Tony Kofi ‘Another Kind of Soul’ LP (The Last Music Company) 5/5

Chatting to Tony Kofi over the years at gigs mainly at Birmingham Jazz I discovered that he grew up on Rosetta Road in Nottingham which is the road my wife lived in not long after I first met her. And this record is a true Rosetta Stone – it translates the music of or in the style of Cannonball Adderley into a hugely enjoyable and listenable session of post-bop and jazz-funk goodness.

And it does something else; it demonstrates in these straightened and locked-down times the sometimes under-estimated pleasure and accessibility of smaller jazz clubs. At a concert or larger venue or the bigger jazz festivals, you don’t often get the opportunity to interact with musicians and find out things in common with them or more about their approach and direction.

This set was recorded at one such club – The Bear in Luton. And it is clear from the well-balanced recording that, when audience reaction can be heard, that this was one of those special jazz club nights with audience and players feeding off each other. By well-balanced, I mean that the recording is not only very good for a live one, but the mix is clever with enough ambient sound and just enough reaction but not too much, so your listening is not interrupted or disrupted.

Often, way back when, live recordings could be very self-indulgent but from the opening track this is tight and to the point. It’s not clear if the tracks were played completely in this order at the gig but, given that the total running time is around 40 minutes, I guess the usual two live sets were edited to fit onto the special issue vinyl which is the only physical version of the release.

The issued play sequence features Adderley’s style in a roughly chronological way kicked off with a couple of originals. The opener ‘A Portrait of Cannonball’ is written by the pianist Alex Webb and is a concise re-creation which starts as a funky ensemble homage to the later work and then as Kofi starts his extensive solo on alto moves into lyrical ballad territory. With barely a pause the band move into the other original ‘Operation Breadbasket’ by Kofi himself. This is an effective up-tempo bop workout which features Andy Davies on trumpet with nicely shaped solo.

‘Another Kind of Soul’ is by Cannonball’s brother the trumpeter Nat Adderley and is another boppish tune with a strong solo from Kofi followed by concise contributions from Davies and Webb. We are back in ballad mode for the only standard on the recording – ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ with Kofi in typically fine expressive form against Andrew Cleyndert’s strolling bass and Alfonso Vitale’s brush and cymbals work. The latter two are on good form throughout providing a strong rhythmic feel.

The final three tracks are all by Julian Cannonball Adderley himself, the medium tempo swinger ‘Things Are Getting Better’ followed by the two tracks that no Adderley fan can do without – ‘Sack O’Woe’ and the encore, of course, ‘Work Song’. Things feature a screaming but tasteful solo from Kofi and a contrastingly sweet one from Webb. Cleyndert gets a vibrant solo feature on this too. As Kofi says in introducing Sack –“you know what that means – blues!” and it kicks along led by another punchy trademark solo sculpted by Kofi exploring the alto’s range.

Both this and the closer Work Song are the kind of tunes that are so well known that it’s hard to draw the line between too much reverence and wanting to re-invent them – but both are done beautifully, getting the balance just right.

What a night it must have been one I would have been happy to attend. Sadly the tour associated with this record has understandably been postponed and who knows when we will get a chance to hear this music again live.

In the meantime, if you want to get a bit of the feel of a live small gig this is the closest you will get on record. It is unusual that it’s physically only being issued in limited edition vinyl. The notes say this is “the medium of Adderley’s era – to best replicate the ambience of this live recording.” It will also be available in digital formats but no CD version.

I’m hoping the lockdown will be over by 11th September so I can catch the band at Birmingham Jazz.

Highly recommended.

Brian Homer

Read also:
Tony Kofi and The Organisation ‘Point Blank’ CD (The Last Music Company) 4/5
Tony Kofi’s Sphinx Trio @ Vortex Jazz Bar
Tony Kofi in interview with UK Vibe 2016

Tom Green Septet ‘Tipping Point’ (Spark!) 4/5

Perhaps most commonly attributed to Malcolm Gladwell’s publication of twenty years ago, The Tipping Point has always been something of an attention-grabbing phrase and perhaps a call to arms in its own way: when the words “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” are employed for a situation, it’s quite clear that something needs to be done, be it in reference to political situations, social commentary or global factors impacting the world as a whole. While several projects have surfaced over the past few years protesting events revolving sexism, racism and certain US political leaders, the environment has also created some stirring pieces of work in regards to the tipping point we find ourselves currently in.

The new Gianluca Vigliar’s album sought to raise awareness to the dangers of increasing levels of plastic found in the oceans and Tom Green’s Septet also turns its attention to the environment calling in to question the over-consumption of our resources as well as the long-lasting impact of deforestation.

Tom Green’s star has been steadily on the rise for quite some time – the trombonist, composer and arranger, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and the recipient of the 2013 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition the 2017 Eddie Harvey Arranger’s Award… accomplishments and accolades we’d need a separate article to fully discuss but rest assured, his is a résumé displaying excellence and passion towards his craft. Released through Green’s own Spark! Records, ‘Tipping Point’ marks the septet’s sophomore album release with their debut ‘Skyline’ (2015) having received staggering acclaim upon its release. The years in between have been filled with various side projects including Patchwork Jazz Orchestra and Brass Funkeys amongst others and further Spark! releases from Lorraine Baker and Scrapbook – names that, like Green himself, strive to shine a light on an exciting new generation of jazz musicians.

‘Tipping Point’ sees returning members of ‘Skyline’ including James Davison on trumpet, Sam Miles and Tommy Andrews on saxophones, Sam James on piano, Scott Chapman on drums and double bass by Misha Mullov-Abbado joining Green on trombone. With many of the members here also joining Green on other projects, there’s a close-knit union amongst the musicians as they play, demonstrable by the music throughout – the album’s title track kicks things off wonderfully with a strong energy that perhaps strives to capture the many intricacies and conflictions that the title suggests. Again, the aptly-named ‘Kaleidoscope’ is another strong and confident highlight that beautifully stands tall. ‘My Old Man’ serves as the album’s one cover song – originally by Joni Mitchell (‘Blue’, 1971), the acoustic, stripped-down original version thrives with the septet’s reinterpretation of the folk queen’s classic.

With a percentage of Green’s these album sales being divided between the Trees For Life and Cool Earth charities, ‘Tipping Point’ looks set to bring Tom Green waves more plaudits for another album sure to make his star rise even higher.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Tom Green Septet ‘Skyline’ (Spark!) 4/5

Ak’chamel, The Giver of Illness ‘The Totemist’ LP (Akuphone) 4/5

The Totemist is the first wax release from Ak’chamel, The Giver of Illness aka Ak’chamel, The Ecstatic Brotherhood of Nux Vomica, self-proclaimed “fourth world post-colonial cultural cannibalists circumcising the foreskin of enlightenment”. They remain shrouded in mystery with their faces obscured by homemade masks. Their previous cassette releases are lo-fi mystical adventures incorporating a long list of instruments such as balalaika, oud, sitar, saz and flutes. With The Totemist, the production values are higher but the colossal array of instruments are here, mixed with found sounds recorded at Terlingua cemetery out in the Chihuahuan desert; invoking the ghosts of the Chisos quicksilver mines.

Primeval rifferama propels “Firedriver” while voices, keys and other sounds drone ethereally. The riff peters out to flutes and bird calls merging into brooding keyboards; sounding something like the lost soundtrack to an early 70s Jess Franco movie, complete with echo-y vocals cackling and breathing unknown words.

“The Funeral of a Woman Whose Soul is Trapped in the Sun” is a lush layered danse macabre with reverberated guitar clashing against the relentless hand drum beat until a late flourish of nature, claves and delicate strummed chords. Ominous Tuvan throat flute style chanting introduces “Protected by the Ejaculation of Serpents” evolving into disjointed folky desert rock.

“Dark Hat” is the soundtrack of the souk passed through a psychedelic prism. The doom-laden “To Travel the Path of Every Sickness” bludgeons the listener with dramatic percussion bursts and deep vocals reminiscent of Russian male voice choirs! The epic trance-inducing “Phallus Palace” is a repetitive acoustic space rock jam concluding in droning chants and sitar swirls.

World folk, psychedelia and stoner merge in The Totemist evoking ritualistic behaviours and shadowy objects just inside your peripheral vision. Whether the spirits summoned are good or malevolent, whether Ak’chamel are shamans or charlatans, the music is refreshing, exciting and engrossing.

Kevin Ward

Various ‘For the Love of You’ 2LP/CD (Athens of the North) 5/5

In these lockdown times when a release takes you, imaginatively of course, to a dance, it could be anywhere with big bass scoops stacked to the ceiling and the herb filling the air with a sense of liberation, when that happens you know it’s exactly what you need in the here and now. Take me there right away. And this is what ‘For the Love of You’ a Lovers Rock compilation curated by Sam Don with supervision from Euan Fryer of the label ‘Athens of The North’ (AOTN).

It took these romantic bods over two years to put this together, with singer Peter Hunningale playing a pivotal role in linking up artists to the project. I am still a bit puzzled with the name AOTN but that’s another writing mission staying on topic this set of lovers covers of very soulful, rare groove tunes is top quality rub a dub smoochiness. Lovers has always been an underrated genre. One that is often dismissed as too lightweight by many weather-worn festival going fling-foot field-goers. Additionally, Lovers singers can really sing. Long before autotune, the imperialist plot invented by music software companies to rip out the soul out of singing flooded the market, many of the people on this release had stellar independent careers. Peter Hunningale, Michael Gordon, Christine Lewin, Pure Silk, the late Michael Prophet, all known in their own right and all amazing singers with passionate voices.

It’s not easy covering a rare groove song. In fact, to some rare groove train spotters, it’s sacrilege. However, leaving those minor details to one side for a moment, these songs are covered with respect and clarity of voice. I particularly like ‘Rocking You Eternally’ from the finest of the finest Peter ‘sweet like sugar’ Hunningale; ‘Do Me Baby’ by Family Love – mainly because it’s always hard to cover a Prince song – but they pull it off really well; and ‘ Juicy Fruit’ by Christine Lewin which is difficult because the original spaced out ballad by Mtume was so special to my musical upbringing that I am shocked I like it. So on the whole hats off to Athens Of The North Edinburgh, for a release that you can just play from start to finish (with a couple of flashy rewinds) in these moody lockdown times, to lift your romantic spirit and wish for better times.

Haji Mike

Aruán Ortiz with Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera ‘Inside Rhythmic Falls’ CD (Intakt) 5/5

Aruán Ortiz is one of a number of contemporary Cuban musicians taking the traditions of their rich island culture and exploring its avant-garde potential by deconstructing the Afro-Cuban rhythms that underly so much of modern music and thereby exploring their African roots and culture. This cohort, including PI Recordings and ECM artist David Virelles, has benefitted from connecting to the US free jazz scene, and in particular, with the Chicago musicians grouped around the AACM and Art Ensemble formations who share an interest in the percussive root of Afro-American music, it’s symbolism and cultural power.

It’s no surprise then to find Ortiz, who was taught by the pioneering Chicagoan Muhal Richard Abrams, in the company of octogenarian percussion giant Andrew Cyrille, who has also worked with Virelles and extensively in the Afro-Cuban idiom as well as with Cecil Taylor, whose ‘88 tuned drums’ approach is influential here.

Alongside the musical abstractions, the new album Inside Rhythmic Falls contains a series of conversations inspired by the African roots of Cuban music (the opening coda, Lucero Mundo, is a poem addressed to an Elegguá, a god in Santeria, concerning the Bantu slaves from the Kingdom of Kongo – now Angola – who were brought to Latin America by the Portuguese), and the Cuban province of Oriente, Ortiz’s birthplace. There’s a great depth to the cultural and historical backstory here that deserves study – the sleeve note by New York don Adam Shatz is erudite – but the musical interplay between these three great artists is reason enough to dive in. The three voices: piano, percussion and drum, strike up an exhilarating trialogue, interjecting, jabbing, cajoling and commenting, working off fragments of rhythms and riffs, building to a crescendo and back to silence. It’s compelling stuff.

The music for Rhythmic Falls was written in New York, Ortiz’s current home and the great foundry of Cuban fusion. However, the inspiration came from an intensive study on Cuban Haitian rhythms and Afro-Cuban religion and a number of field trips back to Cuba, soaking up the local music and the landscape and vibe. You can clearly hear all of these influences in this suite of works: the sophisticated interplay of Ortiz and Cyrille (on, for instance, Conversation With The Oaks) speaks of the urban scene. The percussive brilliance of Herrera on a selection of traditional media including Marímbula (a musical box used in changeí heard on the quietly groovy Marimbula’s Mood), Changui Bongoes, Catá, Cowbells, inspirits the deep music of the Cuban interior. The texts and titles feed back to the historical and mythical/spiritual references for the work. The title tracks (there are two), subtitled Sacred Codes and Echoes, contrast the explicitly African origin of the music, based around rhythmic drumming, and their extension and deconstruction in Ortiz’s piano interpretation. They also neatly summarise the themes expressed in this complex and powerful work: the mythic past and its modern articulation.

Mike Gavin

Rob Luft ‘Life Is The Dancer’ LP/CD (Edition) 5/5

It seems to me that UK guitarist and composer Rob Luft just has too many amazing ideas to fit into one album. Undoubtedly one of the most exciting guitarists to have entered my consciousness in the last 30 plus years, his unerring knack of making wonderful music seems to be becoming a very positive habit; music to my ears. Ah, but I get ahead of myself… For those of you not yet familiar with his name, you will be. “Life is the dancer” is the London based guitarist’s 2nd release, following up on his wonderful 2017 debut “Riser”. In between that and this came the excellent “Monk and Trane” album (and lengthy tour) with saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, an exercise in formidable jazz technique perhaps, but another little gem none-the-less. Luft’s music, both on “Riser” and on this new release, traverses any pre-conceived ideas of genre, a little like Pat Metheny, in that Luft is a true original, his writing, arrangements and performances sounding so natural and organic that one gets the distinct impression he could turn his hand to any style of musical persuasion and it would still be instinctively him.

One thing that comes across loud and clear in Luft’s recordings is an unfettered joy of making music. Combined with an obvious humility and genuine warmth, these attributes just add to the overwhelming free-flowing creativity in his music. Luft makes original music the way he hears it, with band members happy to interpret it. Contributions come from Joe Wright on tenor sax, Joe Webb on Hammond organ and piano, Tom McCredie on bass, and Corrie Dick on drums, with cameos from trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen. The open, intuitive feel and interplay between all of the musicians is a testament to the maturity of Luft’s writing and direction, making for a lovely atmosphere throughout the whole of the session.

The title “Life is the dancer” references the book ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle: ‘Life Is The Dancer and you are the Dance’, that is to say, you don’t live your life but life lives you. As Luft explains; ‘I think that idea is a beautiful sentiment and I think the album title of ‘Life Is The Dancer’ suits my record, as the new compositions have something very bright, positive and dance-like in them. This warmth & energy is what I want people to feel when they listen to my music. The message is essentially: the past is in your head and the present is in your hands”.

Not only is Luft one of the most inventive musicians around at the moment, but he has soul. For example, on the incredible closing track of this album “Expect The Unexpected”, all the aspects of his writing, arranging and performance are skillfully rolled into one dynamic and emotive piece of music. A uniquely beautiful atmosphere is created, leaving me quite simply breathless. There’s a vibrant, spirited feel to the entire recording, with the opener “Berlin” wowing the listener with its expressive, uplifting adventure; a kind of Metheny-esque “Are you going with me” for the modern era. The title track itself has echoes of a young Andy Sheppard, with its catchy, joyous Caribbean flavours at the heart of its composition. “All Ways Moving” is a gentle piece that could easily have come from the Bill Frisell songbook in his early ECM days. There’s more than meets the eye to a lot of the tunes here, with some awesome soloing, and not just from Luft himself. Saxophonist Joe Wright sparkles on tunes such as “One Day In Romentino” and “Snow Country”, bringing a freshness and added colour to the vibrant pictures of sound being painted. The outstanding “Sad Stars”, along with the beguiling “Tanpura” and “Other Wise” are short stories set within a larger adventure, wonderful pastiches of sound, elegant and mouth-watering in turn. As with much of Luft’s music, there’s no time to dwell, with innovative ideas and nuances changing the path of a tune with consummate skill and ease, the divine “Synesthesia” adding yet another path to the guitarist’s ever-enriching journey.

“Life is the dancer” will be one of the major European jazz releases of 2020. Rob Luft has a rare gift; he epitomises what it means to bring joy to life through music, something we all need in these difficult and unprecedented times.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Rob Luft ‘Riser’ CD (Edition) 5/5

Superposition ‘Superposition’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 4/5

Adele Sauros, tenor saxophone, Linda Fredriksson, alto and baritone saxophone, Mikael Saastamoinen, bass Olavi Louhivuori, drums

Tracklisting LP: 1. Antiplace, 2. Bilawal 3. Ballad No. 3 4. Mimo 5. Choral 6. Wasteland 7. For The Fallen 8. March

Olavi Louhivuori is one of Europe’s most compelling drummers. Often a stillness at the heart of the maelstrom, he has the look of an aesthete, with his pale, shaved head and otherworldly visage. He’s one of the key figures on the young Finnish scene (though he seems to have been around for ages) with his various jazz and rock groups, including the cinematically proggy Oddarrang. He’s also held down the drum seat for ECM star Thomasz Stanko. His new project, Superposition, alongside Linda Fredriksson from the excellent Mopo, and two artists new to me, Adele Sauros on tenor and Mikael Saastamoinen, bass is, on first listening, a fresh, immediate take on the free jazz small group sound of the 60s, and none the worse for that. However, the writing – primarily by Louhivuori – elevates this little gem into a much more contemporary statement.

The twin-sax attack has been intermittently popular on the new Euro jazz scene since Polar Bear and Led Bib blasted into our consciousness too many years ago to bear thinking about. The format allows for a great deal of freedom for the saxes, untied down by the chordal strictures of keys, and from the off Superposition take advantage, a fierce opening statement by Frederiksson on the short opener Antiplace (composed by Saastamoinen) leading to intertwined lines reminiscent of half-a-saxophone quartet, or a loose Jimmy Giuffre.

On the appropriately titled Ballad No 3 the group introduce a sonority and stateliness which is recognisable to those who know Olavi’s work, and also speaks to the moody beauty we’ve come to expect from the Scandinavians. It’s a tasty palate cleanser and a beautiful tune in its own right.

The contrasts between the three saxes – alto, tenor and baritone – are also cleverly exploited, particularly on Miimo, set against minimalist percussion, and on the opening of Choral; there is a choir-like polyphony in the house. For a quartet, Superposition make a full spectrum sound, and they use the resources available to them intelligently with Adele Sauros creating a counterpoint to Fredriksson’s pointillism. Olavi’s cinematic sensibilities come to the fore with Wasteland which could be the theme to a film noir. His delicate cymbal work and rippling accompaniment keep the record moving at all times, and Saastamoinen’s unfussy bass lines are effective.

Helsinki’s We Jazz label (it’s also a DJ co-operative, a festival, gig promoter and newspaper) has gone from strength to strength in recent years, from releasing tasty but limited 7” singles to making waves internationally. Here they’ve played to their strengths, with a brilliant young local band marshalled by two stars in the Finnish firmament making a statement of intent. When we come through this I hope we’ll get to see them on tour. It’s a positive thought to hold on to.

Mike Gavin

Snorre Kirk Quartet with Stephen Riley ‘Tangerine Rhapsody’ LP/CD (Stunt) 3/5

Norwegian-born but Denmark resident drummer Kirk is new to me as are the other players on this recording including well-regarded US tenor sax player Stephen Riley. The rest of the band are Snorre’s regulars Magnus Hjorth piano, Anders Fjeldsted bass and on two tracks Jan Harbeck also on tenor sax.

I’m not a great fan of labels but I guess this is mainstream jazz that recalls music that you’ve heard before but can’t quite put your finger on. It’s swinging and sometimes bluesy but doesn’t present any great surprises or raise the temperature above a pleasant and listenable level. The sound and the recording are perfectly balanced and the playing is smooth and assured throughout.

‘Unsentimental’ has Riley taking the lead and immediately demonstrating his breathy and light sound and is reminiscent of that early Bechet recording of Summertime. It’s the longest track on the record and Riley gets to stretch out, it also follows Summertime in adding a bluesy feel to a ballad format.

‘Tangerine Rhapsody’ is the first of two tracks where Kirk’s regular sax player joins. This time that the tune that is recalled is the Ellington/Tizol standard Caravan with the rhythm section providing that choppy underpinning. In truth, the two tenors sound quite similar but Harbeck seems to play more in the usual tenor timbre.

‘Blues Jump’ is well-titled – it’s a blues jump. From my ears, Riley takes the first solo with Harbeck coming in later in his lower register but the notes don’t mention who plays when so it’s on my ears and I may be wrong!

‘West Indian Flower’ strays into a gentle Monty Alexander vibe with some nice piano from Hjorth.

‘The Nightingale and The Lake’ is the high spot for me. It’s a rather beautiful ballad – and here’s perhaps a surprise – like all the tracks it was written by the drummer leader. Hjorth on piano takes it solo with lyrical and affecting playing. It’s interesting that Kirk was happy to step back on this and in fact he plays a restrained supporting role in most places. Fjeldsted also takes a more traditional rhythm role on the bass providing a reliable pulse with no melodic interventions.

‘Festival Grease’ [CD Version] has a kind of Ellingtonesque blues feel with Riley in almost Johnny Hodges mode in quite a high register (he apparently started on alto before moving to tenor).

‘Nocturne’ [CD Version] is a swinging mid-tempo bluesy conclusion to the set with Riley again to the fore in his smooth and breathy style.

In some ways, it’s perhaps jazz that people who think they don’t like jazz could relate too. Like a good egg and chips sometimes you need comfort food especially in the Spring of 2020.

Brian Homer

Andrea Gomellini Quintet ‘The Gift’ CD (A.MA) 4/5

Roman guitarist and composer, Andrea Gomellini, began studying classical guitar at an early age, before going on to learn the language of blues and then embracing whole-heartedly the world of jazz. Listening to this lovely album, it’s clear to hear all of his musical learnings and history rolled into one well-rounded, matured musical offering. Gomellini has successfully taken elements of different genres of music and crafted his own highly listenable and engaging guitar style. His compositions and playing are predominantly jazz based on this recording, with a silky-smooth feel and sound creating a beguiling and relaxed atmosphere.

“The Gift” is a quintet album and a very good one at that. The guitarist is joined by some quality musicians on this session; Simone Alessandrini on alto saxophone, Jacopo Ferrazza on double bass, Danilo Blaiotta on piano, and Valerio Vantaggio on drums. As a combined unit the five-piece work wonderfully together, producing an album of skillfully executed contemporary jazz that stands alongside some of the best European ensembles out there at the moment.

The aptly titled opener “Hidden Treasure” is just that. There’s a charming nature to much of this album, and the lyrical freshness and melodically embracing approach of this opening tune sets the tone for the whole album. Light and breezy, with solos shared out between guitar, sax and piano, it’s a riveting opener. The title track benefits from a lush late-night jazz vibe that oozes class. One of the things I really like about this album is how guitarist Gomellini, along with pianist Blaiotta, seem to share an intuition that allows them to intertwine their solos, bouncing improvised momentary ideas off one another, “Il Dono Di Euterpe” being a great example of this. Tunes like “Labyrinth “ are well-crafted with some delightful and often surprising touches, melodies building up with some very nice hooks and motifs keeping me attentively interested. The album as a whole has a satisfying flow to it, with each tune adding something new to the journey of discovery. The oddly titled “N1” and N3” feature some great soloing from everyone involved, and “Lost Treasure” highlights Gomellini’s guitar style particularly well. My only reservation about the track-listing is the inclusion of the foot-tappingly upbeat “J&G”, not a bad tune in itself, just a little out of context for me, compared to the thoughtful approach played out on the rest of the album.

A splendid release from the A.MA label, “The Gift” is a well-crafted, absorbing album. None too challenging, yet eminently listenable, it’s one of those recordings you can just turn on and enjoy.

Mike Gates

Muhammad Dawjee ‘Otherness Feat. Siphephelo Ndlovu EP’ (Self Released) 4/5

Jazz was once the music of the youth in South Africa. During the apartheid era, it was both the sound of struggle, against social, economic and political control, and of freedom, the freedom to dance and the freedom to think independently of the regime.

Post-apartheid, Jazz has ebbed from the public consciousness. That’s not to say that this has been a terminal decline. Jazz has become niche, a trend that’s not unique to South Africa, but music that in recent years has shown signs of reinvigoration as a younger generation engages with it on their terms. In an article for JazzTimes in 2015 heralding the “Renaissance” of South African Jazz, Mandla Mlangeni observed that “the audience here is young, upwardly mobile, and many of them didn’t grow up listening to jazz…It’s also about being attracted to the idea of jazz. It serves many different functions, on different levels.” Mlangeni knows a thing or two about this, he went on to become The Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz in 2019. He’s not alone, recent winners Siya Makuzeni, Thandi Ntuli and the current holder, Sisonke Xonti represent not only their own music but support others as well. Sounds as diverse, but distinctively South African, as those created by Gabi Motuba, Sibusile Xaba and Mabuta attest to the depth as well as the breadth of emerging talent.

In 2017 Muhammad Dawjee, who alongside Dhruv Sodha and Shailesh Pillay perform collectively as Kinsmen released their debut long-player “Window to the Ashram”. The group draw their influences from traditional and modern sources, classical Indian, to Jazz and the Avant-Garde. Alongside Kinsmen, Dawjee is also a member of The Brother Moves On and iPhupho L’ka Biko.

The theme of Identity is a common and reoccurring one in Dawjee’s music, as it is for this generation of South African artists generally. It’s not surprising, sociological factors are deep-rooted, emanating from the country’s colonial and segregationist past. High levels of unemployment and violent crime are symptomatic of continuing economic inequality and a democracy that has yet to deliver for many of the population.

For Dawjee, a fourth-generation South African of Indian descent, identity is also about the relationship of the diaspora to the ‘mother’ country.

“Otherness”, Dawjee’s first, eponymous release describes the project as “a cross-section through culture and history to dwell on questions of identity and transcendence”. Catalysed by the levels of violence in South Africa, Dawjee sees the need for cultural work to play an active role in shaping and informing resistance and self-realisation. He sees a world spiralling towards hegemony and homogeneity. Otherness exists in a mutable space outside these dominant ideologies where he urges us to create freely, not bound by preconceptions. These ideas remind me of the work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall particularly in his influential essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”.

The EP has a focussed intent but delivers its musical ideas without po-faced seriousness. The whole set has an upbeat vibe, sparking with the edgy liveliness of a jam session. This vigorous energy is honed with rich, detailed soloing. On trumpet, Lwanda Gogwana fills the air with sweet, rounded, soulful sounds. Keenan Ahrends is a bundle of fertile energy on the electric guitar, injecting the compositions with elaborate detail, without grandstanding. Dawjee’s intelligent, expressive, tenor sax is a great foil for both.

The musical language of “Dialect” is instantly recognisable as South African, the engagement of all three melody instruments spirited and conversational in their back and forths.

“Otherness” eases in with harmony and a short, sharp rhythm before opening out into the solos. Siphephelo Ndlovu features on Fender Rhodes, giving way to the funky reverb of Gogwana’s trumpet. “Double Speak” with its Orwellian connotations catches Dawjee at his most impassioned alongside Ahrends.

The single, “Otherness”, was released digitally in December 2019 and whilst we don’t have a release date for the EP keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground.

Andy Hazell