NYJB’s Moses leads us out of Eishkom Darkness and into the Promised Land

Photo: supplied/NAF

According to the Standard Bank Jazz Festival programme, the National Youth Jazz Band comprises a “selection of the top young jazz musicians in the country between the ages of 19 and 25 years”. This year’s band sent an 18-year-old Moses Sebula to lead the audience to the promised land.

Following the stellar Standard Bank National Schools Big Band performance of songs from the jazz standard repertoire, the 2018 Youth Jazz Band introduced itself to the audience with a different look at “Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles mortes)” – featuring a refrain from Brathew van Schalkwyk on piano, which served as the reference point holding together this fresh interpretation of the song composed in 1945. A wonderful trumpet solo from Thabo Sikhakhane provided the exclamation point to state the band’s intentions.

Having invited the audience in with something familiar and prepared us for new conceptions, the band performed a songbook of new compositions by its members – kicked off by “Letters home” from bassist Sean Sanby.

With a deliciously melancholy tone on the electric bass, Sanby gave as much as he could until a power cut forced the band to make do without him.

Undettered, Sanby continued where he left off as the venue’s generators kicked in – demonstrating the band’s readiness for the listening and inventiveness required to play in the space of improvisation.

The band’s repertoire steered the audience towards something “’n Bietjie Hectic” by band pianist Brathew van Schalkwyk – a tune which ebbed and flowed between hectic moments, made sense of by the moments of calm found at the eye of the storm.

Interpreting the storm engulfing South Africa’s society, tenor saxophonist Moses Sebula of the Tshwane University of Technology, took us through the emotion behind the headlines representing the dark shadow of violence that covers the national reconciliation project. “Muti killings” scream the headlines, from the merchants of shock.

In this setting, the tenor saxophone modulated between mourning for the “Lost Souls” (the tune’s title) abducted from their earthly place and, wailing on behalf of the loved ones left behind – familiar beings taken too soon, for the sake of harvesting their body parts.

The tune which built to a crashing crescendo thanks to the drums of Damian Kamineth, lead the performance to a sturdy outro by the three players on horns – Ofentse Moshwetsi (alto sax), Thabo Sikhakhane (trumpet) and the 18 year-old author of it all, Moses Sebula (tenor sax). A well-earned standing ovation rewarded the efforts coming from the stage.

Lifting the mood, the band’s vocalist introduced a tune that I could easily hear as part of the next Michael Bublé album. “One More Road”, a song about the uncertainty that plagues our young, faced with a plethora of choices, while still building their decision-making frameworks.

With this year’s arranger Amanda Tiffin putting in work on backing vocals, the tune provided lighter fare ahead of the meat and potatoes finish delivered by the final tune of the night.

With his older brother Linda Sikhakhane (tenor saxophonist) eliciting the image of a John Coltrane hologram, wherever he has appeared on stage at the festival, Thabo Sikhakhane contributed a tune that put the comparisons to rest. These siblings are less like Michael and the other members of the “Jackson 5”, they’re more like Beyoncé and her younger sister Solange – two distinct performers, contributing to a collective narrative of excellence.

“Brotherly Love” (inspired by the bond between the brothers), took the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band home – a trip started in the vehicle of bass player Sean Sanby (uninterrupted this time), inspiring unnecessary comparisons to 2017 Young Artist Award winner Benjamin Jephta’s “Mombelli” interlude.

Along for the ride, vocals continued the musical journey home, with the trumpet of Ofentse Moshwetsi giving melody to the intro. Some strong, comfy seating in this vehicle was contributed by the bass, drums and piano. While a taxi strike makes news headlines, this vehicle is certainly roadworthy. Next stop – main stage (hopefully with some Sisterly Love along for the ride).

By Mandisa Mpulo