I’ve been following Kyle Shepherd’s career ever since I heard one track off his first album ‘Fine Art’ about a decade ago on BBC Radio in the UK. For some reason that’s the closest he’s come to the UK although he has played in Europe – mainly in Switzerland and also in Japan and in Africa. That he hasn’t reached the UK is an oversight by many as he is easily as interesting and technically proficient player and composer as those younger generation pianists from South Africa like Bokani Dyer and others who have visited these shores.
This recording, his seventh, is intriguing for a number of reasons; it’s his first on vinyl – unusual for Matsuli to take a new recording to their catalogue as their output has been one of reissuing classic material from the archives. And there are other connections too. As well as being an accomplished jazz pianist, Kyle has in recent years also become a successful film score writer and this recording is similarly programmatic in nature being on vinyl two extended 20-minute or so tracks encompassing a number of his tunes and also improvised sections.
On digital, although still separate tracks they fit together smoothly to create one 45 minute suite – when I spoke to Kyle (for an upcoming ukvibe interview) he confirm he had indeed recorded the music in one uninterrupted set. He also said that his idea of vinyl meant the need for the music he recorded to be edited down to 45 minutes to fit the restrictions on vinyl. Kyle is nonetheless delighted with the finished result.
Being a solo piano recording, this programmatic approach does of course have echoes of Abdullah Ibrahim and his predilection in solo concerts to run his material into long evocative sets. Kyle is no copyist but does reference the South African jazz tradition and roots in his work. He was a student of the great Zim Ngqawana and that first album included tracks like Zimology and A.I. (for Abdullah Ibrahim).
Of course, South African jazz does not stand alone and has older and continuing links to jazz in the US, the UK, Europe and elsewhere. So, the first section of the first Side is ‘For Keith’, a delicate and poignant improvised elegy to that other great pianist, Keith Jarrett, who has sadly and recently had to stop performing because of two strokes.
The rest of Side A are re-interpretations of tracks from his previous albums ‘Desert Monk; Reinvention/Johannesburg’ (both on Dream State); ‘Sweet Zim Suite’, ‘Coleen’s Rose’ (A Portrait of Home) and ‘Buddy’s Well of Beauty’ (South African History IX).
The music flows imperceptibly through those tunes with beautiful timing, rolling chords and for ‘Sweet Zim Suite’ and ‘Colleen’s Rose’, in particular, showcasing affecting and moving melodies. Coline’s Rose as it is spelt on the original recording is dedicated to Coline Williams and Robbie Waterwich who died in an anti-apartheid action in July 1989. You can find more information and the significance of the Rose here: www.sahistory.org.za/people/coline-williams
Side B again starts with a new melody, ‘Dazuifu’, which is named after a peaceful Zen garden that Kyle has visited on his many trips to Japan. Then we move through more reinterpreted tracks ‘Cry of the Lonely’ (FineArt), ‘Desert Monk II’ and ‘Zikr’ (Both Dream State). ‘Zikr’, which has Eastern overtones, has passages that sound like a prepared piano or the use of reaching into the strings. And then that slightly abrupt and hanging ending edit has you wanting more.
This is an excellent and mature recording that will benefit from much re-listening and given that Matsuli is a joint SA/UK outfit and the distributors are London’s Honest Jon’s Records I hope that this might mean that Kyle will finally be able to play some UK gigs. And if he does, Covid willing, I will be one of the first in the queue for tickets.
Release schedule: Digital 1st September 2021 with Vinyl due 11th October 2021. Purchase link here