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Africans in Space by Marcus Wyatt

From the beginnings of jazz, the trumpet has had it mark stamped firmly on the canvas that forms our picture of the genre. The ‘Hot Five’ and ‘Hot Seven’ recordings by Louis Armstrong made between 1925 and 1928 are generally regarded as the first recorded examples of jazz and while at that point he was still at cornettist, his 1930 switch to trumpet proved to be the one we all remember him for. From that time onwards the predominant soloists were horn players, from Louis Armstrong to Bix Beiderbecke and the bebop revolutions of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis and later the radical changes the partnership between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry brought about.

In South Africa there have had many great horn stars. From the jazz epistles, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi and their pianist of the time, Dollar Brand, the horn has been prominent in South African jazz. Marcus Wyatt continues that tradition, reviving some old, inventing some new and challenging the boundaries set out by current commercial definitions of jazz.

Marcus Wyatt’s musical journey began at the age of eleven when he began playing the trumpet in his school band. His father was involved with the local Port Elizabeth folk club and he recalls his early South African musical influences being provided by folk artists like Steve Newman and Tony Cox. While still in school he played the classical trumpet for orchestras in and around Port Elizabeth but his love for jazz was awakened during his service for the South African Naval Band.

After his military service Marcus went on to complete a degree in jazz arrangement and composition at the University of Cape Town and then moved on to Johannesburg to further his career. It was while living in Johannesburg that Marcus feels he really began to discover his African roots. He tells me that "Growing up under apartheid I was not exposed to any of the great eastern cape acoustic musicians", like Chris McGregor and Mongesi Feza, it was only later that he has become aware of, and involved with that legacy.

Marcus recently returned from roughly a year spent in Amsterdam, he says "I left South Africa to discover my identity; what was amazing was that I met African people in Amsterdam who embraced me as an African."

This reaffirmed love for his homeland is present throughout his new release for the Sheer Sound label, titled ‘Africans in space’. The CD is a collection of pieces, which were mainly composed while Marcus was in Amsterdam, and reflect his longing for home. This release differs from his previous one, ‘The gathering’, in many ways but is definitely a stronger musical statement. The overall sound of the CD is more open; almost ECM like, and the arrangements have really encouraged the other musicians to play to at the edge of their abilities. Strong solo work abounds on the CD, both in flash and taste. Marcus’ solo on track 3, ‘Umculo Wakwantu’, is exceptionally tasteful and restrained with the rhythm section latching attentively onto every motive. Another favorite is not necessarily a solo but Mnisi’s gentle first statement of the melody on track 6, ’Awakening’, the duet between bass and saxophone allows the melody to float, obscuring and enhancing the meter of the tune.

In Nontuthuzelo South Africa has a new jazz vocalist, Marcus says that ‘She is one of the musicians, working with the band’ not separate from it. He feels it is rare to get a vocalist that works as cohesively with the band as she does. Specifically look at the ease with which she handles the complex lyric and melody of track 7, ‘You were there’. Tsoaeli’s bass work is exemplary as always, but check out the solo bass intro on track 6, ’Awakening’, and track 9, ‘Little ones’. On track nine he starts with melodic work and then sets up a swinging groove for the trumpets first statement of the melody.

Track 11, ‘Black Genesis’, harkens back to Marcus’ first release ‘Gathering’, and starts out with a strong bop influenced head with the sax and trumpet dueting on the melody. It then breaks down to just bass and piano for the first part of the piano solo, Fransman fleshing out angular and original lines, uncompromisingly new yet still melodic, and when Kesivan bring back the groove the drums swing hard and fresh.

There is much to say about this CD but the best way to convey it is definitely not in words. ‘Africans in space’ is a real jazz CD, modern, yet never forsaking it’s Africaness. Also worth getting is Marcus’ other release ‘Gathering’ from 2000, which features a different set of musicians and provides a soundtrack to the evolution of his sound. Get into this African’s space.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marcus Wyatt
  • CD Title: Africans in Space
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Sheer Sound
  • Musicians: Marcus Wyatt (trumpet and flugelhorn), Sydney Mnisi (tenor and soprano saxophone), Nontuthuzelo Puoane (voice), Mark Fransman (piano and fender rhodes), Andile Yenana (piano), Herbie Tsoaeli (double bass), Kesivan Naidoo (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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