More Lockdown Jazz

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Deputy Editor Kevin Le Gendre with some more hot jazz to while away those lockdown hours.


MODES OF COMMUNICATION: LETTERS FROM THE UNDERWORLD [IMPULSE!] A member of Shabaka & The Ancestors, South African pianist Makathini steps out as a solo artist in his own right and stakes a strong claim as a composer as well as player. The unique beauty of the music of his homeland, its blend of melancholy and ecstasy in vocal and instrumental traditions, permeates much of this fine debut. On several tracks the legacy of Kippie Moeketsi, The Blues Notes, Hugh Masekela and Bheki Mseleku is shown to be in safe hands, yet Makathini really impresses because of his ability to weave together other influences to broaden the canvas of his material. The strong echoes of McCoy Tyner, by way of propulsive themes and hard swing, as well as fellow Coltrane alumnus Pharaoh Sanders, lend substantial dynamism to the work. Makathini’s sweepingly dramatic fanfares, which use the contrasting resonances of Logan Richardson’s alto saxophone and Linda Sikakhane’s tenor to their full extent, make a major impact throughout, and it becomes increasingly clear that his mission statement is as much to let the richness of the songs and group cohesion do the talking as it is to impress as a soloist. With occasional singing contrapuntal lines a la Ornette there is a celebratory energy in Makathini’s music that complements its graceful solemnity, and the wide range of emotions and consistently high standard of musicianship serve notice of an artist whose future should be interesting to follow.

FLASH OF THE SPIRIT [TAK:TIL] Pioneers such as the Coltranes, Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry daringly explored the meeting point of western improvisation and non-western rhythms and timbres in order to create something ‘universal’ back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Trumpeter-composer Jon Hassell found his own way of building upon that foundation in the ‘80s, creating a distinctive dreamscape of sounds that was sensually liquid and full of strong electric currents manipulated adroitly. A timely reissue, Flash Of The Spirit, cut in 1988, was the last of a run of fine sessions that included Fourth World, Dream Theory in Malaya and The Night Surgeon Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound. With the Burkina Faso ensemble Farafina, spearheaded by master balaphone player Mahama Konaté, making a superb contribution alongside co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois there is a balance of disparate elements that might have been deployed at cross-purposes. Hassell’s haze of brass, his sustained notes like vapour over a pool of dark and light, could not be more enticingly mysterious or modern.

PLAYS THE BLUES FOR YOU [PURE PLEASURE/ISABEL] Robert Cray was the story of the blues in the ‘80s: the articulate lyricist-vocalist-guitarist who showed the relevance of one of the oldest forms of black music to the era of Reagan and Thatcher. However, Melvin Taylor, though less commercially successful, was also one of the major arrivals of the decade, and made a significant breakthrough in France. This is arguably the highpoint of his discography, a 1984 Paris session that showed how a 4-piece with the time-honoured instrumentation of drums, bass, guitar/vocal and organ, courtesy Lucky Peterson, a promising youngster who went on to become a star in his own right, could make music of immensely soulful depth, just as synthesizers and electronics were becoming the dominant force in black popular music. Every song is precious but the take on Albert King’s timeless I’ll Play The Blues For You is an absolute diamond. It is an important reminder of the longstanding conversation between soul, jazz and blues that is far from outdated.

FOUR CLASSIC ALBUMS [AVID] It makes sense for tenor saxophonist Getz to be forever synonymous with bossa nova, given the international hit he enjoyed with The Girl From Ipanema. But he was always more than the American who helped he world discover the musical riches of Brazil. With his airy fluidity, Getz, a key stylistic scion of the great Lester Young, breathed life into many a bop-based session long before he set about all things samba-related, and this 2-cd batch of late four ‘50s/early ‘60s albums – the mono and stereo versions of At The Opera, where he co-led with trombonist J.J Johnson, Jazz Sambaand Big Band Bossa Nova – make that point in no uncertain terms. Whether flying over a Bird standard such as Billie’s Bounce or bringing a shimmering melancholy to the saintly anthem Samba Triste, Getz never sounded more deftly strident and elegant.