Monday, April 30, 2007
Ah, back to some vinyl for the first time in a while. Does everyone know who the Blue Notes were? You wonder sometime. They never made a large impression in the US, I don't think, you didn't hear them namechecked by the same generation of jazz musicians here with likely exceptions such as Don Cherry. A sextet of South African emigres (originally including tenorist Nick Moyake) escaping apartheid, fleeing to England in the mid 60s, they combined South African highlife and other forms with European free jazz, a somewhat more extreme version of the path chosen by Abdullah Ibrahim. Of the foursome on this date, only one, Moholo, is still alive. The great, great trumpeter Mongezi Feza was already dead as of this 1977 performance.
Pukwana was an amazing player; anyone who never got around to hearing him should try and do so; think a stronger version of Arthur Blythe and you come close. I first heard him in that record shop in Poughkeepsie, walking in one day to hear the wildest, most fantastic music emanating from the house system, only to find out it was his "In the Townships" album on Caroline. More on that one when we get there. He had a rare combination of acidity and joyousness in his playing, ebullient but very bittersweet. As with four other Blue Notes, he died absurdly young.
Moholo would, the following year, put together an astonishing midsize band recording, "Spirits Rejoice!" (which was finally issued on disc a couple years back--get it!) though what I've heard from him since then has been fairly routine. McGregor led the pretty well known and regarded large ensemble, The Brotherhood of Breath which, at least on record, I found somewhat inconsistent.
But Dyani. Damn. I'll write more about him, I'm sure, when I get to his batch of records (plus his extraordinarily beautiful album with Abdullah Ibrahim, "Good News from Africa") but what a bassist, what sound and imagination.
This recording sits more on the free jazz side of the fence than the overtly South African-influenced one and I have to say, I generally prefer the latter setting with these guys than the former. Still, it's a rollicking good show if more solo-driven than something like "In the Townships". When they do return to their African basis as at the end of Side One, the effect remains magical.
After Dyani's death in 1986, the remaining trio recorded "Blue Notes for Dyani" the following year (no title image available as best I could search). It's a good record, balancing the jazz and the African to a fair degree, including some fine Dyani compositions. (Dyani's recordings under his own name for Steeplechase in the early part of the decade, especially "Witchdoctor's Son" featuring John Tchicai, are well worthing checking out.) Some really nice playing from McGregor on pieces like the traditional "Ntyilo Ntyilo".
He and Pukwana would die within about a month of each other in 1990. Moholo still plays, performing at the Vision Festival last year (I didn't catch it).
To these ears, Feza, Pukwana and Dyani rank among the best in jazz on their instruments over the last 40 or so years. A shame they remain so little known.