Jazz Listening to the ground

Listening to the ground

On Friday at 5pm a packed DSG Hall buzzed in anticipation of the first performance by pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. In that audience seated side by side were two previous winners, both pianists, Bokani Dyer and Kyle Shepherd.

Nduduzo Makathini performing in the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz show, at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Accompanies by other musicians, they performed songs that paid homage to musical ancestors. (Photo: CuePix/ Sithasolwazi Kentane)

Nduduzo Makathini performing in the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz show, at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Accompanies by other musicians, they performed songs that paid homage to musical ancestors.
(Photo: CuePix/ Sithasolwazi Kentane)

Makhathini balances intensity with a broad smile. He clearly enjoys every moment of playing his music with his sextet. The gig begins with a quartet version of Supreme High, an obeisance to John Coltrane, with a suitable tenor solo by mature Swedish saxman Karl-Martin Almqvist. Fellow Swede Martin Sjöstedt (Festival Director Alan Webster calls him an honorary South African) is on double bass and the ebullient Ayanda Sikade (who played with Makhathini in the late Zim Ngqawana’s Zimology Quartet) is on drums. Trumpeter Feya Faku, a crowd favourite, joins in for the next tune, a samba-influenced tribute to late US singer Abbey Lincoln and SA maskandi musician Busi Mhlongo.

This composition and the next one show how Makhathini has been influenced by US musicians as much as by South Africans, although of course, rooted in African culture. When he plays his legs seem to be dancing a Charleston. Nomagugu Makhathini, resplendent in an orange and red striped dress, sings a melody of love, complemented by a Stöstedt bass solo, and some bluesy piano from Mr Makhathini.

Then a voice becomes a third horn for dirge-like tune with French chanson influences, followed by an extended township vibe opus, which allows Makhathini, Almqvist and, particularly, Feya Faku (now on flugelhorn) to solo impressively. I got lost with the titles (Makhathini, like many musicians is not crystal clear about which composition is which) but Say Mother clearly gives him – and Nomagugu – particular joy. Sjöstedt seems to have revived the art of the walking bass, much scorned by many contemporary bassplayers. I welcome it.
Although the gig displayed Makhathini’s considerable chops, he gave a great deal of space to his band. If the concert was slightly less stimulating than one expected, then one takes into account the pressures of the award, and of relatively hasty collaboration. Catch him on Tuesday in an all-South African Sextet. I suspect that’ll be the one!

Nigel Vermaas
Cue contributing editor

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