It's bitterly ironic that the greatest statesmen of South African jazz made their seminal contributions elsewhere. Witness Hugh Masekela, whose exiled voice on the trumpet was heard around the world: "Grazing in the Grass"a major hit! Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim took his earthy sound abroad and recorded prolifically with players from everywhere. The list goes on and on.
Though not as well known, pianist Hotep Idris Galeta is yet another expatriate who took his music to the United States and developed his own voice. American listeners may recognize recordings he made with Jackie McLean (the 1988 classic Dynasty ) and Mario Pavone ( Toulon Days, which also featured a young unsigned Joshua Redman). Well, Galeta is back home, and he's assembled a band of younger musicians who represent the future of South African jazz. The name of Galeta's new group: the Safro Jazz Quintet.
The title track, "Malay Tone Poem," opens the disc with a gentle, swinging minor theme. Zim Ngqawana leads off with a fluttering flute solo that gradually moves from fragile stops and starts into piercing overblown intensity. But melody remains number one, and the group returns to the theme in style. Galeta has long been partial to his composition "Monk In Soweto" (which appeared on Toulon Days ). It has that blocky approach to melody that Monk made his trademark, blended with a horn arrangement that sounds unmistakably South African. An obvious place to pay tribute to a master: Galeta adopts a galloping stride and inspires a mass celebration. Time to gather your breath!
Then it's off to a bolero, a bossa nova, and other assorted styles. The group remains cohesive, yet each player has a chance to explore his own vision. The swing that persists throughout owes a great debt to drummer Kevin Gibson, who has a real knack for ignition. (Sure, he's good on the bossa nova and the downtempo material, but give him some gas and you'll see fire. Check out the energy on "Rendezvous," for example.) Zim Ngqawana, who has received international acclaim for his intense, organic playing, is at top form. Toward the end of the record, the group relaxes and you get a chance to appreciate some of the personalities behind the music. While the rhythm section lays down a heavy funk/hip hop groove, chanting voices narrate a story. The contagious refrain: "Jazz, Hip hop, Afrikan Rebop!" Instrumental and vocal improvisations zip in and out, and you get a sense that there's a party going down in the studio.
With brilliant records like this, Hotep Idris Galeta should finally be receiving the attention he deserves. This is some of the very finest jazz to ever come out of the post-bop spectrum, no matter what its country of origin.
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Personnel: Hotep Idris Galeta: piano; Zim Ngqawana: flute and saxophones; Marcus
Wyatt: trumpet and flugelhorn; Victor Masondo: bass; Kevin Gibson: