Originally released in 1969, in South Africa only and under the artist moniker, Chris Schilder Quintet (Ibrahim Khalil Shihab’s former name), “Spring” remains unfortunately over-looked in the history of Cape Jazz. This is the debut release for the pianist (who also takes the writing credit for most of the tracks) and features saxophonist and Trane acolyte Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi. The quintet is completed by Garry Kriel on guitar, drummer Gilbert Matthews and Shihab’s kid brother, Philly Schilder on bass. During the 70s, Shihab had some commercial success with jazz-rock/soul group, Pacific Express.
Circumstances around the recording, packaging and reception of the record is still a source of bitterness for Shihab. The group was allocated just two hours studio time to complete the record and was refused a request to re-record one of the tracks. “… with regard to the first album, I was disappointed and hurt by the attitude of the Johannesburg management and recording company who hurriedly pushed us on to complete. In fact, I was disgusted.” On release, it was immediately overshadowed by Mankunku’s own well-received debut, “Yakhal’ Inkomo” and to add insult to injury was subsequently included as extra tracks on that record’s mid-90s CD version.
Side one, track one; the title track and the highlight of the record. It’s a chilled soul-jazz groove with a simple sax motif and lush piano chordal work. The piano and sax solos are pleasing but I especially enjoy the beauty and fluidity of Schilder’s melodic bass. “Before the Rain and After” is uptempo and swings. The track introduces Kriel’s guitar for the first time as it trades solos with Shihab’s piano and Mankunku’s tenor sax. “Look Up” is a proficient and vibrant hard bop.
Shimmering and intense ride cymbal introduces another top track, “The Birds” before setting into a melancholic, bluesy feel. A respectful and respectable rendition of the ballad standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” closes the set.
Some 50 years later, it is clear that Shihab is still disappointed with the “terrible experience” of recording this record and it is apparent that with more studio time they would have ironed out the mistakes but the trade-off is that it has a fresh, spontaneous vibe. Hopefully, with this excellent re-issue on Matsuli, “Spring” will finally get some of the recognition it deserved on its first release.