The connections between UK and South African jazz have been strong ever since the 1960s with the influx of The Blue Notes and other exiles. London-born saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, who grew up in Barbados and spent some of his teenage years in the West Midlands and played in Walsall Jazz Orchestra and MYJO, has since become a major player and bandleader on the international scene, his music transcending the jazz sphere and always containing strong Africa elements.
The seven Ancestors are all South African musicians, Hutchings’ connection to them coming first from trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni whom he met through the Amandla Freedom Ensemble which Mlangeni leads. The others are Mthunzi Mvubu (alto saxophone), Siyabonga Mthembu (vocals), Nduduzo Makhathini (Fender Rhodes, piano), Ariel Zomonsky (bass), Tumi Mogorosi (drums) and Gontse Makhene (percussion). Hutchings’ compositions feed on a shared heritage with strong song-like structures.
The playing is more conservative than in Hutchings’ other groups like Sons Of Kemet, and The Comet Is Coming and the electronic manipulation more subtle but the elements of slowly developing energy – strong bass ostinati with brewing percussion and Rhodes supporting circular tunes and phrases from the horns – which sometimes reach an almost trancelike state are still there.
It’s great to hear Hutchings’ deep tenor tone in less frenetic surroundings and this is highly cohesive, richly atmospheric music. With his characteristic use of minimalist-linked repeated phrases and also North African and Caribbean touches, Shabaka brings new, revitalising twists to the South African township jazz tradition. The album is on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label and is a really good listen. One suspects the elders would nod sagely in approval.
Categories: CD review