preview GLASGOW JAZZ FESTIVAL
A CAPPELLA Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Glasgow: Old Fruitmarket, Sat 4 Jul.
Nowadays it seems nothing is sacred. South African a cappella collective Ladysmith Black Mambazo's entrancing single ’lnkanyezi Nezazi (The Star And The Wiseman)’, re-released to coincide with their first British concerts in two years, now comes packaged like a baked beans label (it was featured in the Heinz TV ad campaign) and with club and dub remixes.
Founding member Joseph Shabalala is known as a great ambassador for his group’s music and the indigenous tradition it upholds. Yet he is not remotely fazed at the appropriation of such a pure form of communication for Western commerical ends. He sees it as a way of taking the isicathamiya tradition to new audiences.
This style of a cappella singing, with tenor and bass voices overlapping and harmonising effortlessly, started among the impoverished black workers in the South African mines. Shabalala pieced together his contemporary version of this sophisticated communal sing-song during the 1960s. Singing mainly in Zulu, Ladysmith Black Mambazo blazed a trail through South Africa's singing competitions and have been recording albums since 1970.
However, it was their involvement in Paul Simon’s Graceland album in the mid-80s which took their music
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: mates with Mandela
to a global audience. This heightened profile has since led to collaborations with Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, The Wynans and George Clinton - and to friends in high places. Nelson Mandela is an acknowledged fan.
’The first day when we met him, he said “hey Joseph, I have been touring around the world and I heard people talking about your group. Carry on doing a good job",' says Shabalala. ’He just sounds like a young man when you talk to him.’
Although Ladysmith Black Mambazo occupy a specific musical tradition, they perform original material written by Shabalala. He agrees that the changes wrought in South Africa in the last few years have been a major inspiration.
’The constitution now allows everyone to do what he wants to do,’ he says. ’People are starting to respect one another. The white people can come and see our shows. There is freedom of movement since Mandela. When we come back, we don't have to fill in the forms now. We are treated like we're coming home.’
With more than thirty years of musical achievement behind him, Shabalala's remaining ambition is to open an academy to teach indigenous South African music and culture.
’People are very excited about this music,’ he says. ’We want to build the school for our people to learn where they came from, where they are going and who they are.’ (Fiona Shepherd)
Konitz is enjoying a very creative period, as demonstrated in recent releases like the quintet session Di'g Dug Dog (Columbia) or A/one Together (Blue Note), featuring a trio in which Konitz’s airy, inventive alto and Haden’s fluid bass work were joined by pianist Brad Mehldau, one of the names to watch on the current US scene. This project offers yet another challenge, but it is the kind of situation which he has always valued.
’I enjoy having the opportunity to play with a lot of different people. For me, that means really having to
Konitz, Bley, Haden Old Fruitmarket, Sat 4 Jul.
The main stage presentations may have shrunk in quantity to a more realistic level at this year‘s festival, but the artists involved maintain the high standards the festival has set. That is certainly true of this intriguing trio of great improvising musicians, all of whom value subtlety over showboating.
Charlie Haden is the junior partner,
Charlie Haden: fluid bass
havmg come to prominence With Ornette Coleman in the early 605. By that time, Paul Bley already had the best part of a decade of innovative piano playing under his belt from the release of his debut album in 1953 on, appropriately enough, Charles Mingus’s Debut label, while Konitz’s track record took in Miles Davis’s so- called Birth of the Cool nonet, the Kenton Orchestra, and a famous association with Lennie Tristano even before Bley’s album was made.
experience who I am playing with, not just using them, as so many musicians do, for an energy stimulus or whatever, but really hearing the notes and the chords, and playing according to them. It becomes as close to a spontaneous situation as possible,’ is Konitz's take on collaboration. ’I think that is good for everybody, and I have made a kind of career out of it. It means starting from scratch each time, which is good. And bad as well!’
Jimmy Smith Glasgow: Old Fruitmarket, Wed 1 Jul.
Jimmy Smith may not have been the first jazzman to explore the Hammond organ, but he was responsible for elevating it to a viable lead voice in jazz, and laid down the ground rules for the popular sow-jazz organ sound which won Widespread attention in the 605. Smith himself took his cue from Wild Bill Davis (born, as it happens, in Glasgow — Glasgow, Missouri, that is).
’I started out playing piano, but the pianos were always out of tune, and then I heard Wild Bill Davis play the organ in 1955, and I bought myself one the very next day — I had to have it,’ enthuses Smith. ’J played jazz all my life, and I just play the pure Hammond. It's not like modern synthesizers that do it all for you — you got to play the stuff, but I still practice on piano as well. With piano the technique is harder, because the action is stronger, and when you leave the piano and go to the organ, you better hold on, because your hands gonna fly away.’
The instrument retained serious cult status, but the mid-90s saw a fully- fledged revival of interest, with Hammond-led organ trios emerging in numbers, and a whole new wave of interest in the work of pioneers like Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Les McCann and Charles Earland.
Smith established a sophisticated improvisational style within his elemental fusion of bop and blues, and if the formula evolved to some degree over the decades, in essence it has changed very little. His concerts may offer predictable pleasures, but they remain powerful enough, and he Will be joined by a fine band, featuring Herman Riley (saxes), Phil Upchurch (gunar) and Jimmy Jackson (drums). So - is that a big enough sound to keep up with the man?
’Yeah, man, a quartet is enough. In fact, I'm enough all by myself.’
Jimmy Smith: wanted for keyboard arson
ZS Jun-9 Jul 1998 THE U376