Best known for his infectious "Grazing In the Grass," a tune that topped the American Top 40 in 1968 (and which is included here), African trumpet/flugelhorn player and vocalist Hugh Masekela is no mere one- dimensional player. As evidenced by this extraordinary 11-tune package, he is an inventive composer, arranger and performer whose sometimes envelope-pushing music from nearly 40 years ago still excites. Released in conjunction with an autobiography of the same name, this riveting collection covers his Blue Thumb and Uni output from 1968 to 1974.
On the opening "Child of the Earth," he sings in an elastic style that is more legitimately jazz-rooted than many other so-called jazz vocalists, often skirting territory more closely associated with Leon Thomas. The trumpet/piano interplay of "Ha Lese Le Di Khanna" is similar to "Grazing," minus the cowbell, and the classical/Brazilian overtones of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Felicidade" is one of the triumphs of the collection. Masekela’s horn work is simply spellbinding here. The 1968 "Gold," originally issued on the Masekela
LP, presages the rise of township jive. As he sings "whose gold is this that I work for all my life" one gets a sense of his anger over the apartheid policies of his government. Masekela has never been one to shrink from expressing that anger, regardless of where he sees wrongs in need of righting. On "Mace and Grenades," from the same album, the object of that anger was an oppressive political climate in the United States in 1968.
The celebratory "Languta," recorded in Nigeria in 1973, is notable for its hip shaking rhythmic guitar/percussion groove. On the final two numbers, a large African band is augmented by pianist Joe Sample and Stix Hooper (drums) of the Jazz Messengers. The American jazz players bend to the music of Africa rather than the African players conceding to American jazz. The combination is delightful and worldly events; the husky voiced "Stimela (Coal Train)," especially, is a stunning work.