Classical Going transcontinental

Going transcontinental

If you ask who is one of the kookiest musicians that South Africa has to offer, Carlo Mombelli springs to mind. But, apparently, he is only mildly kooky compared to the French musicians with whom he is performing at the Paris-Joburg gig tonight, which isdefinitely one of the highlights at this year’s Jazz Festival programme.

It’s a mixing of two cultures and headspaces. Mombelli admits he is the normal one out of the bunch. “I am Mary Poppins, I am Mary Poppins!” he shouts, continuing, “They’re off their rockers!” referring to the French musicians. Paris-Joburg is an avant garde collaborative project that is set to explode on stage tonight. I managed to watch the piece when it toured Cape Town earlier this month and it is a mind blowing transcontinental jazz experiment.

The local contingent is led by Mombelli on bass with his Prisoners of Strange: Siya Makuzeni (vocals, trombone), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet) and Justin Badenhorst (drums). Maniacal soundmaster Braka heads up his French quartet with Lucia Recio (vocals), Nicolas Stephan (tenor and alto sax) and Daniel Malavergne (tuba).

Musical mad scientist
Braka himself is not unlike a musical mad-scientist on drums. He uses sound effects from ordinary objects, such as toys, together with vocals, trombone, various percussive instruments and turntables. This is well contrasted by the quirky humour laced in Mombelli’s playing as bandleader. After two months of touring, Mombelli, though exhausted, still talks excitedly.

He explains the background of the project: “I was working on a project called Lutherie Urbaine with a company in Paris that builds musical instruments out of rubbish.” “They established it worldwide and asked me to handle the same project in South Africa. Braka was involved with them and that’s how we met.” “Braka heard Prisoners of Strange, fell in love with the musicians and said we needed to do something together. He came up with the concept of Paris-Joburg.”

From Paris to Sophiatown
The repertoire presented by the double quartet consists not only of original compositions by both Mombelli and Braka, but also Parisian standard pieces interpreted and re-arranged by Mombelli, and famous original South African compositions interpreted and re-arranged by Braka’s quartet. The process combines writing and improvisation with traditional standards.

The project has been running for a few months and the same repertoire was played first in Paris, and then in South Africa, where both quartets fuse styles of Valse Musette from Paris and 50s and 60s Sophiatown jazz. It is something that should not be missed by anyone remotely interested in the beauty of improvisation and sound experimentation.

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