zingy title, “Now, Not Yet”, various influences from these past times as well as a mix-and-match of emotions and separation from family to pursue wider sonic exposures. He calls it ‘tension’.

Michael Bester, guitar; Stephen de Souza bass; live album launch 27 Feb 2020

Hard work pays off. Thanks to winning the 2008 SAMRO Overseas Scholarship for Instrumentalists, Bester could study in New York and perform as a session guitarist. Before that, and now, Bester has recorded and performed with several other bands, like Mango Groove, and with various individual artists at musical festivals, such as with Lira and Loyiso Bala. In 2013 he won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) for Best Film Soundtrack for ‘Semi-Soet’, along with co-composer Andrew Baird.

Creative leanings found a turning point: After completing his Masters Degree in Contemporary Music Performance and Production at the Berklee satellite campus in Valencia, Spain, in 2017, Bester has concentrated on writing and performing on home soil. That year in Valencia changed his game:

This year in Spain had a profound impact on my artistic identity and my
composition process and much of the inspiration for the writing of the
music on the album is thanks to that experience.

The album presents very listenable pieces with mixed ballads, bebop, improvisational chord runs, and contemporary blues. Yet, as the title hints, there is a tension in his compositions that depicts how things are and how they could be, if we could just grasp those things that we are constantly striving to possess or achieve. One hears how Bester might be tempted to swing into a grungy twang and loud rock with his electric guitar, as he has in others’ albums, like in Blake Hellaby’s latest #Not Jazz, but he harnesses that.

I feel that the compositions on the album represent where I am at in my own growth and development. I am equally inspired both by very simple and very complex music, and can find great beauty in both. My goal is to write music that is beautiful and accessible on the surface, but complex underneath.

Talented band musicians on the album are: Zeke le Grange (saxophone), another SAMRO awardee Kingsley Buitendag (piano), the ever steady Stephen de Souza (upright and electric bass), and the beat man himself, Lumanyano “Unity” Mzi on drums. The opening song, “Twenty Four”, gives all musicians a chance to dissect and be heard, followed by two slow thoughtful ballads: the self-explanatory ‘’Until I see you again’’, and ‘’Born Again’’ with lots of guitar conversation in single notes and clear, clean runs from le Grange’s sax. Tempos change as more blues make statements in ‘’R-Train Blues’’, a memory of a bad trip on New York City’s R-Train, with de Souza’s boppish acoustic bass plunk plunks up the scales. ‘’Influence’’ carries Buitendag’s repetitious piano with haunting undercurrents of mood and blues while Bester’s bluesy twanging guitar tells another story. Again, that tension. Breaking up melancholic chords, Bester introduces another mood, slowly and carefully, in ‘’A Different View’’, which bordered on monotony, in high contrast to the punky, almost rock, of the previous song. But this did not distract from the important finales in ‘’Family Matters’’ where the mood picks up with le Grange’s talkative sax, and the bass and drum bebop nicely, keeping pace.

Bester ends his album with ‘’The Way Forward’’, a piece with mood and time changes, in keeping with the album’s title, perhaps, signalling what tension will ride the waves as we continue our search for meaning. All instruments go on high alert with a surprise ending.

This album should go far in alerting us to what stories may come from this talented guitarist in South Africa’s contemporary jazz. It is available for purchase on

Bester features in Luna Paige’s Iluminar production of ‘Her Blues’, a wonderful musical stage story of early African American blues…with a female twist. It was a sold out and popular offering during the 2019 Woordfees festival in Stellenbosch, and in high demand currently for its originality in portraying African American women jazz artists of those early 1900s smoky blues houses.

Her Blues Trio plays on Friday, 28 February 2020 at Stellenbosch’s Drostdy Theatre and in other venues during March, and features vocalist Luna Paige, Simon Orange & Michael Bester on guitar. Tickets at Computicket.

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Pianist Blake Hellaby doesn’t want to cheat the listener with long solos: His #Not Jazz album (2020)

“I play what I feel, not like with formal jazz,” warns pianist Blake Hellaby, as he explains to his album launch audience which packed Cape Town’s Waterfront Radisson Red hotel concert room. Just released album, # Not Jazz, explores its title’s irony about asking listeners to just chill out: “Zone out and chill; just allow the groove of the music to sway you!” We did this night, as we explored what is becoming a ‘Hellaby sound’ of note.

Composer, writer, and producer from Cape Town, Hellaby has diligently navigated through domestic musical idioms with South African bands (Standard Bank Schools Big Band), musicals (King Kong: A Jazz Opera), and festivals (National Arts Youth Jazz Festival), and to international sites (Oslo Jazz Festival, Berlin’s Young Euro Classic Festival). During his youth, playing in church and at community events, he sometimes faced a criticism from schoolmates of playing what they considered less serious soft, ‘smooth’ jazz. His live gig brought smiles and laughter at this reference; yet, the band’s execution of Hellaby’s version of ‘jazz’ awakened listeners to his skillful use of hard core funk, be-bop, grungy blues (thanks to Michael Bester’s guitar solos), and rock, all loosely packaged in a soulful improvisational style which Hellaby is making his own. His album, he notes, is “an attempt to find the fun and lighter side of jazz and instrumental music.”

And that’s the truth – Songs played live or digitally take the listener on Hellaby’s musical journey. The digital album is mostly instrumental, whereas his live performance on Thursday, 30 January, contained vocals, including his singing wife, Leigh-Ann, with whom he cut his debut album in 2016, New Beginnings, and vocalist Jesse Julies. “I wanted to add that contemporary element, to have the lyrics resonate with the pop music.”

In fact, Hellaby cut two digital albums – one instrumental, one with lyrics – and he intentionally mixed the two approaches during the live concert to give variation to what pop-jazz can sound like. Often, album song productions do not match live performances which unearth those sonic vibrations in one’s seat, live concerts risking an overabundance of amplified sound compared to the soft and easy-listening reverberations in a digital album. A sound engineer is challenged if Hellaby wants that easy, chill-out, yet funky sound at a live gig. Again, drums can overpower. Just a reminder.

The story line to the album reveals Hellaby’s playfulness: “A bunch of guys get together from Thursday to Sunday. The songs tease out their late night experiences and move into a chill on Sunday afternoon. “

This is a very listenable album producing a mindful, relaxing chill, particularly suitable for go-slow traffic jams. All the band members stand out: saxophonist Zeke Le Grange, currently studying in USA, shines with consistent clarity of runs and expression, particularly in “S.Y.B. (Shake Your Booty)” as does Ryan Truter’s guitar solo. Michael Bester’s bluesy guitar provides tone, feeling, and sense of purpose as he slides from bop to blues to slow rock. Listen to his twanging “Call-In” gospel blues. Stephen De Souza’s bass guitar and Lumanyano Mzi’s drums keep the various rhythms steady with mellow, yet strong supports. The advantages of digital mixing, as heard on Hellaby’s various keyboards in “Come Over” with organ, piano, and synth improvisations, is that percussion can be controlled. Mzi’s energetic drumming eloquently exhibits his enthusiasm in live performances, but becomes pleasantly subdued in the album, while driving the beats. In this, the album excels for its effective balancing of musicians’ techniques and styles to produce even outputs of melody and message.

Hellaby’s mixing of piano, keyboard, and synthesizer offers sly, whimsical, and bouncy sound journeys, particularly in “Trippy” and “Sunday Chillin“. He starts and ends the album with pleasantly punchy but brief groovy solos, stating his storyline honestly and purposefully. Songs in between speak of emotional conflicts, realisations, and maybe, better clarity, as after a long weekend party. ‘Jazz’ is a chill, a soulful experience that should relax our weary selves in this age of conflicting noise and message so that we can live and love a bit better. Hopefully, the listener will have been changed a bit.

The album is available on these links:



(An interview with AJR Carol Martin)

CM: Explain your sound. You’ve got synths and piano overlays…. And much more.
BH: All piano sounds were coming from my computer. Then I played a piano on top of the computer sounds…. I had connected both keyboards via MIDI into my computer, and assigned them to a patch, so that I could control from my laptop. I have a 500 GIG library of samples patches of sounds on my external hard drive which can give a much better sound than what my keyboards can give. For this live gig project, I wanted to set a tone standard of the sounds I wanted. It’s the smaller things that make a big difference. So I had a synthesizer, Rhodes, organ – all coming from my laptop. It was a practice in coordination!

CM: So you seem to be benefiting from the technology out there while adding your own techniques.
BH: It’s not that I’m trying to do something new, but no one is doing it in South Africa, outside of the pop music. There’s lots of this in pop music in Johannesburg, particularly among the pianists. These musicians are so good at it, they study sound design, and make a lot of money, too. Look at guitarists – they spend so much money on pedals and this and that to get the right sound – but I’m simply inventing, just adding backtracks onto the sound.

CM: It’s an interesting concept, about #Not Jazz.
HB: The Title #Not Jazz doesn’t connote a negativity, but a search for a different sound. Like Reza [Khota] is looking for a physical sound on his guitar. For me, it’s preparing backtracks that give that live feeling, along with real bass and drums. A live performance without those backtracks is empty. If you go see Beyoncé perform, it’s insane – her performance is filled with backtracks…and the fans go wild!  I’m trying to get that overall experience of sound along with the visuals on the big screen.

CM: Some of your songs talk about your childhood and youth growing up with music… A picture of you in your childhood projected on the screen would have been interesting….
BH: I wanted to do this, but ran out of time. I first wanted to make sure my backtracks worked, and the band worked, and that I got the right sound….for the live performance. That took a lot of tweaking.

CM: ‘Jazz’ is a funny term. It conjures up all sorts of ideas and opinions, depending on one’s ethnic and locational background. What aspects of contemporary ‘jazz’ were you trying to avoid?
BH: Three things: First, elongated solos: Do I really want to listen to long drawn out solos after melodic band presentations in a song? A 12 minute solo? Gosh, my drive in town is only 15 minutes! My listening hours are usually when I’m driving, or late at night when everyone has retired for the night. You take someone like Bob James who, on one album, his band’s solos are usually only 16 bars, but the song might take up to 8 minutes. His arrangements are beautiful. I just didn’t want my solos to wander off into something else…like over a 12 minute period. Just too long!

The second thing I wanted to avoid was…..the way I designed the album was to leave you wanting more. Like a bait. Some songs are just introductions and short, so they can be expanded upon in a live concert. Then the third thing was what I learned from Bruno Mars’ album, 24K Magic, which blew me away. It just caught me, it was so cleverly done, and musically capturing. But there were no solos! I don’t watch his videos, but just listen. He’s so alive, his band is like a bunch of Berklee College students! They’re super talented and arrange the songs. It hit me there were no solos in his album. With jazz, we do the intros to the song, then break up into solos. I didn’t want to do that!! I didn’t want to cheat the listener from hearing the whole band, with short solos, and a unity of sound. I felt that the way we are trained as jazz musicians, we get away with reducing a song to a bunch of solos. This is cheating!

CM: So you think there’s too much solo improv……
BH: It’s not the solo per se, but I wanted to put together short snippets like Bob James does. The really good producers, the guys that dive into mixing the albums in pop music, the huge amount of effort they put into this……… So I’m respecting this craft in a completely new way. This has challenged me to arrange songs that bring out a unified band, and not rely on long solos.

CM: I notice that your songs bring out the talents of each musician.
BH: That’s why I wrote everything down that I wanted the musicians to play, so that it would allow for each musician to do short solos.

CM: In telling your story on the album, why did you order the songs as you did?
BH: It’s a story from a Thursday to a Sunday, with a group of friends starting off grooving on a Thursday with “Retro-duction”, which is an old-school R&B sound. Then I moved into “Trippy” which goes from hard core to smooth jazz. I was influenced by one of my favourite songs, “Tonight is the Night” because it has that old-school happy beat. The idea is that on the weekend, the guys have too many drinks and then start to mellow out. Then “High Road” is like moments of change during the night’s activities, then a wake up to “Shake Your Booty” which is also old-school that leads into “Funk Your Life”, again an awakening. The break comes with “2-1” and “Hodge” which gives a transition into Sunday to just chill. Hodge is the official change of mood and is a dedication to bassist Derrick Hodge.

CM: Why Hodge?
BH: I had been transcribing songs to include backtracks for a friend musician, Lwanda Godwana. I had never done anything this hard before. Then I took a look at Hodge’s Dances with Ancestors album and song  which used jazz improvisations that didn’t sound like jazz. There was so much overlaying – double bass, electric bass, and a sub bass, with an overlaying of drums. This was so welcome to hear. I thought, wow, this is what jazz could be. It was a confirmation of the journey I was about to embark on. So I took this technique using a guitar for ambient sounds, then bass pedals adding more ambient sound, and the drums were recorded once. The drums had about 12 effects creating chords and streams coming in and out.

So that transcription started me to do this more and more, not asking what chords were the musicians playing, but what were they doing? Trying to rebuild synthesizers. That’s what I tried to do in my own song “Hodge” with layers – it’s the longest song on the album and the most jazzy track.

CM: So back to the album story…”Searching, Found, Forgetting” is in the middle. What was that all about?
BH: That was written as part of a Suite which is a classical, gospel Suite not yet produced. This particular song came out as a pop song as I was writing. I was feeling poetic at the time. It was dedicated to people who craft, yet are not accepting who they are. We search and think we’ve found what we want. Then we keep searching, forgetting what it is that we are searching for! And this cycle of searching continues, and we still forget what we learnt. That’s why there are overlapping melodies in the song.

Then songs “1-2” and “Hodge” provide a break. That moment goes and we lead into “Come Over” which means come over to the house, like on a Sunday, and let’s party with some smooth grooves. That’s where the album ends with “Sunday Chillin’”. You know, have some jazz on in the background, and that’s the story. That’s it!

CM: So, what’s next in your projects? How are you going to market your ‘Hellaby sound’?
BH: There’s another digital album with more pop lyrics which we did simultaneously. People can buy these on Apple Music, etc.  We are doing videos for marketing to create awareness, but not to make money, yet. One video is for a pop song; another video is for a jazz song. I feel the albums need to create awareness on as many platforms as possible, first, so that listeners are ready for the live gigs. This instrumental album is on line to buy, but I probably won’t print the CD until if we travel and need CDs for marketing. If we can get the videos out on mass media, TV, etc., they will create the awareness we need.

CM: Any teaching? Further studies in the future?
BH: I love teaching, and had one class at UCT last year. I prefer the University level as I can talk to my level. I want to do my Masters and eventually a doctorate so I can lecture. I don’t want to do this for the paper, but to learn more, to push myself more.

CM: What would you study? Who are your musical ‘gurus’?
BH: I want to study jazz piano, particularly George Duke, Kenny Kirkland, and Bob James. Each of them have something I want. Kirkland has that cool, smooth groove, and James is such a cool, calm piano player. I get caught up with my piano playing too much sometimes and rumble on! James plays softly, with so few notes. My favourite pianist here in South Africa has been Bheki Mseleku who’s like an African Joe Sample to me. I’ve only listened to his album, Coming Home. Then there’s Moses Molelekwa……….

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Journalist Struan Douglas explains The Story of South African Jazz, Vol 2 (2019): A Book Review

This is a journey through musical histories of South Africa’s eras of social, political, and even spiritual changes. One’s fellow passengers are the musicians as the ride runs through various urban and peri-urban African communities to mega-cities, like Johannesburg with its surrounding mines which absorbed a myriad of African dance and musical expressions from miners. The passengers chat loudly and excitedly, remembering days gone past.

eThekwini-born writer, freelance journalist, and musician Struan Douglas

This Volume 2 of journalist Struan Douglas’ three book series entitled “The Story of South African Jazz”, self-published by his website, takes us on a slightly different wagon train: It’s not just about Douglas’s own personal interviews with musicians and arts promoters, found also in Volume 1; Volume 2 has musicians talking about other musicians, eras, and influences. These include memorable and humourous experiences at joint gigs, having to defy the Apartheid police enforcing the Group Areas Act as musicians dodged road blocks on their way home in early mornings; stylistic musical joys that older jazz legends brought to young enthusiasts; sorrows upon reflecting on the pauper status of dying musicians; humour ….. tragedy…..Life itself of a musician.

According to Douglas, the Story of South African Jazz Book Series in three volumes responds to one of the real tragedies around the time of the deaths of rising star,  Moses Molelekwa and his wife, in 2002, when an unfortunate lack of communication existed between the different sectors of the jazz industry. The fall away of the record industry from about 2004 started to open up and integrate other professions such as writing, technology and film into the industry. Volume 3 is currently being written.

Albeit, in this 357 page Vol.2, Douglas can give only brief snippets of mini-stories, anecdotes, and quotes about the lives of a myriad list of musicians. Fascinating unknowns are given: When Alice Coltrane met Bheki Mseleku  at the Newport International Jazz Festival, she gave him her husband, John’s, saxophone mouthpiece; When Mark Fransman talks about how Zim Ngqawana cast a healing spell on him one night at Zim’s gig, causing Mark to vomit out an emotional repression he was carrying. 

Laced with anecdotal narratives about collaborations, the book presents the chronological eras of South African jazz when artists searched for creative spaces touched by the spirit of their times. From an inherited colonial landscape and the soundscape that went with it, to the alienation brought about by resulting raw social, economic, political, and spiritual divisions, to finding some sort of rewarding cohesion in rootedness, South African jazz boasts colourful remembrances that ooze into contemporary and very youthful styles of expression. This book explains that, as in the author’s Prelude (p.8)::

“The power of jazz is typically a journey through loneliness, sadness, pain and broken-ness to that place of acceptance, forgiveness and realisation.”

Douglas’s jazz is African and multi-cultural, displayed in musical cycles, or rays – from 1950s swing to inxiles and exiles of the 1960s, to anti-apartheid liberation movements of the 1970s, which also saw departments of music open jazz doors in educational institutions. Democracy fomented mindful consciousness for change as Mandela’s era took hold and morphed into what we hear now – from Khoi, Malay, Afrikaans and carnival sounds of Kyle Shepherd’s diverse Cape to the visionary, electronic improvisations of bassist Carlo Mombelli.

Volume 2 is about lives telling about lives. “Life is one long composition” says Cape musician Mac Mckenzie, and is echoed by other ghoema ‘captains’, like Hilton Schilder, whose ancestral accounts explain their natural gifts and accompanying pains which slave histories have thrown their way. Pianists Abdullah Ibrahim and Kyle Shepherd echo the dance music of the Bushman. The Langa-based Ngcukana family dynasty form meaningful bands with the Kippie Moeketsi’s of the Johannesburg jazz scene.

Jazz has movement. Douglas traces musical migrations: how Mozambique’s marrabenta style absorbed into Johannesburg’s marabi music; how the mines, a backyard to South African flourishing musical styles, produced dancing miners. Douglas shows how music moves culturally into the foods and other arts, as the Roving Bantu of Brixton, Johannesburg, is trying to do with its African cuisine and visual arts. The playful, carnivalesque Balkanology of Marcus Wyatt’s Bombshelter Beast exudes a gypsy freedom of expression. Excelling talents wander from Cape Town or Johannesburg roots to Berklee in USA or to the popular Bird’s Eye Club in Switzerland or to Oslo’s Music Conservatory for further jazz training and networking. Sonic messages from abroad fuse with a rootedness of South African jazz; bonds are made which go international as well as intergenerational.

Douglas moves his African narratives into the final moments of the book: leave ancestral rooted-ness behind, and meet the business market and wallow in the challenging and sometimes cut-throat industry of the Copyright Law, Labels, Recording contracts, and royalty deals. The reader feels like it’s been a very long musical journey, hipcupping along the way, occasionally surprised or at awe, sad yet happy to see a musician’s resolve to continue. South Africa has run a jazz marathon which continues to expand and speed up, if the music industry allows it.

Volume 3 just might have an answer to that……

A Listening Session takes place on Thursday 5 December prior to Vol 2 book launch which happens in Durban on 6 December at Curiosity, hosted by Durban Jazz Xpression.

In Johannesburg, the launch is on 12 December at the Brixton Roving Bantu Kitchen. Cape Town dates in 2020 to coincide with the 30 April International Jazz Day 2020.

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Brandee Younger – Soul Awakening Released, June 2019

Album Cover

CD Review by Eric Alan Sun 20 October 2019

There have been few Jazz Harpists in the world of music, after all how many musicians would count the concert harp as a lead instrument in jazz today. Casper Reardon has been acknowledged as the person who brought the world attention to the harp and a lead jazz instrument and that was way back in the 1930’s. In 1936 he became known as the World’s Hottest Harpist, sadly he passed away at the tender age of 33 in 1941. Having known and enjoyed the works of earlier jazz harpists Turiya (Turiyasangitananda, her full adopted Sanskrit name) Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Jeanne Thompson better known as Dorothy Ashby, and recently discovering the music of Brandee Harper.

This is young harpist, Brandee’s 5th album, Soul Awakening, which has been independently released June 7, 2019 just a few weeks before her birthday on July 1. The album was recorded back in 2012 under the eagle eye and nimble fingers of producer and bassist Dezron Douglas supported by a cast of well-known musicians and friends.

Soul Awakening has come as a very pleasant listening experience and a surprise to me. Many who know me know that I have a penchant for instruments not usually associated in jazz. This highly talented young composer, recording artist, bandleader, sought after studio and touring musician has brought the concert harp, back as the lead instrument to the forefront in the jazz world of today.

As most who know me when reviewing I try not to get too technical and prefer to review the overall likeability of an album. This one is very appealing with each track offering a highly enjoyable listening experience. Each of the musicians and guests bring and fill the soundscape with a joyful exuberance that is heard in their playing showing that they too enjoyed the making of this music. As each chapter unfolds and expands one cannot wait for the full story to be brought to the life in ones minds eye and by the end of the album understanding the full picture of what all concerned were trying to showcase. I must confess that I love this album so give it a listen then add it to your collection one will not be disappointed.

Track Listing

  1. Soulris ft. Ravi Coltrane 04:53
  2. Lindalee 04:43
  3. Love’s Prayer ft. Ravi Coltrane 05:22
  4. Respected Destroyer ft. Sean Jones07:01
  5. Games 05:42
  6. Save the Children ft. Niia 05:30
  7. Soul Awakening 03:51
  8. Blue Nile ft. Antoine Roney 07:33

Brandee Younger, concert harp
Dezron Douglas, bass, producer
EJ Strickland, drums
Ravi Coltrane, tenor sax, tracks 1,3
Sean Jones, trumpet, track 4
Freddie Hendrix, trumpet, track 2
Stacy Dillard, soprano sax, tracks 7,8
Chris Beck, drums, tracks 1,3
Chelsea Baratz, tenor sax, tracks 2,4,7
Nicole Camacho, flute, track 7
Antoine Roney, tenor sax, track 8
Corey Wilcox, trombone, track 4
Niia, vocals, track 6

For more info visit Brandee’s website at
To get your copy of the Soul Awakening go to her Bandcamp site at

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Jazz Singer Ziza Muftic dazzles in her “Shining Hour” album and Life

Croatian-born Ziza Muftic stepped into an ambitious musical journey in South Africa when her parents migrated from a war-torn Croatia in 1992. It was terribly cold in Johannesburg that August, as she left her teenage sandals behind in the summery North. Her academic and professional success as a jazz vocalist confirms her gutsy approach to creativity, as she explored what she felt was still missing in her own Balkan musicality: a South African musical expression. Subsequently, she has performed with some of South Africa’s top Jazz musicians like Johnny Fourie, Reza Khota, and Marcus Wyatt. She was also asked to sing a finalist piece at the SAMRO 2018 composer’s finals, where the composition won in category.

Muftic is now feeling her shining hour. Shining Hour (2019) is her second album, entitled from songwriter, Jonny Mercer’s ‘My Shining Hour’ song of hope and high expectations, and follows on her first album, Silver Moonbeams (2015), with its Balkan rhythms, lyrics, and melodies. Her stories shine in delightfully pleasing and thoughtful ways as she handpicks from known songs and her own compositions.

She adds the spoken word to such standards as Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Homeboyz’ and the Beattles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ which continues in a sullen mood started by the opening Mseleku piece. Her low voice register breathes a kind of soft whimsical lullaby sound with inflections from her able band members that make this jazz album enticing and moving. She says on her album cover: “Music and thoughts collected on a journey from Bosnia and Croatia to South Africa. These tunes found this band and have become a part of our standard repertoire.”

Muftic searches with questions put to English lyrics: in the moody, sometimes sassy ‘what’s the colour of my Heart’, and in how ‘Love is the Drug’ tells about something familiar and is skilfully supported by Sydney Mnisi’s wailing tenor saxophone and pianist Roland Moses’s runs. Then, inventive mixes of Croatian lyrics and Balkan-style vocals with a South African context in ‘Kwela/Gontsana (Milena)’ reveals hints about the next song, ‘Unfinished Story’, where drummer Peter Auret holds a steady fast beat while Muftic scats her unfinished story. It seems clear how Muftic’s interest and research into Balkan styles are transposed with South African ethnomusicality, a theme she is pursuing presently.

Her skills in arranging come through interpretations of the Latin swing, as in the popular Corea/Jobim ‘Chega de Saudade’, and in her own composition, ‘Blue’, influenced by Pat Metheny, which has Mnisi’s flute solo querying Muftic’s unending searching and wondering.

The album ends with an inventive taster for what’s to come in the future: ‘Bosnian Flute Jam’ is just that, Balkan dance mixed with South African marabi rhythms. With a cross over voice the likes of a Carmen McCrea and Balkan mixes which would excite the Bombshelter Beast’s mixed bag, Shining Hour guarantees to hold the listener ‘s heart and ears in a tight embrace.

An interview with Muftic explains herself:

CM: You have absorbed so much of the South African experience, from being a teenage immigrant who quickly adapted to the local artistry back in the 1990s.
ZM: As I grew in this country, I realized that I had much more similarity with the way of living of Black people in townships than the squeaky clean middle class –both black and white – that live in the suburbs of JoBurg . This thing of community living, of not locking your door, and going next door to your neighbour if you needed some salt – we used to live like that in Croatia. There, we lived in flats with only one key, and my neighbour was always in my lounge. But now in JHB, we have several keys which we are always having to sort out which is for what……and there’s an alarm button, and a code for a lock, just to get into your own house! It’s like phases, you know…..

CM: You came to South Africa after your matric in Croatia, right? And was able to study music right away here. How did you manage with English?
FM: I had music credentials from my Croatian high school and a respected music school in Zagreb called Vatroslav Lisinski, and studied under one of Croatia’s well known divas, Lidija Horvat. It was then that I won a third place at a singing competition amongst young singers from all over Croatia. So when I arrived in JoBurg, I could enter university here right away. It was hard as I had to learn English just from living, so I just learned as I went along. I completed my BA in Music in 1996 focusing on Classical Vocal studies, and my Masters in Music in 2013, both degrees from Wits University. My Masters was in Performance and Research. My two recitals were late classical to contemporary, a program which covered music from Stravinsky to Django.

CM: You seem to enjoy mixing your Balkan musical heritage with the South African sounds. Can you tell me more? Particularly about that last song ‘Bosnian Flute Jam’ on your album.
FM: FM: I started the ‘mixing’ during my Masters studies. It was then that I picked up a well known Bosnian folk tune, ‘Ne klepeci nanulama’. Everybody knows that song in the ex- Yugoslav countries and everyone in my family sings it well. I added to it a standard South African jazz progression, and you know, long before I performed that song, I would just sit and cry in my studio. Because there was this soul thing I found with South African jazz, it filled something in me that I was missing from my Croatian side. So I put the Bosnian flute jam at the end of this album as a signal of what was brewing inside me and what will come next in future albums.

CM: You wrote your Masters thesis about Balkan music in South African music. Explain more.
FM: I used to go to Balkanology parties in JoBurg ages ago, where I heard this music that sounded like something from home. I was completely bewildered hearing this in Newtown in JoBurg , and found two DJs from Capetown!! So I chatted to the people that I was trying to find a theme for my research, so I just went back to that. There was no ‘soul’ connection as such, but there was definitely something like a ‘fun’ thing in these parties, and their dance was fun. It reminded me of these raucous weddings you’d see in the villages back home in Bosnia and Serbia with that familiar um pah n pah n pah. So going to these parties helped me decide about what I could write for my thesis.

CM: So how did you conduct this research from the parties?
FM: My Professors were so keen to do research on this because there is so little written about Popular music in South Africa (academic writing in particular). So I focused my ethnographic research on these parties. I took two different parties where you dress up in costumes and then dance to this crazy music of that period around the time of the war. The whole thing was actually a movement. So right about the time of the war, there were a lot of immigrants to – it started in Germany, I think. They displayed this nostalgia thing where they started playing a Romani music and a kind of Serbian cheezy pop that you would hear at 4 o’clock in the morning from people who were drunk-drunk from the wedding parties. So it became like a trend, you know. And then ‘Borat’ came out – you know with that Sacha Baron Cohen actor and his character from Eastern Europe who is a bit naïve. So I had these influences growing up. Then there was the film, The Underground , that turned the eyes of the world towards our country and culture, some of it ridiculing how naïve people from the village seemed as they carried themselves awkwardly into the city or whatever. You know how it is when people from the Western world will always look for something new to spice up this doof doof doof they have in clubs.

CM: What do you mean? You mean how the Bombshelter Beast emerged as a popular band…..
FM: What Marcus [Wyatt] has done is genius because that sound is Joburg right now, if you had the energy and it wasn’t so dangerous to walk around , like in Braamfontein, to absorb all the sounds . I enjoyed going to the Bombshelter beast gigs because of the experience …I mean every time I go to his gig [Bombshelter Beast] and hear that guy that raps in Sisotho and isiXhosa and other languages, and the girls that rap, and then there’s the umpah umpah umpah that comes out of the songs, and the band all running around in those onesies…..

CM: Yes, they are quite entertaining. So what was your thesis title?
MF: It is entitled, “Hopa!: Exploring Balkanology in South African Popular music culture”.

CM: Let’s talk about your voice. You’ve got a pleasing timber and register in your voice. Who has influenced you in your voice production?
ZM: I don’t listen to vocalists that much, but when I do, I examine things like sound and breath, and how they blend into music and how they phrase. Often, I get disappointed because the singers tend to over-sing those things, you know, instead of really interpreting the phrasing that is what the music is about. I find beautiful voices that aren’t doing enough with the music, and then I get a little bit bored. Today, take someone like Cecile McLorin Salvant, and the technique and the colour she has and the attention to the music – you don’t always get these details today in musicians. So when I listen to my own recordings, and I see there’s a little too much there, too much excitement, then …. But I would say people like Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell , Janis Joplin, and Carmen McCrea are some of my favourites.

Ziza has performed with some of South Africa’s top Jazz musicians like Johnny Fourie, Reza Khota, and Marcus Wyatt. She was also asked to sing a finalist piece at the SAMRO 2018 composer’s finals, where the composition won in category. See the YouTube promotion of Shining Hour:

The album features: Sydney Mnisi on tenor saxophone and flutes;  Roland Moses on piano;  Peter Sklair on electric bass; and Peter Auret on drums

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Pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab revives a musical era in Essence of Spring (2018): CD Review

Listening to Essence of Spring (2018), a remake from its 1969 debut, is like experiencing an intergenerational revival, as the Elder Legend performs with his younger proteges, but without copying the past. It’s a musical history of an era in which composer Ibrahim Khalil Shihab, formerly Chris Schilder, performed with the popular Pacific Express band. Fifty years onward, Shihab, now in this 70s, has resurrected those popular songs, fusing them in this album with more contemporary jazz compositions.

Album producer and fellow pianist and protégé, Ramon Alexander, joins in this stylistic revival, moving Shihab’s songs from a swing era, including favourite American Standards, to present-day Cape ghoema rhythms.

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab and Ramon Alexander

Shihab’s Quintet is performing Spring this March, first at next week’s Woordfees at Stellenbosch University, and then at the Capetown International Jazz Festival (30 March on Rosie’s Stage) . The album is a celebration of style, but not necessarily story. The listener enjoys a mixture of motown, dance swing and blues, Latin, some improvised free jazz, and of course, the local Cape ghoema so richly conserved by the Schilder family generations.  Key, here, is Shahib’s satin piano solos, rich and graceful.

There’s electric and acoustic which provide moods with textures along with Shihab’s pentatonics that suggest the bluesy-ness of an era. His famous “Give a Little Love” is, according to Gary van Dyk writing in the album notes, “one of the anthems” of South African music. Van Dyk’s ‘notes’ are themselves an enlightening review of the album, telling us about the ‘Why’.

The younger musicians shine, while staying true to the legendary: The subtle yet pleasantly rhythmic inuendos of drummer Annemie Nel feature throughout, particularly in the last piece, Shihab’s remake of a classic, “My Funny Valentine”. Hear a soothing Shihab piano interpretation with Nel’s drums and the slight touch of delicacy by Lionel Buekes’ acoustic bass. Saxophonist Zeke Le Grange fires through the opening song, ‘Spring’, with a bossa feel and runs, followed by Shihab’s piano solo. The sax harmonies continue with trumpeter Marco Maritz accompanying the vibrant ghoema drums in ‘BoKaap’, as Shihab celebrates contemporary Cape jazz styles. Le Grange’s imitative stance holds well with Shihab’s fast paced keyboards in the liquidy “Cancerian Moon”.

Different vocalists interpret other Pacific Express songs: in “Angel of love”, Heinrich Frans’s familiar vocals and scats offer convincing emotions along with Alexander’s piano supports; Deon Manchess croons out lyrics in “I Hear Music”, suggesting just relax and let the music take you far and away to find that dream and never be without a song!

Shihab is not afraid to wander across the ‘free jazz’ modalities, thanks to guitarist, Reza Khota, known for his improvisational voicings, as “In Pursuance”, and where Asia meets Latin in Shihab’s unsuspecting ‘Jing’an Park’ with a surprising but cute ending. 

See the IK Shihab Quintet at the Weltevreden Restaurant Theater in Stellenbosch on 2 March at 13:00 and on 3 March at 19:00

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Trumpeter, Vocalist Mandisi Dyantyis emotes stories in ‘Somandla’: a CD Review

Trumpeter, vocalist, composer, arranger, director, Mandisi Dyantyis, has birthed his first jazz album, Somandla, which spellbounds. This lyrical album contains not your ordinary love themes, but queries, confusions, dark spaces conveying loneliness and searching for acceptance, from family, a loved one, even from God.

A deeply emotional story, Somandla (which means ‘the all-powerful’, a reference to God) calls us to try to understand laments in relationships. While a few songs are just instrumental, mostly in ballad form, highlighting the talents of the Quintet, most sung lyrics by Dyantyis with his voice-overs effectively displaying multiple harmonies that skillfully weave messages of forlorn or crass warnings to parents to wake up and behave! Remarkably, Dyantyis has chosen to sing in isiXhosa which adds to the authentic nature of his stories, and, indeed, adds diversity to the South African jazz repertoire.

Band members add dimension to Dyantyis’ sometimes troubled horn and lyrics: Established tenor saxman Buddy Wells and pianist Blake Hellaby match well with the younger hopefuls, drummer Lumanyano Unity Mzi and double bassist Sean Sanby. No electronic instrumentation exists in this very moving album, acoustically recorded in the Capetown Milestone Studios in 2018. Other guest pianists are Andrew Lily and Bokani Dyer.

The lyrics strain the ear with unexpected messages. [For non-isiXhosa speakers] Our society remains stagnant and needs to improve in ‘Kuse Kude’; don’t pretend you’re not having pain in ‘Inzingo’; are we producing a nation of moral cripples in ‘Esazalwwa Sinje’; the orphan is vulnerable in ‘Ingoma Yenedama’; a prayer to the All Powerful One in ‘Somandla’; a longing for that beautiful lady to be my soulmate in ‘Molo Sisi’; how love is unmeasurable in the love ballad, ‘Ndimthanda’; and I cry for your love until my eyes bleed in ‘Kobe Kube Nini’. Rarely has a jazz album evoked such emotion, from Dyantyis’ voice inflections and mellow controls to the instrumental tightness and loyalty of fellow musicians who so expertly understand how music and emotion work together. You will too.

Although this is his first jazz album, Dyantyis boasts an impressive work history composing for musical theatre, scoring plays, and traveling worldwide with drama troupes. Now resident in Capetown, Dyantiyis and his Quintet perform on Sunday, 24 Feb, at Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Community Center starting 4pm.  Another exciting sponsorship by Jazz in the Native Yards and ConcertsSA. 

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Cape Jazz Piano, Vol 5, says it all: a CD Review

For anyone wanting to learn more about, or just listen to the tried and tested tunes from the Cape jazz legends, this album guarantees without disappointing. It’s perfectly listenable, even for those inevitable urban traffic jams as delightful tunes and rhythms spew forth from the comforts of your car’s (no doubt) excellent sound system. Designed and produced by Paddy Lee-Thorp and recorded at Milestone Studios in Capetown in 2018, rarely does an album harness the clear articulations and different styles of key pianists known to also ‘cross over’, from the Cape ghoema and musical inflections unique to this part of South Africa into other ‘genres’ of songs made popular by their highly melodic, soulful, and danceable content….yet stay true to ‘Cape jazz’. Let’s explore.

Jazz pianists were asked to play songs rated as ‘standards’ of the Cape. Most played at least one of their own creations which will have you melt away into their enticingly simple stories, even with reinterpretations.

Hilton Schilder, known for both his love and mastery of Khoisan instruments, teases with his two piano-crafted Khoisan Symphony pieces – the listener at first hears a familiar ballad-style which breaks out into rhythmic ghoema, and returns to the melodic soul. We return to the camp fire after the hunt.

Ramon Alexander stays true to tradition, again with ballad intros that break into a zesty Cape ghoema in ‘Club Montreal’ (written by Tony Schilder, father of Hilton). Alexander has always explored the emotions and musical depths of his musical gurus and this song perks with loving affirmation.

Ibrahim Shihab & Ramon Alexander

In his next presentation, ‘Kaapse Medley; Alexander plays his own piece, ‘Take Me Back to Capetown’, with that love for the rhythmic and soul-lifting Cape sound…yet, with a twist.

Mike Perry, known to have played with local legends of saxman Winston Mankunku and Robbie Jansen, has revived his ‘Green and Gold’ song, a tribute to the new South Africa, and the well-versed ‘Crossroads’ which depicts those township days announcing that freedom-is-here. These tunes are not just copies; they’re expressing something awesomely new about realities 20 years hence. Just listen.

But the real don of this album is Ibrahim Kalil Shihab’s (aka Chris Schilder, uncle to Hilton) medleys.   His popular and reinvented ‘Give a Little Love’, commonly voiced over the years by many Capeys, is refreshingly presented  as its author finds slippery and then defined routes to truthfully navigate this essentially beautiful tune of love, as bluesy as it is. A remarkable interpretation and so listenable. Likewise, his ‘All Through the Years’ continues to push his own sound into that contemporary style of improvising on the theme. Just listen.

This is why ‘Cape Jazz Piano’ is a collector’s item; the songs are ageless, ever storytelling, and ultimately danceable and celebratory…… yet still evoking newer messaging and sound styling.  I wonder in awe what Volume 6 might look like!

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TRC’s “Afrika Grooves” tells artists’ stories: Mlangeni and Mkize discusss

TRC – Tune Recreation Committee – has produced ‘Afrika Grooves’ which rings of collective healing and learnings, attributed to one’s own musical society at large as well as legendary greats who have influenced each musician.         

Even appreciation for a Buddhist teacher and Swedish hospitality are themed in this eclectic album which presents each musician’s composition. Sonic stories pulse with African beats, longings, and memories of what seemed to work well for each musician, like bassist Nicolas Williams’ love for the red colour in “Red Room” which inspired him at one time. Several compositions stay close to the musician’s forte, like guitarist Reza Khota’s ‘Diamond Mind’ with its spiritual and thoughtful bent punctuated by time signature changes ala John McLaughlin which makes this long piece quite interesting.

Pianist Afrika Mkize tries in “Kudala”, the opening piece on the album, to present a traditional Mbhaqanga tune without using the usual Mbhaqanga 1-4-5 progression. Well, he ended up playing that tried and tested progression. Likewise, in his song, “Malume”, one hears his enthralling tribute to fellow musician and bassist, Herbie Tsoaeli, whose influence and guidance steered the younger Mkize. Saxophonist Mark Fransman adds colour and contrast.

Band leader, trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni , brings two very different pieces to this album’s groove: a classical Ravelian piano feel to “Lover’s Reverie” sets a dreamy mood followed by Mlangeni’s slow muted diction. Here, Mkize shows his classical best. Mlangeni’s ending piece, “Abazingeli”, pulls African beats and indigenous percussion and whistles of guest Tlale Makhene into an aural story about how our early hunters survived.

While TRC upholds a philosophy of collaboration with and freedom by artists, one only wonders what threads hold the musical stories together, other than providing a sonic platform for individual voices and styles.

Musically speaking, pianist Mkize holds this album together. I caught up with him and Mlangeni during their Capetown tour end January 2019….


Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni grew up as a ‘city slicker’ with urban influences in a politically active family. He boasts a range of skills including teaching, performing, arranging and composing diverse styles of music for which he has secured an Artist in Residence at the University of the Western Cape in Capetown. Afrika Mkize, son of illustrious pianist, Themba Mkize, grew up in rural KwaZulu Natal and home-studied classical piano from an early age. Both musicians formally trained at the National School for the Arts in Johannesburg, and went on to compose and perform with other bands, some in European and American spaces. Both have received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz.

As part of the TRC’s collaboration focus, the band joins others at Africa-wide music Festivals, including the Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar early February, and later in May, festivals in Swaziland, at JHB’s Constitutional Hill, and then in Reunion Island and Durban. This festival circuit is given the name, Igoda, a concept which in Zulu means weaving two threads to strengthen a rope. “We call it Igoda because the TRC wants to network with various platforms, musicians, and institutions in Africa to share our talents and push jazz music forward across other musical landscapes,” says Mlangeni. He sees his role as Artist in Residence at the University of Western Cape for these next 6 months: “I’ll be dealing with programming and gaining access to larger communities and establishing networks so that artists can tap into a festival network.” Hence, TRC’s thrust in committing to the Igoda Southern African Music Festival Circuit during 2019.

On the other hand, Afrika Mkize has redirected his energies from performing and composing to undertaking other creative and ambitious projects. His ongoing mastery in transcribing the late pianist Mbeki Mseleku’s songs has impressed enthusiasts, teachers, and students who can now access published materials of this great South African jazz legend. Writing audio scores for radio ads and TV series, such as “Fallen”, keeps him working at home where he prefers to be. “It doesn’t make economic sense any more to just perform,” he admits,” particularly now that the Orbit is closed in JHB.” He continues:

“I produce records, even tune pianos now for an income. I never dreamed I would do that! I’m currently working on producing a record for vocalist Mbusa Khosa from Durban, who has worked with [Carlo] Mombelli a lot. Productions maintain an income and commissions plus royalties from the production. I like the business that prolongs income for my children.”

Mkize is very concerned that performances are perhaps dying out.

“Lots of musicians have been going to school, getting degrees, higher degrees, so in the next 5-10 years, everyone will be wanting to teach. And there won’t be many performers or venues out there to listen to. We as performers are in serious trouble also because there won’t be enough opportunities for teaching as there will be too any of us for the few institutions!”

Mkize continues.

“You know, this ‘Integration’ in 1994 is a weird subject to talk about. In the 70s and 80s, Black musicians were playing in the townships. With the new government of 1994, ‘integration’ was almost like a negative thing. The business of music could move ‘to town’ where ‘integration’ could take place, but where there were fewer venues for playing than during apartheid in townships! And capitalism – whoever was making money during apartheid can make their money in the open now, so the gap of who’s making it, and who’s not making it comes to light…those with money flourished. Others of us – are we going to buy a CD or bread? “

Both musicians believe the whole creative sector needs to come together with musicians to clarify values. Mlangeni expresses hope: “We are activating a movement with more cultural currency; more building of bridges, creating a singularity/a vision that includes everyone. African differences are brought together while sharing commonalities at workshops and on the live stage.”

The Igoda Southern African Music Festival Circuit is certainly one major opportunity to gather artists for sharing and resolving issues they continually face. Patrons are urged to attend.

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Bassist Carlo Mombelli spells out encounters with Angels and Demons: CD Review

This is a story about a search and an encounter, a wandering to find a bio-soul betwixt the angelic and demonic offerings in life. Mombelli’s compositions, heard on a vinyl recording released in December 2018, are haunting because of his findings which are emotional mixed with sensitivity, resolving to the sadness of displaced people’s uprootedness, yet suggesting there’s a mutual belongingness that we all can find and build amongst us. His creativity has wrestled with these anomalies for years, as he has travelled, educated, and co-created in many lands and institutions of Europe, America, and South Africa, his motherland.

Now based in Johannesburg where he also teaches at the University of Witswaterand and mentors students in Switzerland, his like-minded core band members help provide a framework for discovery in Angels and Demons: pianist Kyle Shepherd who frequents Mombelli’s sonic haunts; guitarist Keenen Ahrends; and whispy drummer Jonno Sweetman The pace is set in the opening song, ‘In Search of the Holy Grail’ with Shepherd’s Bach-ish piano runs and Mombelli’s eerie vocals behind Ahrends’ guitar conversation. Then the ear moves from this spiritual groove to ‘Pulses in the Centre of Silence’ which continues an emotional exploration of sound. It is also the title of Mombelli’s new book which presents how he has created his compositions.

Mombelli likes to creep around the edges. A classical feel emerges as cello strings are bowed in ‘Glissando’ by guest artist, Susan Mouton, behind a head-held-low piano. One listens carefully as this story unfolds oh so slowly and thoughtfully.

Ahrends shows his true grace and style on this album while Mombelli maintains a subtle lower register pace. In ‘Athens’, the piano chips into this repetitive beat held. Mombelli is searching to find his father here, after several decades’ absence. One hears perhaps a hesitancy of encountering, trepidation with the unknown, particularly as his bass maintains a rhythmic drone while Ahrend’s subtle guitar talks throughout.

Keenan Ahrends-credit Gregory Franz

This reunion of father/son becomes a renewal, of capturing without clinging. I found this song one of the most enthralling Mombelli-styled arrangements. It’s also the longest track on the album.

In ‘The Spiral Staircase’, there’s a wailing and yearning as Mombelli’s bass sets a steady repetitive hum. But confusion sets in. It’s like plunging into a long, deep well of uncertainty, enhanced by a rarely heard bass clarinet of guest artist, Janus van der Merwe. Further questioning follows with “Like a Mouse In a Maze” featuring Cartwright playing Bach-gone-mad improvised runs that deliberately hit ‘wrong’ notes, something tolerated in improvised music. Fortunately, that scattered tone doesn’t last long as his piano melts into a soulful ballad-type ‘Children of Aleppo’ with Mombelli’s underlying sad pronouncements about a pathetic world gone wrong for children (and adults). One is surprised by the contemplative nature of technique which, because of the subject theme, would expect to be cacophonic and aggressively unpleasant. Unlike entry of the next songs on the album which are almost immediate, there is a much relieved pause after ‘Children of Aleppo’ finishes, allowing for reflection, deep breathing, and a moment of much needed silence in this expressive album.

Having caught one’s breath, the baroque orchestral feel in ‘In the End We all Belong’, which is a more melodic, less frantic piece, suggests some resolution is finalising Mombelli’s spiritual search for those angels to counter the always pervasive demons.

Loop pedal repeats of the bass cast an illusory image in ‘The Ghost of Norcia’ and its ‘Part 2’ which ends the album. There is a haunting symbolism here as though those demons, seemingly revisited, are finally outcast. But are they?

This album leaves one wondering. Is the spiritual lost-and-found journey of life real or ever final? Listen carefully.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane Moves Jazz Closer to Home: CD Review

I always thought this Durban-based jazz piano composer, teacher, and performer, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, was already pretty glued to ‘home’ ethnicities from which he derives his pride in studying and presenting South Africa’s musical demography.

In his most recent album, Closer to Home (2018), we hear how each hill that he traverses exudes its own musical dialects and landscape colours. Mash draws on creative spirits like the late greats of Winston Mankunku and Moses Molelekwa, and from other communities with whom he has stayed and shared, himself being a mix of influences among Ndebele, Pedi , Zulu, and Swazi, among others. Heritage and a place for safety and truth is ‘home’, as verbally announced in his first track. One starts with the indigenous longings. The album flows towards deeper identities, breaking any molds for specific types of jazz that has developed from past masters. Mashiloane holds truth with his chordal harmonic fifths, so prominent in the musical landscape.

Mash calls for relevancy and accuracy, which are essential criteria for him to choose the musicians featured on his album. He has done this masterfully, with the likes of spirited Nigerian guitarist, Kunle Ayo, percussionist Tlale Makhene, drummer Paki Peloeole, and bass guitarist Qhubekani Mthetwa. There is the brass section as well: Mthunzi Mvubu on saxophone, Thabo Sikhakhane on trumpet and Thembinkosi Ngcobo on trombone.

Elegance of tempo and message mark the delivery of this composer’s songs. “Naima” simply and softly conveys what’s hopeful and free, through the spoken word. Renditions from pianist Moses Molelekwa are evident throughout, as in “Molelekwa Spirt” and “Ke Mashiloane” with lots of chord structures and traditional sounds. Mash honours the jazz giants, as with Mankunku’s famous “Yakhal’ Nkomo”, and “African Heart” with shades of Zim Ngqawana’s spirit-bending.

It’s Makhene’s percussive presence that hits the heart, as in “Umthandazo”, another spoken word song with Mash’s soft chordal backing, and in “Naima”. Even a twisty “All Blues” honors Miles Davis as Mash uses the higher register of his keyboard to mimic Davis’ trumpet blues, with honesty and pride.

It is no wonder that Mashiloane will soon receive his Doctorate which focuses on South African music, and jazz in particular. His first two albums set the pace for digging deeper into those home roots, as in this third album.  Amanz’ Olwandle (2016) received two Mzanti Jazz Awards as best Contemporary Jazz Album (decided by a jury) and Best Jazz Album (voted for by the public).  His second album, Rotha – A Tribute to Mama (2017) , Mashiloane eloquently combines tradition with more universal jazz styles. What might his fourth album portray, one wonders? The roots wander far and wide, and his music will thus be endless and highly educational.

Album musicians:
Sibusiso Mashiloane – piano & keyboard
Kunle Ayo – guitar
Tlale Makhene – percussions
Paki Peloeole – drums
Qhubekani Mthetwa – bass guitar
Mthunzi Mvubu – saxophone
Thabo Sikhakhane – trumpet
Thembinkosi Ngcobo – trombone
Backing vocals…..

Mashiloane performs at the Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Friday, 16 November.

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Uhadi Traditional/Synth Modern – Lwanda Gogwana Expands Xhosa jazz

Trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana finds identity through his Xhosa roots in his latest album, Uhadi Synth’(2016).

Songs ring in his native tongue of isiXhosa as he probes cultural roots, deeply exhuming the mythical. A non-isiXhosa speaker won’t feel left out when Xhosa lyrics burst out….. there’s excitement in the presentation alone. In this album, the language of jazz is a language of moods, emotions, and joys energized through traditional modalities with twists of unheard-of improvisation. That’s what Uhadi Synth is: the traditional Xhosa single stringed mouth bow, called the ‘uhadi’, made popular by the late Nofinishi Dywili whom Godwana studied at University, juxtaposed with the modern electronic synthesizer instrument.


But you won’t hear the actual ‘Uhadi’, just it’s interpretation as story-telling messages by several vocalists, and harmonics by Kyle Shepherd’s piano with a repetitive lower registry.

Composer, arranger and producer, Lwanda Gogwana, has composed for a number of artists and bands in South Africa. But it’s this second album which pegs his own signature to a music he has been exploring since the beginning, starting with his first album, Songbook, Chapter 1, which addressed various influences on this young master’s growth.

Gogwana explains: It’s about finding identity, now that young Black South Africans have the freedoms` to explore, harvest, and proudly spread their cultural expressions through song.

Don’t feel confused why a synthesizer enters: Shepherd is a lover of synths; he has used them concurrently with piano to enforce his love of the indigenous ghoema music of historical slave days in the Cape areas and original Khoisan culture. For Shepherd, synthesizers have a way of ‘bending’ the sounds. For instance, in “Umculo”, Shepherd’s spirit-bending chords and characteristic ghoema twist resonate with gospel nuances. Then, add the influx and settlement of Xhosa people from parts east who settled in the Cape urban centers helps to gel these sounds we hear on this album. The listener gets carried through South African jazz Standards of earlier urban sounds into a melange of more contemporary expressions from youthful inputs: tradition – meets- funk.

Vocalists, like Sakhile Moleshe, offer warm, laid-back, jazzy scats to “Qula Kwedini” with big band swing styles of the classic 1940s urbanized African jazz, and audio pronouncements about stick fighting in the olden days of Xhosa tradition among boys and men.

A stunning piece, “Yibhluz”, and the only song on the album with lyrics, sees history meet the blues: how the sordid colonial history is delivered with a diplomatic wit, which raises issues of whether society now is mirroring its past grievances. Here is a reflective tradition-meets-blues as Gogwana skilfully weaves a dialogue around Zim Ngqawana-influenced pride in culture while youth are pulled towards the secular and mundane. Xonti’s sax brings this sultry mood and sarcasm across nicely, as do the vocalists.

Sisonke Xonti at NAF 2015

Shepherd’s piano and repetitive baseline holds the uhadi form on several songs, while Gogwana’s horn echoes conversations between the rolling Xhosa hills of his homeland in “Maqundeni”. He would call this ‘a swing feel in Xhosa’. This leads nicely into “Ndiyagoduka” (I’m going home), an upbeat improvisational song with lots of trumpet triple tonguing and that uhadi-like piano supported by Amaeshi Ikechi’s bass sound. The penetration by the horns exudes an energy that leaves one quite breathless at the end of this album.

Hear Gogwana perform at the Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Saturday, 17 November 2018 at 18.30 hours.

On the album:

Lwanda Gogwana – trumpet and fugelhorn

Kyle Shepherd – piano and synthesizer
Sisonke Xonti – sax
Amaeshi Ikechi – bass
Lungile Kunene – drums
Dumza Maswana – vocals
Sandile Maleshe – vocals

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CD Review by Eric Alan – Beverley Beirne with Jason Miles Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun (2018)

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Having stated my dislike “covers” in the previous review I must add that Jason Miles has done it once again by lending his considerable production, musical and arranging skills to Yorkshire based jazz vocalist Beverley Beirne who along with Jason Miles foray into the world 80’s pop anthems and turning the tunes into future jazz standards.

I must say on first glance at the track listing before listening to a track I didn’t want to like the album but on listening to it a couple of times it was a breath of fresh air and must state the I really like this album and hope there will be another in the same vain. Beverly has a pleasing voice and the interpretations and arrangements are killer.

The album titled Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun, released earlier this year, is what I believe needs be done when an artist decides to cover the classic pops songs of past generations, ok so these are from the 80’s Brit pop era, I mean after all the Great American Songbook came about because of the pop songs over the aeons. Now we have the beginnings of the Great British Songbook. I am very happy with the track listing and the songs covered, classic pop tunes of that decade, and what a cast of musical talent put together to create this, what I would like to call a tour de force. I don’t think anyone who took to and love the pop music of the 80’s will be unhappy with the treatment given these classics. I further think the songwriters will be exceedingly happy to bolster their pensions with the royalties derived from these wonderful re-interpretations of these 80’s classic anthems. Now that’s what I call a great “cover” album, and are the new standards of tomorrow.

How clever are you? Do you think you can you name the originators of all 12 tracks?

Track Listing:

  1. Cum On Feel The Noize (3.29)
  2. Prince Charming (2.40)
  3. Bette Davis Eyes (4.09)
  4. Ghost Town (3.30)
  5. Deeply Dippy (3.11)
  6. When Smokey Sings (6.58)
  7. Cruel Summer (3.04)
  8. Pop Muzik (4.50)
  9. Too Shy (2.39)
  10. Hot In The City (2.58)
  11. Waiting For A Girl Like You (4.56)
  12. Girls Just Want To Have Fun (2.29)


Beverley Beirne (vocals), Sam Watts (piano), Rob Hughes (saxophone/flute), Flo Moore (double bass), Ben Brown (drums), Romero Lubambo (guitar “Cruel Summer”); Dean Brown (guitar “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”); Jason Miles (Hammond B-3 organ “Deeply Dippy” and “Waiting For A Girl Like You.”)

Label: Nova/Universal.

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CD Review by Eric Alan – Rebecca Angel (Feat. Jason Miles) Album Title: What We Had (EP)

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I haven’t done a review for some while now and today I decided that it was time to concentrate on doing so once again. I hope that I’ll be able to write at least 3 add to our website page today.

Earlier this year I was contacted by Brooklyn born and New York resident, record producer, bandleader, musician, recording artist, composer, jazz pianist and keybordplayer, manic passionate music lover and friend Jason Miles, he asked if we would like to check out two of his latest productions. Naturally the answer was yes and he sent us the two albums, both of which featured two women vocalists who I had not yet heard of. The two young ladies are Rebecca Angel’s What We Had and Beverley Beirne’s, Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun both albums were immediately added to our playlists un-listened to, that’s how much I trust Jason’s work. Our presenters, including myself took immediate liking to both of the albums.

Rebecca Angel (Feat. Jason Miles) Album Title: What We Had (EP) Label: Timeless Grooves Records
Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Smooth Electro Pop & Latin Jazz / Vocals Total Time: 32:58 Year Of Release: 2018

This album comprises of 8 tracks and on first listen captured me as a listener, well, because I do have a penchant for vocals especially female vocals. Rebecca has a wonderful voice and tells each story in a fine and beautiful style through the album. The tunes chosen for this release come for the pens of some of the greatest songwriter’s of the world with one track written by Rebecca in collaboration with her Dad, Dennis Angel and the other with the addition of producer Jason Miles. Look at the list of incredible musicians assembled to perform on the album, just awesome.

There is one thing however I personally dislike with a passion and that is “covers”, now let me qualify that by stating when any musician covers a song and nothing has been done to refresh it and make it their own having just followed the dot’s on the original chart, it becomes boring and plain bloody awful. So leave that sort of thing to wedding bands and singers.

Thankfully this is not one of “those” albums, the production team has taken it to another level totally. I mean just listen to the first track on the album, Winter Moon written by Harold Adamson and Hoagy Carmichael shows the way and how to do a cover, this continues through each track through the album. Each track is has a fresh new feel to it and is a joy to listen to. So far I have listened to and played a multitude of times. Each time I hear something new in each of the arrangements throughout the EP, well done to one and all concerned and that you for creating a wonderful body of work. I can’t wait for the next album, and that it be a full one from this team of highly talented musicians.

Track listing:

  1. Winter Moon (5:13) written by Harold Adamson/ Hoagy Carmichael
  2. What We Had (3:52) written by Dennis Angel/ Rebecca Angel/ Jason Miles
  3. Agora Sim (3:15) written by Luiz Alves/ Luizão Paiva
  4. Feel Alive (3:51) written by Dennis Angel/ Rebecca Angel
  5. Stand By Me (4:04) written by Ben E. King/ Jerry Leiber/ Mike Stoller
  6. Jet Samba (Samba Jazz Happiness) (Radio Mix) (4:08) written by Ronaldo Bastos/ Marcos Valle
  7. Stand By Me (Electro Mix) (Bonus Track) (4:03) written by Ben E. King/ Jerry Leiber/ Mike Stoller
  8. Jet Samba (Samba Jazz Happiness) (Ipanema Mix) (Bonus Track) (4:30) written by Ronaldo Bastos / Marcos Valle

Musicians – Jason Miles keyboards, Fender Rhodes, Moog bass, pads and percussion – Denis Angel flugelhorn – Gotfried Stoger flute – Haily Niswanger soprano saxophone – Sebastian Stoger cello – Jonah Miles Prendergast guitar – Christian Ver Halen guitar – Ricardo Silveira acoustic rhythm guitar – James Genus acoustic bass – Reggie Washington bass – Adam Dorn bass – Mino Cinelu percussion – Cyro Baptista percussion – Brian Dunnie drums



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Jazz saxophonist/flautist Ivan Mazuze excels with Afro/Latin/Nordic storytelling in ‘Ndzuti’ (2012)

Saxophonist and flautist, Norway-based Ivan Mazuze, has chosen a stellar set of international musicians who journey with him in his 2012 album, Ndzuti, which means ‘shadow’ in the ancient language of Xichangana of Mazuze’s native southern Mozambique.

This album has elements from both southern and West African traditions with Jazz based structures, suggesting how widely Mazuze extends his sounds while fusing northern European tonalities as well. His fellow African and Norwegian musicians reside in Scandinavian countries with guest artists like Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and the bassist/ vocalist from Ivory Coast, Manou Gallo, adding loads of sonic colour.

Mazuze’s other albums on his EM label have met with great success also: His debut album Maganda (2009) brings out his ethnomusicology training, reflecting on an exploratory journey with African ‘worlds’ of music. His articles about music and trance in ritual practices are found in the educational magazine “The Talking Drum”. Maganda was awarded the Best Afro World Group in the Oslo World Music Festival 2009, and the Best Contemporary Jazz Album at SAMA awards 2010 (South African Music awards). Mazuze’s third album, Ubuntu (2015) became highly acclaimed within the Nordic media circles and features Norwegian and South African-based musicians.

But its Ndzuti that grabbed my best ear. It was the recommended album at African Jazz Network 2012 and hailed as a key album by Music Information Center Norway (MIC) in 2012. Besides these cudos, it’s the songs themselves that shine out Mazuze’s careful melodics, zappy rhythms, and ethnic understandings of a society’s musical wizardry. He includes soukous rhythms the Congo, always full of glee and gay, danceable swings, as in “Nwana wa ku kasa” which features his Norwegian sax wife and fellow student during Capetown days, Ragnhild Tveitan, also in backing vocals. Vocalist and bass player from Ivory Coast, Manou Gallo, noted for her ‘Afro-groove’ renditions and for playing her bass like a percussion instrument, enthralls. Born in 1972, Gallo plays the tambour (percussion drums ), normally only reserved and allowed for men to play in the Ivorian culture.

Manou Gallo, vocalist and bassist

Raised by her grand-mother who was looking after her like her own daughter, Manou was rather autonomous from early on. Her newest album, “AFRO GROOVE QUEEN” is a musical love triangle and adventure between Africa, Europe and America.   Gallo helps Mazuze focus his funk, jazz and Afro groove sounds in delightfully lyrical songs that could have a healing quality to the ultra-stressed.

Hanne Tveter, Norwegian singer

One can even hear some influences from raising his two small daughters, and from the Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, or the Latin swing of Nordic singer Hanne Tveter. ‘Celina” is admirably melodious. In ‘Chant des Immigrants’, phrases are heard that come from Norwegian improvisational influences, as per Tveitan’s sax, as well as African beats from Mazuze’s home areas of Mozambique and South Africa. ‘Pe Descalco’ features Tveter’s masterful vocal scat which also provides a breathy and enticing bid in ‘Ritmo de la Vida’, with its distinct Latin salsa and bossa nova. Mazuze’s added boppish sax makes this song one of the most grabbing on the album.

Omar Sosa

Rhythmic Afro and Latin grooves abound. ‘Conversations’ and ‘Nguni’ features Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, the latter song with Nigerian high life rhythm reminiscent of Fela Kuti, with shades of Sosa’s Cuban swing thrown in! This is a bouncy piece, similar to Mazuze’s consistent style of fusing Afro-influenced sounds. ‘Mosambik’ is played in a Mozambique groove characteristic of Mazuze’s usual improv voicings. Another Oslo resident, Trinidadian singer/actor Sheldon Blackman, provides backing vocals with Mazuze’s storytelling sax in ‘Ma’gogo’.

Sidiki Camara percussion

All percussion comes from Sidiki Camara from Mali who plays djembe, doundounds, and ‘talking drums’.


So after all these wonderful sonic tonics whirling about, the catchy sing-along tune ‘Satyagraha’ ends the album, with ears aching for more! This is Ivan Mazuze and his crew at their very creative best.

See him perform at the upcoming Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Saturday, November 17, at the Masque Theater with local musicians.

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Musical Influences abound in Saxophonist Mike Rossi’s “Journey” album (2018)

‘Journey’, which follows on ‘Take Another Five’ (2016) dedicated to Nelson Mandela and Dave Brubeck, explodes with a range of musical styles that depict multi-instrumentalist Mike Rossi’s interpretation of country, ethnic, and musical influences over his forty year dance in jazz. It is a compositional delight!

There’s a lot of Italian in this album, from low-highs to happy-sad emotions framed with impressive solos and well-coordinated horn harmonies.  Horns predominate amongst stunning solos of Andrew Ford’s piano and organ, as well as Kevin Gibson’s drums, and Wesley Rustin’s boppish double bass.  I get a bit nervous when multiple horns play in unison, often wah wah-ing over more delicate rhythms or wind instruments.  But Rossi offers mercy as his six  cherished hand-made Rampone & Cassani saxophones  gently flow through sonic themes, as in the masterful composition, Big Sax,  Conversations between  Marco Maritz’s fugelhorn and Rossi’s altello sax delight the ear.  The South African swing in KwaZulu Zam Sam covers pretty much all the talents of horn and rhythm players without overpowering.

‘Journey’ band members

Faithful to his Italian-American background, some pieces were written under the influence: Ciao Roma; Don’t Say Lazio! opens with a wistful alto flute followed by charming Latin beats of Rossi’s tenor sax and expressive drum and piano solos. Alpe Camasca, Italy commemorates a frequently visited area, home to the R&C saxophone factory. Nine movements pull the listener through different time signatures making for unexpected  moods and twists.  A tribute to snails with red wine in Cucciulitti-Snails of Fermo surprisingly features Rossi’s baritone sax and William Haubrich’s trombone, two unlikely sonic registers for such a small animal.

Family and friends are referenced in such American jazz Standard renditions as Star Dust which Rossi’s late mother loved, and to the Hilda’s of Norway in Lars Jansson’s composition, Hilda, where Rossi’s soprano sax speaks kindly about his friendships there.

Rossi stays faithful to his flutes, particularly stylishly overdubbed in the beautiful Chuck Mangione song Land of Make Believe with Rustin’s bass grounding the basic bop mixed with Latin. Never forgetting how early American jazz included the clarinet, the swing classic Shiny Stockings arranged in quartet form pulls melody and rhythm nicely together in true Count Basie style. Ford’s piano  runs are exquisite throughout.

Humour abounds:  if there’s any way to portray nausea musically, Greasy Pan Blues does it! A really fun Rossi piece, indeed.

The album ends with the well-known South African classic composition of the late Chris Ngcukana, Mra, skilfully opened by Westin’s bass which swings the band into that familiar groove, and makes one still calling out for more.  South Africa is home to the Rossi family, and one wonders what the next musical ‘Journey’  will sound like in the next decade.  I wait, enthusiastically!

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CD Review by Eric Alan – Judi Silvano & The Zephyr Band Lessons Learned (2018)

You know this album has been a bit perplexing for me to write about, it has taken me weeks to do and listen to, it has moved my thoughts and memories in countless directions. Judi Silvano’s words awaken so much of a life lived, sometimes well and um, sometimes not so well. I was forced into a corner and felt the need to listen to her very thought provoking lyrics extremely carefully. The album has become somewhat of an intense catharsis on a personal level whilst listening intently. Today, I thought I should read the PR blurb that accompanied the album by publicist Lydia Liebman, something that I don’t usually do before I start listening to and writing a review. After careful reading thought that I could not do any better therefore decided to include the full blurb. All I can say is I like the album and it has now become a permanent fixture on my iPhones playlist.

“Judi’s compositions are like her paintings – Magical!” Sheila Jordan, NEA Jazz Master

Unit Records is proud to release Judi Silvano’s new album Lessons Learned today, Friday, July 13th. Produced by Grammy Award-winning saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano, Lessons Learned features the members of Silvano’s Zephyr Band with an unusual lineup for a jazz singer: two electric guitars.  These are wielded by Kenny Wessel and Bruce Arnold who together provide orchestral settings for the songs. The band is rounded out with Adam Kolker on bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax, Ratzo B. Harris on bass, Bob Meyer on drums and Todd Isler on percussion. Joe Lovano lends his signature sound on tenor sax to two tracks. Lessons Learned began as a mature musical compilation of personal observations on life and love, but has since developed into a statement that aims to evoke a feeling of universal understanding and respect for others amongst its listeners.

“This is one of the most inspired and fun recording sessions I’ve ever been a part of; it’s full of beautiful, joyous music!” – Joe Lovano

Judy & Joe

Parallel to Lovano’s adventurous arrangements, Judi’s writing varies from tender and spiritual to raucous and whimsical. On Lessons Learned, the vocalist – who is also credited for the painting that graces the album cover – is not afraid to bare her heart and sing of intimacy and she tackles the realities of aging with hilarious candor. There comes a point in anyone’s life that is a place of reflection; a review of a lifetime’s worth of choices and decisions. For Silvano, this point in her life marked the creation of Lessons Learned. This 10 track opus of original songs is a collection of stories from the singer’s life that have accumulated and resulted in lessons she has personally learned. By reflecting upon her own individual experiences, Silvano has been observing the consciousness of society as a whole and hopes her perspective will encourage empathy in others towards their communities.

The album opens with “Round and Round”, which is Judi’s statement of appreciation and wonder at her own life. The song’s canonic structure parallels the cycles of life. While “You Will Know” speaks to the interpersonal connections that can have an impact on how we feel about ourselves with encouragement to remember we are not alone, “Dark Things” is about self-doubt, and how even the most confident people periodically question and re-evaluate their paths. “Acknowledging our vulnerability is key to being able to adapt and grow,” says Judi. “Dust” finds Judi in shamanic mode, singing about the earth, our dependence on it for food and how rhythmic feels connect us all over the globe. Some other stand-out tracks from the album include “Hand and Heart” – a beautiful ballad about a very particular relationship – and “After Love” which, simply put, is a classic love song. The album closes with “The Music’s in My Body”, which demonstrates that Judi’s sense of rhythm and space from her years as a dancer, are always a part of her songs.

“Judi Silvano is an amazing vocalist and improviser who has been a mainstay on the New York Jazz scene for decades! Her communication with guitarists Bruce Arnold and Kenny Wessel on “Lessons Learned” is telepathic and the music they create is fresh and inspiring!” -Vic Juris, Guitarist and Educator

Judi Silvano has been an active presence in the New York Jazz scene since 1976, when she arrived in New York City from Philadelphia with a degree in music and dance from Temple University. Since then the roster of musicians with whom she has collaborated includes Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, George Garzone, Mike Formanek, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Abene, Rufus Reid, Ingrid Jensen, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Manny Albam, Gunther Schuller and Wynton Marsalis. She’s performed at a multitude of festivals and concert houses around the globe including the Montreal, Paris, London, Verona, Perugia, Istanbul, Langnau Switzerland and North Sea Jazz Festivals as well as numerous clubs and concert halls in NYC. Silvano has been writing music and poetry her whole life alongside putting her visions on canvas – one of her paintings is the album cover of Lessons Learned and she has a series of paintings of Jazz Musicians in addition to other subjects.

More information at

Have a great week, stay tuned, more coming your way

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Ghanaian Modern Jazz meets traditional Highlife – just barely!

Ghanaian jazz pianist, Victor Dey Jr, wooed audiences at this year’s Standard Bank National Arts Youth Jazz Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), with professional musicians on stage and loads of youthful students of jazz in the audience!

Victor Dey, Jr.

The Diocesan Girls School’s large Hall hummed as this pianist fundi, backed by the improvisational wizardry of South African jazz musicians,  spinned through modern jazz tunes with a West African rhythmic twist.

With Ghanaian music always a foundation of his artistry,  this vibrant soul treats piano keys like cotton, with energy, ease, and an uncanny transparency.  His unusual rendition of jazz icon, John Coltrane’s, ‘Giants Steps’ took all by surprise: silky runs reinterpreting familiar melodies with deliberate off-notes and missed beats, all playfully executed. Another composition, “Mr. PK Ambrose”, named for a fellow bassist who featured on Dey’s first album, Makola, thrilled with its fast pace mounted by both Dey and saxophonist Sisonke Xonti whose runs also caused audience gasps.

Romy Brautenseth (bass), Sisonki Xonti (sax), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet)- Standard Bank

This piece gave all players a chance to triple their usual rhythms, with double bassist Romy Brauteseth stylishly running furiously through her strings.   I kept looking for that West African percussive beat of Ghana’s famous ‘High Life’ style, but Dey ran away with more contemporary modalities….or was it that Johannesburg-based drummer, Ayanda Sikade, dubbed in a familial Ghanaian title of ‘Nana Ayanda’,  stole the show with his frenetic drum solos which wowed all?

Afrika Mkize (left),Victor Dey Jr (middle), Ayanda Sikade (far right)

Whatever one was looking for, or not,  this gifted pianist stunned his fellow artists, like pianist Afrika Mkize, whose fits of bowing and ululations later over drinks in the Hall’s cozy outdoor (and heated) bar foyer drew obvious attention.






Dey’s latest album, Makola (2017), named after Accra’s main busy market, contains zesty Ghanaian rhythms mixed with jazz, funk, and Latin American, representing “the spirit of the market which is diversity, movement and business”, as Dey puts it.

Playing Fender Rhodes and other keyboards, Dey is well supported by ambitious solos of Bernard Ayisa’s tenor & alto saxophones and  trumpeter Nicolas Genest. Distinct blues, ballads, and improvisations characterise this album without much West African punch.  But there’s a reason for that, as Dey and I chatted during afternoon breaks from workshops at the Youth  Jazz Festival.

Victor Dey Jr.,  born in 1980 and being the son of a diplomat,  spent his very early years in the UK and Algeria, learning piano as well as cultural dynamics.  Back home in Ghana, he completed a Liberal Arts education, and became one of the few who delved into the world of ‘modern jazz’, thanks to occasional alignment with Hugh Masekela and Stevie Wonder.  Granted “Musician of the Year 2014” at the Ghana Vodafone Music Awards, and featured on CNN’s  African Voices in 2016, Dey’s uniqueness was secured and followed.

His soft spoken, polite style of chatting set the tone to understand his impressions of South African jazz as he had faithfully listened to different musicians, like Bheki Mseleku and Andile Yenana whom he also met at the Festival.  Recognizing the strong jazz culture in South Africa with jazz roots and a special vibe, he continues to learn what he might want to add to his own music.  “I’m looking at the stylistics, how South African jazz is crafted, it’s mysterious, spiritual, sometimes dark tones, and what it’s telling you – it’s difficult to describe.  Like Mseleku’s “All for One, One for All” song…..

I suggested he talk with Afrika Mkize who had transcribed Bheki’s compositions.

* * * * * *

Dey is working on his second album with his trio.  “I want something more intimate and intricate.”  Maybe some traditional West African beats?  We’ll see. As we  talked about the more traditional Ghanaian highlife of C K Mann, Dey’s voice saddened. “Oh, that is the old highlife. It’s changed now.  I don’t want to say into what!”  He chuckles confirming my worst suspicion.

“The Highlife is more electronic now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But there’s a totally different feel about it now ….. It’s more like pop with the Akan Twi lyrics, and moving into a more global context.”  He suggested that people are playing around this mode, but are moving away from their traditional roots, while understanding the traditional in other more modern contexts.

“This is interesting because I worked on a project earlier this year, and recorded it, taking older classical songs of Ghana and giving them a more modern jazz twist with a light jazz piano .  That is yet to be released  with a well known highlife lady singer, Kodjoe Aisah.  So,  that kind of highlife is not totally dead yet, thank God!”  But are there other musicians willing to keep the traditional alive, and yet move the music forward as improvisational music?   “There are a few guys who haven’t yet put their tunes out .  They’re in that development phase taking so many things in, but it will come.”

This is an issue, remembering  how stuck musicians like Ethiopia’s Mulatu Astatke were in trying to move Ethio-jazz forward, but the schools of music (and fellow musicians!) refused to do this.  So are there music schools for jazz in Ghana?


“No, not yet.  Schools prefer the [European] classical and choral music, and African traditional music.  Once in a while, workshops are organized.  I just did a tour in Ghanaian universities, sponsored by the American Embassy, but that’s about it.  Yes, I’m disappointed, but not surprised.   Jazz culture in Ghana was nicer in the 60s and 70s.  But what happened is that the soldiers took over the country in coups and forced curfews on citizens who couldn’t go out to hear the live music at night.  So the musicians left the country.  This is why I’m on a mission to enlighten:  organize workshops, give private lessons for payment or free.  I’m working on something now at University of Ghana which wants to catalogue my music and start a program  –  that’s in the pipeline.”

Hmmm.  The creative artist struggles with time management devoted to creating, but then the other teaching/learning cycle with society takes up space, too.  “I’ll make the time,” Dey says convincingly. “I’ve done some things with neighboring countries like Togo and Benin. My band may be performing at the Lagos International Jazz Festival in Nigeria, too, next year! But I have loved what I have seen and learned right here with South Africans at this Festival!” His eyes gleam.

Well, it’s reassuring to this writer that jazz, with some roots in tradition, won’t die.  I’m watching Dey Jr. like a hawk!

Catch his Youtube video at:


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Dan Shout – In With a Shout Secret Weapons released by Pathway Records (UK) (2018)

Dan Shout blowing up a storm

By Eric Alan

For me its always an exciting occasion to be contacted by a South African Jazz, Blues, Latin or World Jazz musician from all of the subcategories of our genre mix and told of their forthcoming brand new album release. Rarely does that happen, usually I’m always keeping an eye out to see and find out who’s doing what and when. The social media has been a great help discovering those new albums and those that are often debutants.

Dan Shout is someone who doesn’t let the grass grow under him and makes contact when things are about to happen. As a musician he is one of those rare species who takes his career very seriously. He is an astute business minded musician who conducts himself in a highly professional manner. He has created an environment, which is conducive to success in the music industry; no make that the jazz music business of today, something of which I admire totally.

Secret Weapons is Dan’s fourth album and second under the moniker In With A Shout which is described on his website as a contemporary, African jazz-fusion project led by saxophonist Dan Shout, I must add that he is also a bandleader, composer, arranger and teacher.

The first track grab hold of me from the opening bars, after things just kinda flowed from there. I was caught up in the musical magic coming form the speakers. The recording itself is quite outstanding, well done to the recording engineers. The album cover is a gem too, it reflects the albums title in a kind of steampunk fashion, whoever the designer was, cudo’s.

As with his earlier albums each relflects his journey as a jazz musician in Africa with each CD (Book) release. The story told though Secret Weapons continues the earlier albums narrative with each track telling the listener of his passage to the here and now. I look forward to grander accomplishments with the subsequent CDs. He found his own unique voice in the cutthroat and fickle world of jazz in Africa a long time ago and continues to grow with each album release. Don’t wait another 4 years to release the next one Dan. This is an album that is a must have for any self respecting jazz afficianado and will stand the test of repeated listening.

Secret Weapons will be available for purchase from Friday 3 August 2018 at  and other social media or go to Dan’s website at

Track Listing:

  1. Bennie’s Farm (Soloists: Dan Shout, Justin Bellairs, Michael Bester, Kevin Gibson)
  2. Jou Lekker Ding (Soloists: Marc de Kock, Michael Bester, Kevin Gibson)
  3. Challenge Accepted (Soloists: Andrew Ford, Justin Bellairs, Benjamin Jephta)
  4. Beer Jersey Boogaloo (Soloists: Dan Shout, Michael Bester)
  5. Betrayal (Soloists: Benjamin Jeptha, Justin Bellairs)
  6. Lough Easky (Soloists: Gordon Vernick)
  7. Ready & Waiting (Soloists: Dan Shout)


Dan Shout – Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet (Composer/Arranger)

Marc de Kock – Tenor Saxophone, Flute

Justin Bellairs – Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone

Michael Bester – Electric Guitar

Andrew Ford – Piano

Benjamin Jeptha – Electric Bass

Kevin Gibson – Drum Kit

Gavin Minter – Percussion (Tracks 2, 4, 6)

Gordon Vernick – Trumpet (Track 6)

Ndumiso Manana – Vocals (Track 7)

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Andrew Ford at the Nuthouse Studios, Newlands, Cape Town, April/May 2018.


In With a Shout – SMC003 (2014)
Serenading Ghosts – SHOUT, SMC002 (2012)
Greetings & Salutations – Dan Shout, SMC001 (2010)

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Dongfeng Liu Releases China Caribe on the Zoho Music label

Sjoe! is all I could say when this album arrived a few weeks ago and as I was adding it to our playlist I thought who in the world is Dongfeng Liu a totally new name to me and kinda gave little thought to it, it was on our playlist and continued add all the other new release’s to the playlist. You see it is not that often that I get the chance to listen to a full album in one sitting other than when I choose to write an album review.

Like all of our presenters here at All Jazz Radio most of my listening happens when I program all of the shows that I compile on a daily basis. Who said running a small independent online Jazz, Blues, Latin and World Jazz radio station from little ol’ Cape Town was easy. As the sole fulltime volunteer with absolutely no resources whatsoever, I can tell you it ain’t, nuff of those sentiments.

Usually I look for the new and unusual stuff to listen to, however, this one was finally noticed when I played the track Arcadia during my show. It’s not that often that something say’s jinne and captures me totally as this track did. Sadly it’s taken me a few weeks to “discover” the full album and to actually set time aside to sit down and really listen China Caribe.

At first I did not know how or where to categorise what I was hearing out of the speakers, but what I heard was an intriguing fusion from China, Cuban and Mongolian roots and instrumentation. I was immediately hooked from the opening refrains of the first track In The Clouds and knew that I had found something very special in China Caribe. I knew too that I was going to be listening to and introduce to friends, family and our fans for a long time. Each track offers an enjoyable listening experience with the journey being extremely enticing. The amalgamation of ChiMongCu and is a synthesis that just works so well. I love it and I think many will too.

L to R: Roberto Quintero, Dongfeng Liu, John Benitez, Francis Benitez. Photo: Melanie Futorian.

It’s a little early however; I look forward to what Dongfeng Lui will surprise us with next. Sjoe! I’ve got to have a friendly word with the powers that be from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival to include him and this band on the Rosies Stage at the 2019 Festival

Track Listing:

  1. In The Clouds
  2. Mirror Image
  3. Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon
  4. I Know You
  5. Arcadia
  6. Coltrane’s Tune
  7. Fisherman’s Song at Dusk
  8. Moophy.

Personnel: Dongfeng Liu Piano; John Benitez Electric bass, Acoustic bass; Roberto Quintero Percussion # 1 – 5, 7; Francis Benitez Drums; Min Xiaofen Ruan # 1, Pipa # 3, 5; Feifei Yang Erhu # 7.

Special Guests:Hanggai Band Mongolian horsehead fiddle, Mongolian throat singing # 1.

Release Date: June 8, 2017.

Produced byJohn Benitez, Kabir Sehgal and Doug Davis.

Recorded on October 24, 2017 at Teaneck Sound, Teaneck, NJ. Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Brian Chirlo.

Art direction and Package Design by Jack Frisch. Photography: Melanie Futorian. Liner notes: Kabir Sehgal. Executive producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.

Read more about Dongfeng Liu – China Caribe at

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Moskus – Mirakler – Hubro Records

Rob Mallows

By Rob Mallows – London Jazz News

They’re from Norway,” the editor said. Well, that’s a good start, I thought, when I was asked to review this album by a band I’d never heard of before. Over the last decade, Norway has for this reviewer been something of an El Dorado of great new jazz music, with fine artists such as Eyolf Dale, Pixel and Daniel Herskedal producing great album after great album. It’s become one of my go-to jazz nations.

But I was taking a leap in the dark with Moskus

Read the full review … at



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Diva Jazz Orchestra 25th Anniversary Project (2018)

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When I sit down to write a review, it is without thought like a blank piece of paper, the words then kinda just flow from my mind to my fingers, so much so that I’m in a sort of focused trance, no don’t be silly I’m not on medical marijuana nor am I smoking my socks as some may assume but I feel so lekker (nice) when I hear a truly great jazz big band/orchestra.

I let the music infuse my being with a solid wave of euphoria along with a really delectable Glass (note the big G) and a half of liquid mellowness, better known as Pinotage, that alluring russet coloured liquid nectar of the gods hastens my collective thoughts to the task at hand, which, is writing or should I rather say typing away on the keyboard.

The Diva Jazz Orchestra

This is the first time I’ve received a Diva Jazz Orchestra album, sent to me by Kari Gaffney of Kari-On Productions with whom I’ve had a long working relationship over many years, in fact over more than 24 years of my radio career, sjoe, now I really feel like a member The August Society of Crusty Old People, neh! Kari has always sent us the most amazing new music by some of the finest innovative young jazz talent her company promotes to jazz radio in the USA and the rest of the global village. Another fact is that some years ago I invited her to do a show for us and I’m very grateful that she agreed, and along with her husband Jeff Williams who produces and also presents together with her. Jeff has been producing the show for some while now, and better yet they also supply the show to a number of stations in the US and Canada. Thanks for all the extra hard work you do Kari and Jeff also thanks for the wonderful music and artists Kari. AJR has become known for playing more new jazz musicians few have ever heard before. Jeez, been prattling on haven’t we?, and now onwards and upwards to infinity and beyond. Damn, why did that pop into my head and where does that line come from?

The Late Stanley Kay

The Diva Jazz Orchestra is led from behind the drum kit by Music Director/Drummer Sherrie Maricle and has been since the orchestra’s inception. The album sees a bunch of fresh new music written for this very special album by members of the orchestra as a tribute to the person who started it all those years ago The Late Stanley Kay, who also happened to manage a fellow drummer’s band and used to sit in for maestro, Buddy Rich from time to time.

Stanley Kay was conducting a band which the now music director and drummer for the D.J.O, was playing, so impressed with her talent, he ruminated that there could be other woman who played to the same standard as Sherrie. His views turned to certitude when auditions were held throughout the USA, then in June of 1992 the orchestra became a reality and, that they say dear jazz lovers is history.

I’ve been listening the album throughout the week prior to my next deadline for the publication, and often  listen three to four times a day soaking in the incredible assemblage of jazz talent in the orchestra on this recording. Then I started thinking, damn (*&%$£ expletive expunged), why had I not heard of, yep, now you know, or gotten any of the Diva Jazz Orchestra’s music before. That’s gonna change soon.

The album offers a plush uninhibited big band sound with the new and a whole bunch of future standards especially for big bands. Each tune is a marvellous treat to the ears and soul. I love every minute I listen to the album and recommend that you go get yourself a copy of it wherever you can.

I think I must whisper a word or two into the ears of the Groot (big) Makulu boss of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Billy Domingo. What do you think?

Track Titles – Composer – Time

  1. East Coast Andy – Leigh Pilzer – 6:04
  2. Middleground – Janelle Reichman – 6:40
  3. See Saw – Noriko Ueda – 6:59
  4. Jami’s Tune – Barbara Laronga – 6:37
  5. Square One – Alexa Tarantino – 6:19
  6. Darkness of the Matter – Sara Jacovino – 7:40
  7. La Americana – Tomoko Ohno – 5:31
  8. A Quarter Past the Last Minute – Jennifer Krupa – 5:47
  9. Forever in My Heart – – 7:12
  10. The Rhythm Changes – Sherrie Maricle – 5:37

The Diva Jazz Orchestra

Sherrie Maricle – Music Director/drummer

Noriko Ueda – bass

Tomoko Ohno – piano

Leslie Havens – bass trombone

Sara Jacovino – trombone

Jennifer Krupa – trombone

Rachel Therrien – trumpet, flugelhorn

Barbara Laronga – trumpet, flugelhorn

Jami Dauber – trumpet, flugelhorn, manager

Liesl Whitaker – trumpet, flugelhorn

Leigh Pilzer – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet

Erica von Kleist – tenor saxophone

Janelle Reichman – tenor saxophone, clarinet

Mercedes Beckman – alto saxophone, flute, clarinet

Alexa Tarantino – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone

Its  great that we in South Africa have our own brand new big band made upon some highly talented woman who are true masters of their own instruments playing incredible music. I was introduced to them at the recent SAJE Conference held in Cape Town at UCT, needless to say was reservedly blown away by their performance as they at the time, were only together for a couple of weeks.

My greatest hope is that when they record their debut album they will only include original music written and arranged by the very talented members of the band, however should they, gods forbid decide to any record of those ubiquitous covers they learned a collage, forget it rather look the great South African composers works to cover instead.

I know I’m going to be in trouble about what I’m going to say because there is a bit of a caveat about the bands moniker which is The Lady Day Big Band, whilst I am an uninhibited fan of Billie Holiday for me personally its not the right brand, I mean after all we are African and Capetonian to boot, nuff said on the subject for now, neh! I will take it up with the leaders of the project when I have them in the studio soon on my show.


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Tutu Puoane – The Joni Mitchell Project Live (2017)

 Soul Factory Records – Distributor Sonic Rendezvous

I’ve been wanting to review this album for a while now but never got around to doing it, so sorry Tutu however it being Friday 13th July nice cuppa at hand so no more excuses as we enter another dark cold wet winters night. I sit in the dark lounge, the only illumination from the computer screen, utterly engrossed as I listen to the album, over and over, ok 3 times back to back, i simply was lost in the sounds i was hearing and blerry well forget to switch on the lights. No worries ’cause the Klutz in the Kitchen made a lekkerlicious (really tasty and nice) Bobotie (Baked Curried Mince with egg custard on top) Sarmi (sandwich) with a great cuppa char to wash it down. Run out of char so it had to darned instant cawfee, gonna have to do a victual run on the morrow, without any further thought I just continue to let my fingers glide across the keyboard and type the words streaming like tickertape from my psyche.

So moved am I as I keenly listen, totally engrossed to the sounds hailing from my speakers. I thought, jinna Eric why have you not listened to this full live recording masterpiece in all of its glory before. How dumb assed have I been? Don’t answer that. Ok then you don’t have to say it out loud, neh!.

Sjoe! I’ve been playing individual tracks from the album when programming my shows for ages now since its release in August of 2017, how much of an ass have I really been? Don’t answer that either, I got a good lawyer.

Tutu and Ewout

I must add this is one hell of an album with an incredible cast of musicians backing the beautiful voice that Tutu has been blessed with; each track is a bona fide paragon. The album offers an enthralling listening experience; seldom do I offer any praise for live recordings, however this is one of those very few that I do. It took me right into the concert hall, I truly felt part of the audience. With superlative vocals and out of this world arrangements as well as some truly impressive playing by each member of the excellent backing band led so ably from behind the piano by Ewout Pierreux Tutu’s hubby. This is an album worthy of pride of place in all serious jazz lovers collection. Better praise I cannot give for a live recording, well done to all concerned. I highly recommend The Joni Mitchell Project Live if you don’t have it as yet go get quickly.

The entire band is;

Tutu Puoane – voice, Tineke Postma – sax, Ewout Pierreux – piano, Clemens van der Feen – bass, Jasper Van Hulten – drums.


1 River

2 The Hissing of Summer Lawns

3 Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

4 God Must Be a Boogieman

5 Both Sides Now

6 Black Crow

7 Hejira

8 I Don’t Know Where I Stand

9 My Old Man


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MR Project – Journey (2018)

Mike Rossi’s MRP Album Cover Journey

I’ve known Mike Rossi for quite a number of years now and have played and reviewed his albums over those years. When I received this album and gave a quick run through scan of the all of tracks I knew there was something special about what I was hearing. I decided to can what I had planned and set about without delay, to listen carefully to the entire album with all attention. I listened to the over the next four or so hours and the called Mike to come over for an interview during my show. We arranged a time and the day; I the intervening period I listened to the album back to a number of more times and again was not disappointed. We did the interview and had a great time in the studio chatting.

This is one of the best albums releases this year to my way of thinking, and is intensely personal for Mike, with each track holding a very special place in Mr Rossi’s heart. I believe it reflects a very personal voyage that has brought him this point in his chosen profession. It is like everything has come together, you know, right time and right place with the apposite people to create an enormously beautiful work that will stand the test of time, which is somewhat special and a must have for real jazz lovers.

Track and player listing;

  1. Got a Match?(For Chick Corea) with Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. Mike Rossi, tenor sax.
  2. Big Sax(for Rampone & Cazzani) w/ Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi, altello sax.
  3. Ciao Roma, Don’t say Lazio!(For Susanna Stivali) w/ Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi alto flute & tenor sax.
  4. Star Dust(For Mom; Janet Christina Sansonetti Rossi); with Andrew Ford. M. Rossi, alto sax.
  5. KwaZulu Zam Sam(For Kwazulu-Natal) w/ Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi alto sax.
  6. Alpe Camasca, Italy(For Maria Rita Zolla) w/ Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi, clarinet, tenor & soprano sax.
  7. Greasy Pan Blues(For those unexpected “food” moments) w/ Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi sax.
  8. Land of Make Believe(For Chuck Mangione) w/ Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi, flute, alto flute, piccolo.
  9. Shiny Stockings(For Count Basie) w/ Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi clarinet.
  • Cucciulitti-Snails of Fermo(fFor Umberto & Maria Bufalini) w/ William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi baritone sax.
  • Hilda(For friends in Norway & “Hildas” everywhere); w/ Andrew Ford. M. Rossi soprano sax.
  • Mra (For South Africa & Diane Rossi) w/ Marco Maritz, William Haubrich, Andrew Ford, Wesley Rustin and Kevin Gibson. M. Rossi tenor sax.

    Mike Rossi

Each track is a bona fide gem and tells the story in a way which even I can understand. As can be seen the musicians featured through this journey have worked with Mike for years and they show the respect they have for him through their playing. Thank you for sharing those personal moments from your life and passion with me as a listener and jazz lover it is truly appreciated. This album is going to take a lot to beat, and BTW I love the album cover, but Mike I don’t envy you the next time you head into the studio.


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Brian Charette Groovin’ With Big G – by Dan Bilawsky of All About Jazz Website

Groovin’ With Big G was destined to come about. When a young Brian Charette was cutting his teeth on jazz piano gigs in his home state of Connecticut in the early ’90s, he wound up working dates with drummer George Coleman Jr. The two struck up a friendship, and Coleman’s encouragement helped Charette make the leap to New York a few years later. Coleman even let the budding pianist crash in his rehearsal studio for a spell.


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The D.A.J.O (Darryl Andrews Jazz Orchestra) album Cape Town (2017)

D.A.J.O (Darryl Andrews Jazz Orchestra) Cape Town (2017) Album Cover

CD Review – By Eric Alan – The D.A.J.O (Darryl Andrews Jazz Orchestra) album Cape Town (2017)

I’ve really been fortunate throughout my broadcast career to meet and interact with so many great musicians from the entire global village, especially those from my own hometown and one such is Guitarist, Teacher, Conductor, Bandleader, Composer and Arranger Darryl Andrews. He is

closing in on retirement from the renowned South African College of Music, UCT’s Jazz Studies Program.

It is very pleasing to be able to write this review of his album, Cape Town by the D.A. Jazz Orchestra, whichhas finally been released. The most exciting aspect of this album is apart from a few of his own compositions it features the music of other equally well known Cape Town composers which include The Late Winston Mankunku Ngozi, The Late Errol Dyers, Professor Mike Campbell, Alvin Dyers and naturally Darryl Andrews too.

Bandleader Guitarist, Composer, Conductor, Producer and Teacher Darryl Andrews

The band includes some of his students and friends and in the woodwind section are alto-saxophone and clarinet players Justin Bellairs and Evan Froud, the tenor saxes are played by Zeke Le Grange and Sisonke Xonti, with baritone saxophonist Georgia Jones, The horn section comprises of: on trumpet and flugelhorn Lorenzo Blignaut and Marcelle Adams with Robin Fassie-Kok, and the trombonists includes Justin Sasman, Ryan van der Rheede, Kelly Bell and Ryan Kierman. The rhythm section includes pianist Andrew Ford with acoustic and electric bassist Stephen De Souza and drummer Lumanyno Unity Mzi.

The really heavy-duty work of conducting, composing, transcribing and arranging falling Darryl’s broad shoulders, whilst guest players include Prof Mike Campbell, and both of the Dyers brothers, as do vibraphonist Bronwen Clacherty and flautist Bridget Rene. Darryl is quoted as saying, “Jazz is always changing, and it evolves as we speak. We identified with it, being from oppressed people. Look what jazz was born out of, one of the greatest human atrocities – slavery.” This can be heard in countless composers works since the birth of jazz.

The album as a whole offers a new perspective to what an African Big Band when arranging and transcribing of the original works by Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Errol Dyers, Mike Campbell and Alvin Dyers. Giving a fresh new look at the iconic pieces chosen for the album. Darryl’s own compositions can certainly take pride of place alongside these classics many of which I’ve not heard before and again gives great pleasure to hear and know that his work will finally be heard by jazz lovers, specifically big band aficionados. More power to composing and recording more original material Mr Andrews don’t let us wait for your next offering too long, no matter the bands configuration.

I must add that I rate this album very highly. 4.8 Stars  out of 5 – This is an album that must be part of any self-respecting jazz lovers collection.

Track Listing

1 Khanya 6:20

2 Blue Natural 8:17

3 A Song For Bra Des Tutu 7:39

4 Hanepoot 4:21

5 Utopian Sunset 7:47

6 Sugar Shake 6:29

7 Imbodlomane 3:16

8 Wesley Street 4:06

9 Sermon 7:15

Please feel free to contact Darryl at either of the following; or  to get your own copy of this exciting album and when you email in your order be sure to ask him to autograph it for you.

The album is also available from iTunes and a site I’m not too familiar and is a European based web site named Gobuz check it out at


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Philipp Gropper’s Philm Live At Bimhuis by Eric Alan – 12 April 2018

Live At Bimhuis by Philipp Gropper’s Philm

Is jazz dead, I say emphatically no, but the late Frank Zappa said “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.” To go further “Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.” once said by George Gershwin. Also “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” as said by Louis Armstrong.
The world of jazz is really not as marginal as so many think and believe, yes jazz is also not as irrelevant in the world music as so many major record labels like to say, jazz does not sell. No, jazz is not a trivial voice in the wilderness of today’s music industry; it is a force to be reckoned with. Now here is a question, why are so many jazz musician first call session musicians around the world? Here’s something else to ponder, why are there so many independent jazz record labels releasing so many new jazz albums world wide? I mean so far this year we’ve been sent 484 new and re-issue Jazz, Blues, Latin and World jazz albums of all genres from all quarters of the world. Sjoe can you believe it so may released this year already. Any volunteers want to write some CD reviews? Since I’ve been in the broadcast business I’ve always said jazz sells. More than those “clever” executive flunkies at record labels think.

Wait a mo, you ask yourself where is the review, read on dear friends, it’s coming I promise. J

Jennifer Back contacted me from a German label I’d never heard of and she told me of the recording I’m now listening to titled Live At Bimhuis by Philipp Gropper’s Philm (WPJ041).

The German record label is WhyPlayJazz, naturally my inquisitive nature got the best of me so I had a quick look at their website and boy was I glad I did, suffice to say we will be featuring more from this very interesting lable in our program and on our playlists going forward.

Here is a bit about them I’ve taken from their website; WhyPlayJazz – the independent record label for contemporary jazz with a special focus on the Berlin scene. The record label from Greifswald with a passion for fine sound was called into existence in 2005. Roland Schulz founded his own record label out of fascination for this idiosyncratic music. There was so much to discover! WhyPlayJazz is looking at years of cooperation with musicians like Philipp Gropper, Uli Kempendorff, Benjamin Weidekamp and Wanja Slavin and is enriching the European jazz scene with its 40th release in 2018.

Philipp Gropper’s Philm Philipp Gropper – Robert Landfermann – Oliver Steidle – Elias Stemeseder photo by Frank Schemmann

Now the reason for all the above, though the album has been added to our playlist and I’ve feature tracks in the programming, it’s the first time I’m listening to the album in it’s entirety since receiving the album three weeks ago.

On first impression there is a lot of freedom and huge responsibility given by bandleader Philipp Gropper to his band mates. It has been a very pleasant surprise to listen to as each track takes one into a world of exciting improvisational mastery. It challenges, enthrals and showcases far wider musical influences offering a worldly perspective giving one pause for thought and reflection. It is an album that must be added to ones collection. I can recommend this album highly and look forward to hearing more and sharing music by Philipp Gropper’s Philm and the many other artists on the WhyPlayJazz record label.

The line-up is made up of Philipp Gropper (tenor sax, composition), Elias Stemeseder (piano, synthesizer), Robert Landfermann (bass), Oliver Steidle (drums)

It was recorded July 30th, 2017 by Marc Schots at the famous BIMHUIS, in Amsterdam (Netherlands and was mixed and mastered by Martin Ruch at Control Room Berlin (Germany). Design and artwork by Travassos.


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