Heads Up president Dave Love’s dedication to bringing South African jazz to worldwide listeners is admirable.... and successful. After experiencing a sort of epiphany during a visit to South Africa with Joe McBride in 1998, Love realized artistically that the country possesses musicians whose voices are unlike those anywhere else in the world and commercially that there must be a market for such individualistic and inspiring music. Starting the Africa Series of Heads Up, Love exposed relatively unknown South African musicians in his Smooth Africa
dual releases, not to mention the recent Raise Your Spirit Higher
by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
With Africa Straight Ahead,
Heads Up has come up with a surprise: a CD of straight-ahead jazz by the country’s top musicians. The entire attitude of the project is clearly and vigously stated on the first track, "Owed to Bishop," by trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. Sounding for all the world like a Freddie Hubbard devotee over pianist Andile Yenana’s Tynerish attention to deeply rooted minor chords, Wyatt pursues a hard bop course of rising intensity. The next number, Paul Hanmer’s "Naivasha," relies on complex throbbing bass lines to animate the composition and to ground it in native culture, even as the horns waver between the extroversion of the opening statement and the naturalistic bleating sounds of the ending.
Once the preconceptions about the music are shattered and the listener settles into enjoyment, Africa Straight Ahead
offers quite a few additional nuggets.
Like Darius Brubeck and Afro Cool Concept, sounding more like Vince Guaraldi than his father Dave Brubeck, as the younger Brubeck combines understated flow with melodic irresistibility. The last time I heard him perform, he was part of Two Generations of Brubeck, and it’s gratifying to hear how he has carried on his father’s tradition of mentoring new generations of musicians, even as Brubeck has adapted to the musical language of adopted country.
Like rediscovering pianist Hotep Idris Galeta leading his own group after he returned to South Africa in 1991, leaving behind him in the United States recordings with Jackie McLean, Elvin Jones, Bobby Hutcherson and many others. Having received encouragement from his high school friend Abdullah Ibrahim, Galeta went full circle, as he now on Africa Straight Ahead
performs the folkloric "Shawn’s Uhadi Samba," as rich in cultural references as is Ibrahim’s music.
Like the uplifting call-and-response structure of "Langery" by the Sheer All Stars, organized by Damon Forbes, president of Sheer Sound. With a circular chord structure underlying its celebratory feel, "Langery" was intended to get listeners on their feet to dance, and it no doubt succeeds in that objective during live performances.
The "surprise" of Africa Straight Ahead
is the straight-ahead nature of the jazz. With inherent ability to inspire listeners, the musicians on the CD prove that their ears have been opened to the jazz that developed, primarily on vintage Blue Note albums, in the United States. And now that rest of the world can become aware of the synergistic nature of the world’s music as top South African musicians infuse the feel of vintage jazz with musical references from their own experiences in their native country.