Jazz: In memory of the Blue Notes

Contemporary Music Network: Ingoma and Mujician Arnolfini, Bristol
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The Blue Notes were a modern jazz group who, under the pressure of apartheid, left their native South Africa for Europe in 1965, eventually settling in London. Having already established a strong original sound comparable to (yet arrived at independently of) Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, their effect on the musicians who gathered at Ronnie Scott's Old Place club was incendiary, and helped to create the distinctive identity of British post-pop jazz.

Then, sadly, over the next 25 years, the members of the group - trumpeter Mongezi Feza, bassist Johnny Dyani, pianist Chris McGregor, and saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, all died, with only the drummer Louis Moholo surviving.

Dedicated to the memory of the Blue Notes, this CMN tour brought together the new generation of South African jazz, in the shape of the saxophonist Zim Ngqawana's sextet Ingoma, with representatives of the Blue Notes' British legacy, Keith Tippett, Tony Levin, Paul Rogers and Paul Dunmall, who make up the quartet Mujician.

Ingoma performed first, their music immediately summoning up the mix of township rhythms, bop structures and ethereal, emotion-tugging harmonies for which the Blue Notes, and that other famous South African composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, are celebrated. Playing two flutes, tenor and soprano saxes, penny whistle and even a brief go at a harmonica, Ngqawana spread himself a little thinly between his instruments over a short set, but the grace and expression of his playing were most effective.

Mujician followed, and the intensity level suddenly rose tenfold. They have been playing together for 10 years and represent a kind of old-style, unreconstructed form of free improvisation that makes no concessions to namby-pamby Post-Modernism. Nor does it take any prisoners. A short, 30- minute set was continuously inventive, the spontaneously composed music (ie, they make it up as they go along) still shockingly new, and whenever a reliance on obscure textural effects (plucked piano strings, bass string glissandos, odd reed warblings) threatened to take over, the ticking jazz rhythms of Tony Levin's masterly drumming brought them back into the tradition. They were stunningly good.

For the second half of the concert, both groups came together as The New Notes Collaboration. Ngqawana stuck more or less to his sax and played superbly; the horn chorus belted out rich township-jazz phrases, and Tippett veered from deep rolling hymn-book chords to joyous, Mingus-era, bop-piano styles.

But with such pain and tragedy as the sub-text for much of the performance, the tears had to come out sometime. This they did for Tippett's almost unbearably moving threnody for Mongezi Feza, when the band members produced a glass harmonica drone by rubbing wine glasses with their fingers, and quietly chanted the syllables of the trumpeter's name as a kind of magical invocation. It was a most fitting tribute.