Annie Whitehead’s Interplay bring Township sounds to Leamington

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Given the background of trombonist Annie Whitehead and her involvement with African music, it came as no surprise that the concert at Leamington's Restaurant in the Park reflected this and the spirit of Dudu Pukwana, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba was in the air. Her collaboration with bassist Adrian Litvinoff's band, Interplay, drew strong solos from all the musicians and their enjoyment was apparent throughout the evening, a feeling that transferred itself to the appreciative audience. All the material generated a freedom of expression and the opportunity for personal improvisation, but keeping within the compositional structure. This was demonstrated in works by Abdullah Ibrahim, Masekela and, suitably, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, as well as Litvinoff's own engaging composition 'The Shuffle'. Saxophonist Alan Wakeman was on top form on both tenor and soprano, and on Ibrahim's 'The Mountain' he contributed a haunting flute solo. Pianist Neil Hunter used a highly percussive approach throughout, suitably appropriate for the music. But the use of two trombones in the front line was of particular interest, Richard Baker's straight-ahead playing complementing Annie's freer and more experimental style. This was especially noticeable on J.J.Johnson's 'Kenya', a tight arrangement of the soulful number from Johnson's Let's Hang Out album of the early 1990s, all three horns doing it justice, straight from the hip. The trombonists also combined well later by building a supportive platform, supplementary riffing when Litvinoff's bass was featured.

While Dave Balen laid down a firm township beat on many of the numbers, his approach reminds this writer of the melodic textures of Chico Hamilton, alternatively vigorous then deftly understated, according to collective requirements. His percussion skills were effectively used on an improvised duet with Annie, which was followed by a solo trombone tribute to the late Roswell Rudd.

On several numbers the band was joined by vocalist Letitia George; firstly singing jazz standards – Oscar Brown Jr's 'The Snake', Mingus/George Gordon's 'Strollin'' (recalling Honi Gordon's famous versions) and a heartfelt delivery of 'God Bless The Child' which justifiably elicited the applause of her fellow performers. Pianist Hunter showed what a respectfully sensitive and thoughtful accompanist he can be. Moving into Makeba territory, she then involved the audience in a lively 'Pata Pata' – exciting and engaging, like all the evening's music.

Story and photo – Matthew Wright