Julian Argüelles ‘Let It Be Told’ (Basho) 5/5

julian-argüellesFat boys don’t dance. At least that’s always been my excuse. Up until now that is. Begrudgingly I have to admit that my many years of steadfast refusal to participate in this ancient, dubious pastime have finally been laid to rest by Julian Argüelles and The Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Ex girlfriends, the wife, daughter, calypso, John Travolta and Strictly had all failed in their pointless, vain attempts to get these legs, arms and body to move in any kind of coherent methodology. Even the Okey Cokey felt awkward to me. But the minute I put this album on, an involuntary minor miracle occurred. My limbs started moving and before I could say “I am the Lord of the Dance said he”, I was dancing around the room like a lunatic. Laughing. “Let it be told” is so joyous, so alive, its infectious rhythms and startling performances are a breath of fresh air. After all, there really is nothing quite like a big band that uses intelligent arrangements, with its key protagonists performing with skill, soul and adventure. This recording has it all. Julian Argüelles and The Frankfurt Radio Big Band are joined by the inimitable Django Bates and drummer/percussionist Steve Argüelles, and the resulting tunes are to be treasured, enjoyed, and recommended to anyone you know who gets pleasure from listening to music: jazz or otherwise.

This is the music of the South African Exiles. When the five musicians of the Blue Notes left the apartheid state of South Africa to settle in Europe in 1964, finally establishing a home in London the following year, they brought with them a sound whose echoes are still evident after half a century. Julian Argüelles is a member of the second wave of British based musicians to have experienced the influence of The Blue Notes. Argüelles makes comment in the album’s sleeve notes; “The music of these South Africans always had a wonderful balance between something accessible, melodic and grooving, and something challenging, a little bit crazy.” He continues; “There was the township thing on one hand, and free jazz on the other. Maybe Sun Ra and Charles Mingus were others who could do that. But the Blue Notes’ music had its own character, and it influenced a lot of people who heard it.” And that’s what’s so wonderful about this album. Argüelles doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and indeed his arrangements hold true to the original character of the music being celebrated here. There’s a sincere reverence that sits well alongside the exuberance and freedom that the music naturally personifies. Argüelles refers to this, once again in the sleeve notes; “I knew all the people I was writing for, which was a big help. I tried to keep elements of the original music more than I might with other material because I have such a love for this music and I wanted the focus to be on the people who originally created it, without trying to redefine it too much. I wanted the vibrancy that made it so remarkable to shine through.” It certainly does that… and some.

Of the many highlights, here are just a few:
Dudu Pukwana’s “Mra Khali” opens the album. Right from the off with the guitar intro, the scene is set. Layers upon layers of golden brass build gleefully creating a sound so pure that the listener is pulled in immediately, sharing in its sumptuous rhythm. Django Bates’ alluring piano adds the icing on the cake. “Mama Marimba”, a Johnny Dyani composition, begins with an orchestrated cacophony of sound and develops into a wonderfully relentless groove with Christian Jaksjo supplying an awesome trombone solo, and Tony Lakatos continuing the flow on tenor sax. One of the remarkable things about this album is its ability to surprise and delight time after time. None more so here than on Jikele Maweni’s “Retreat Song”. Once again the soloing is inspired. As with all of this recording, the arrangements are written and played in such a way that after the first listen, it’s impossible not to go back for more. Chris McGregor composed and arranged the tune “Amassi”, the only non-Argüelles arrangement on the album, and it gives plenty of room for Julian’s brother Steve to show his percussive talents off to their best. The vast majority of tunes are joyously upbeat in nature, but special mention just has to be made to Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding”. 9 minutes’ worth of the most hauntingly beautiful brass I have ever heard. The instrumentation and harmonisation are of such a stunning quality I was left in awe when I first heard this track. Add to this the incredibly poignant and spellbinding soloing from Rainer Heute on bass clarinet and Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn on alto sax, and we have one of the finest pieces of music heard anywhere this year.

“Let it be told” is an album that inspires the listener to reach out and share with fellow music lovers. Its invigorating exuberance shines through at every turn. And yes, undoubtedly, it will make you want to dance.

Mike Gates