As South Africa continues its development in the post-apartheid era the courage of those who used music to alert the world to the brutal inhumanity of the old order is as important as ever. Hugh Masekela, who has died at the age of 78, was really a national institution, a talented trumpeter, vocalist and songwriter who, like his ex-wife Miriam Makeba, was boldly outspoken on the large scale human rights abuses perpetrated in his homeland over a number of years, during which time he endured the vagaries of exile in the west and covered an enormous amount of musical ground.

Born in Witbank, Johannesburg, Masekela was greatly inspired by American icons Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington as well as the richness of South African choral music and urban dance styles like kwela during his youth. Encouraged to forge his own path by the Anglican priest and anti-apartheid activist Trevor Trevor Huddleston, Masekela became part of the wave of post-war South African jazz musicians that included Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi and Dollar Brand [latterly Abdullah Ibrahim]. In the late 1950s they collectively formed the Jazz Epistles, a legendary ensemble that showed Maskela’s early promise as an improviser in a Blakey-esque hard bop setting, and also contributed to the eclectic music of the internationally successful township-based musical King Kong.

As the situation in South Africa dramatically worsened, following the heinous Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Masekela and other musicians had little option but to leave the country. The trumpeter emigrated to New York, where he won a scholarship to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and started his career as an international artist in earnest, enjoying the friendship and patronage of high profile Civil Rights activists such as Harry Belafonte. In the decades that followed Masekela trod an intriguing path between jazz, African music and soul-inflected pop, recording critically acclaimed albums such as Trumpet Africa and enjoying worldwide commercial success with the irresistibly catchy hit ‘Grazin’ In The Grass.’

Masekela’s life, in any case, was anything but a stroll in the park. His marriage to Miriam Makeba collapsed amid the pressures of celebrity, his friendship with counter culture icons such as Stephen Stills attracted the attention of the FBI, and his longing for South Africa took an emotional toll. As he told me when I first interviewed him in the millennium he went through a period where it was difficult to manage the ‘burning anger’ he felt about apartheid. Admirably, he channelled his emotions in various ways. On the one hand there was superlative improvising on sessions such as Home Is Where The Music Is, an incisive comment about his nomadic status that united him with his equally illustrious compatriot, alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and American pianist Larry Willis. On the other there was highly progressive dance music such as the sophisticated Afro-electro funk of ‘Don’t Go Lose It Baby’, a huge club track in the 80s that found favour with the ‘soul boy’ crowd as well as lovers of African music excited by its wily blend of live playing and programming.  

Masekela co-wrote the score for the Broadway musical Sarafina! and eventually returned to Mandela’s South Africa in the ‘90s. His role as an elder statesman, mentor and teacher became increasingly prominent but he still found time to regularly tour internationally, forming a popular duo with Willis, making a fine appearance at the London jazz festival in 2013. What was even more impressive was the Steve Biko Memorial lecture Maskekela gave at the London School Of Economics the following year. To hear him play flugelhorn and sing unaccompanied in a crowded lecture theatre was totally spellbinding, especially when he performed ‘Stimela’ [Coal Train], the heart-breaking ballad for migrant workers in South African mineral mines.

What moved the audience even further was the moment Masekela said that when an individual rises from disadvantaged circumstances and achieves any measure of success it is essential that they give something back to the community whence they came. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room, not simply because of the integrity of the statement. It was more the realisation that Masekela had been true to his word. He continued to shoulder that responsibility until the very end of his life.    

Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

 

Now in its fourth year, the South Coast Jazz Festival got the waves rolling in over its opening weekend on 20/21 January with a brace of big bands and big ideas, before Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll (above) sashayed out Sunday night with languorous 'Latin Flavours' duo and solo sets. Saxophonist Pete Long and the Jazz Repertory Company (below) headlined on Saturday night at Shoreham's elegant post-modern maritime designed Ropetackle Arts Centre with their big band rolling out '100 Years of Jazz in 99 minutes' show that covered the jazz waterfront from Scott Joplin right up to Weather Report, delivered with verve, aplomb and no little humour.

JazzRep--SCJF18

An even bigger band took the stage on Sunday lunchtime in the shape of Terry Pack's Trees (below), a project that, in strictly Viz-style, he refers to as an 'unfeasibly large ensemble'. Numbering close to 30 players, mostly from the upper echelon of top-notch locals, the music came mainly from their recent CD/DVD, Heart of Oak. Rich, ambitious multi-layered arrangements inspired by the landscape, myths and spirit of the Sussex Downlands and coast, the material draws from the dense artiness of Maria Schneider's large ensemble works to the carnival cunning of Loose Tubes and Cloggz, with a rising massed vocal line that touches on the spiritual at times.

Trees--SCJF18

Both south coast locals, but national vocal legends, Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll not only fit like a glove in talent, spirit and humour, but are as toasty as one as well, especially on a wind and rain-lashed night that had the fishing boats in Shoreham's harbour dancing a merry old tune. The audience warmed up in minutes as the dynamic duo laced Brazilian and Cuban threads through their well-turned tapestry of standards, both classic and contemporary. Solo and duo segments showcased their wide-ranging vocal skill and rich repertoire that took in everything from Liane's beautifully melancholic take on the Morecombe and Wise TV theme tune, 'Bring Me Sunshine', and her upbeat treatment of Donald Fagen's 'The Goodbye Look', to Shaw's masterful reworking of Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi' and spine-tingling duo shots at 'You've Got A Friend' and 'Something Stupid', preceded by a beautiful duo treatment of 'That Ole Black Magic', with singer and festival MC/co-promoter, Claire Martin, guesting with Liane in her own inimitable style.

The festival continues until 27 January at the Ropetackle Arts Centre with the following concerts and workshops: An Audience with Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev (22 Jan); Elliot Galvin Trio at The Walrus in Brighton (23 Jan); Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly (24 Jan); Clark Tracey Quintet featuring Alexandra Ridout Bebop and Beyond (25 Jan); Brotherhood of Breath – The Music of Chris McGregor (26 Jan) and Kansas Smitty's Big Four with Joe Stilgoe (27 Jan). Workshops/Events include: Jump 'N' Jazz (10-11am 22-25 Jan); Sax Workshop with Julian Nicholas (2-4pm, 22 Jan); Piano Workshop with Elliott Galvin (2-4pm, 23 Jan); Bass Workshop with Laurence Cottle (2-4pm, 24 Jan); Jazz Photography Meet-Up with Lisa Indigo Burns Wormsley (2-4pm, 25 Jan); Film Screening (2.30-4.30pm, 21 Jan); Jazz for Juniors (11am-3pm, 27 Jan) and BIMM Student Showcase (6.30-7.30pm, each day of the festival).

– Jon Newey

Photos by Lisa Wormsley

For more info visit www.southcoastjazzfestival.com

Perhaps it's a canny coincidence that's there's a tune on Julian Lage's new album called 'Roger the Dodger', as this modern master is a dab hand at usurping preconceived notions of what a Telecaster guitar can do. Some of it is barely legal for sure, such is Lage's ability to splice country-rock and classical, free jazz and high rolling rock'n'roll, which he does with abandon during the first of two sold-out sets at Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club.

He cuts a lean figure on stage and the triple whammy of high-energy opening tracks, all taken from his forthcoming Modern Lore (Mack Avenue), occasionally finds him bouncing on the spot, grinning at the possibilities that lie before him and his trio of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob. The latter pair blend seamlessly into Lage's improvisational slipstream, following with the kind of empathetic support every top flight soloist needs. They also shadow his mood - dropping to a lazy lope on the becalming 'Atlantic Limited', which also gives the audience a breather from the guitarist's gleefully intense solos.

Julian-Lage-

To his great credit Lage is exploring the deep roots of the guitar - linking the likes of Chet Atkins, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell with wit and wonder – revelling in the sparseness a single note from his battle-scarred instrument can sustain. And in a world of gear-headed guitarists, it's a rare delight to hear the instrument's distinctive twang unadorned by reverb, delay or distortion – Lage possessing such a huge lexicon of sounds simply through his fingers he doesn't need to hide behind effects.

Julian-Lage-3

The audience was no doubt packed with guitar players, who must have been in seventh heaven as Lage dazzled with mind-boggling counterpoint lines that were part Bach part blues, simultaneously ascending and descending with their own strange gravitational push and pull. Indeed, the gig orbited around Lage's audacious solos, the trio's dynamic control and simpatico grooves, resulting in an utterly mesmerising sight and sound. Only just 30-years-old, Lage has a long way to go on his deep explorations. It's going be fascinating to see where he takes his extraordinarily imaginative playing next.

Mike Flynn

– Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska

 marlene-by-Bob-Meyrick

On stage, Marlene Verplanck stood quite still, diminutive and always graceful, just letting the lyrics of the songs she sang breathe and speak for themselves. It was her perfect intonation and vocal clarity that always impressed, every performance like a masterclass, her accompanists hand-picked for their taste and swing. In Britain, it was usually John Pearce on piano, earlier it had been Geoff Eales and it was nearly always Bobby Worth at the drums. Marlene built up a network of club venues and concert locations here in Britain and her annual jaunts which had started in 1989 became a regular feature of her schedule. Her British fans were constant, happy to see her again and again.

A new UK tour was due to start in March and was again to include a Sunday set at Ronnie Scott's. But then came the news of her death on 14 January from pancreatic cancer. She was 84. Although it was first diagnosed last November, she had kept quiet about her illness, fulfilling her gigs in New York and New Jersey until a short while ago.

Marlene was from Italian-American stock, born in in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, where her family ran an Italian restaurant. She first sang briefly with Charlie Spivak's band where she met her future husband, the trombonist and arranger Billy VerPlanck, and both were then with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Marlene and Billy married in 1955 and stayed together in both a personal and musical partnership until he died in 2009.

With the band business on its knees, Marlene moved seamlessly onto the New York studio scene in the 1960s, recording literally hundreds of jingles and commercials over the next 30 years, every word clearly enunciated, every high note cleanly hit. She later embarked on a solo vocal career, masterminded at first by Billy, who was always at her side on her early visits to the UK. She recorded more than 20 albums, mostly with all-star jazz groups including one led by Pearce, others with big bands and memorably, another with the French all-saxophone group Saxomania. Any notion that she might retreat into anonymity once Billy had died was soon dispelled as Marlene flourished, playing the best New York venues and touring internationally, always upbeat and apparently tireless.

The US writer Doug Ramsey said she "was a delight to be with, gracious and funny", and so she was. RIP Marlene.

– Peter Vacher
– Photo by Bob Meyrick 

Winter Jazzfest is a big deal in New York City. The festival offers fans the chance to hear hundreds of long-established and emerging artists over six nights and 14 stages. Among predominantly US-based performers, this 14th edition opened with a sold-out showcase of British Jazz, with Gilles Peterson hosting The Comet is Coming, Nubya Garcia, Yazz Ahmed and Oscar Jerome.

Fellow Brits Sons of Kemet (pictured) also performed as part of the festival's signature 'Marathon' event: two nights of over 100 groups in venues across Lower Manhattan. The quartet drew a hefty crowd to the 700-capacity Le Poisson Rouge. From the outset, their trademark driving rhythms filled the space in a way that only their sax, tuba and two drum sets can. There was no clue of the shift in band-members since the ensemble's first album, Burn (2013): with tuba player Theon Cross (below) and drummer Eddie Hick taking over from Oren Marshall and Seb Rochford respectively. While Hick and The Comet is Coming's Max Hallett (filling in for an absent Tom Skinner) played with distinct personalities, their masterful drumming worked seamlessly together, along with Cross's never-tiring tuba grooves, and Shabaka Hutchings' enchanting tenor sax riffs. Theon captivated the audience. His incredible chops, stamina and skill over the range and technique of his instrument blurred boundaries between relentless, percussive basslines and melodic, energetic solos; the crowd adored it.

sok-nyc2

The tuba rested only as Cross took up cowbells for the ensemble's hypnotic instrumental rendition of 'Rastaman Chant', echoing Bob Marley's "Babylon throne gone down / I say fly away home to Zion". Concepts of home and confronting oppressive, institutionalised systems were emphasised as Shabaka introduced a piece from the band's forthcoming album, Your Queen is a Reptile, which is due for release on Impulse! in March. The group's third album questions the myths of hereditary privilege and 'validity', criticising the British empire, reclaiming a world where "people can accept their feminine leaders" and immigrants can question "obsolete systems". These are hot topics in the UK and US, and Shabaka's discourse fits well into Winter Jazzfest, which, according to the programme notes, "supports social and racial justice, gender equality and immigrant rights". From Marc Ribot's punk-jazz Songs of Resistance, to Alexis Cuadrado's politically-driven live soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant, these themes reemerge.

Musically, Sons of Kemet also embodied this anti-hierarchical, borderless ethos, their new work retaining characteristic qualities: driving musical eclecticism, mixing dub and Caribbean sounds with Afrobeat, electronica-like rhythms, and New Orleans grooves. This reflects the diversity of Winter Jazzfest – from the sensory electronic experimentalism of Susie Ibarra's Dreamtime Ensemble, via Matt Wilson's poetry-driven Honey & Salt Band, to Jazzmeia Horn's R&B-influenced scatting. These showcases, then, were not about being British, American or other, but about discovery, compassion, energy, jazz. Nonetheless, it was thrilling to witness a UK band enthral a captivated New York audience.

- Celeste Cantor-Stephens
– Photos by Josh Cheuse

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