Crawford in Cape Town was the birthplace of this musician, 1941 the date, and the rich musical culture of the city, during that time, was the cradle. Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) became Hotep’s mentor during his formative years after they met at a High School jazz concert in Athlone, Cape Town, and it was this kind of support that nurtured Hotep and brought him to the attention of other players in Cape Town. Some of these players (Cecil Ricca, Dudu Pukwana and Chris McGregor amongst others) shared the bandstand with him and provided him with guidance and influence, imprinting sounds that would follow him on his travels around the world.
Hotep left South Africa in 1961, moving first to London and then to New York, remaining in exile from his home for thirty years. However while in exile Hotep was not content to continue producing music in the same style or mannerisms; he continued to grow musically, expanding his vocabulary, furthering his piano studies under John Mehegan, and even going on to attain a masters degree in jazz studies. It is therefore not surprising that he went on to work with many great jazz artists, such as Joshua Redman, Herb Alpert, Elvin Jones and Archie Shepp, leaving a recorded legacy of roughly eighteen albums, including one with Hugh Masekela.
In 1985, six years before his return to South Africa he was appointed as lecturer in jazz studies at the Hartt College of Music in Connecticut, but the call of home was to strong. Since 1991 he has lived in and around Cape Town and has been involved in many educational projects and institutions, mostly in a non-profit capacity. He currently looks after a jazz outreach program that operates from the Artscape Performing Arts Theatre in Cape Town, South Africa.
This sterling recording features the combined talents of some of the top musicians from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Marcus Wyatt is featured here on trumpet, often muted, and flugelhorn, and what is exiting about his playing here is that we are starting to hear a strong individual voice with a defined and recognizable style. Another interesting choice of musician is Zim Ngqawana on flute and saxophone. Zim is known mainly for his own recordings that have a distinct sound and feel, almost an African avant-garde, but here Zim shows us that he can slot into another musicians project with ease, without sacrificing anything of his own trademark sounds. Both these soloists weave through the chord changes with confidence but with distinctly different approaches to rhythm.
Kevin Gibson’s percussion work clearly exhibits his ability to hold the time together while giving us clear indication of the harmonic form of the work. He also latches onto the soloists’ dynamic and rhythmical movements, supporting rather than interfering with their statements. Victor Masondo lays down the grooves and gives us glimpses into his technique, especially when playing the melody, check out his harmony to the head of track two, ‘Monk in Soweto’.
But the highlight on this CD is the pianist. Hotep exhibits influences from Thelonious Monk to Cecil Taylor to Chick Corea. I asked him about this and his simple reply was ‘I like to wear many hats.’ This is not surprising when after talking to him I was struck by the number of musicians he mentioned working with or having played alongside. On track four, ‘Harold’s Bossa’, the influence of Corea is as plain as daylight, and as it turns out the two pianists are good friends! On track two, ‘Monk in Soweto’, Hotep dons his Monk hat, etching out the angular chord voicings and characteristic dissonances with grace. But for all of these chameleon like qualities his playing is distinctly South African. Whether he is working his way through a blues, a samba, a bossa, or any other style he still sounds distinctly Cape Tonian, taking a modern and progressive approach to existing forms and African elements; isn’t this what all great jazz innovators do?
With this, his second album as leader, and one other solo album, Hotep is stamping his mark firmly onto the South African jazz landscape. And with his continuing involvement in jazz education and outreach programs you can be sure this spirit will spill over, onto and into the new generations of players.