So-called "world jazz" never found as international a traveler as Kevin Clark. His independently- released record Once Upon A Song I Flew takes its title to heart in both transcontinental and transcendental senses. Clark left South Africa three decades ago for New Zealand, but he never abandoned his roots. In the interim, he has traveled and absorbed styles from South America and the Caribbean. All that translates into a gentle marriage between discovery and tradition, realized here on this (mostly) quintet (mostly) acoustic (mostly) jazz set.
All that mostly business refers to the open-ended nature of the project. Clark plays piano, flugelhorn, and trumpet, so his voice is not always easy to pin down. The rest of his core crew apparently Kiwisincludes drummer Maurice Philips, saxophonist Colin Hemmingsen, percussionist Lance Philip, and either electric bassist Tim Robertson or acoustic bassist Paul Dyne. While the jazz side of the record tends toward a warm, soft-edged bop, it has its moments of intensity as well.
"Township Talk" most directly illustrates the South African influence, realized through the bouncy cyclical harmonies of so-called "township jazz" or mbaqanga. The piece takes advantage of a lilting soprano melody and regular returns to the upbeat refrain. Clark implies a non-linear rhythmic edge through his blocky chording, reinforced by Philip's oblique, Cuban-inspired accents. "Samba de Praia" delves into the Brazilian side of the diaspora, riding lightly over cymbal and bell rhythms. Without pretense or ambition, the samba brings cultures together quite elegantly.
Other tunes include the meditative, neoclassical "Raganometry" (aptly named, given its sound and Eastern instrumentation); a couple of straight-ahead jazz tunes ("Scroggin's Waltz" and the title track, which adds vocalist Robin McLennan to marginal benefit); plus excursions into Celtic, Caribbean, and Arabic traditions. But from the beginning to the end, South Africa remains the dominant inspiration in tone, style, and instrumentation. (Listen for the traditional pennywhistle sound on "Kapiti Kwela," for example.)
Despite the fact that Once Upon A Song I Flew never made it onto an official record label, the Kiwis are still very excited about itthe record won this year's New Zealand Jazz Music Award. That is but a parenthetical reason to check out one man's truly global vision, realized with the help of a vibrant and sympathetic group of like-minded artists.
Contact: Kevin Clark, Tel(04)233 8202, 56 Steyne Avenue, Plimmerton, New Zealand. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This disc is available from Smoke CDs on the web.
Track Listing: A Night in Okavango; Samba de Praia; Sapkamma; Township Talk; Raganometry; Scroggin's Waltz;
Once Upon A Song I Flew; Egoli Jump; Celticrocity; Kapiti Kwela; Under the Southern Cross; The
Tararua Camelbacks; Sikelele uMandela.
Personnel: Kevin Clark: piano, flugelhorn, and trumpet; Maurice Philips: drums; Paul Dyne: acoustic bass
(1,2,3,6,7,8); Tim Robertson: electric bass (4,5,9,10,11,12); Colin Hemmingsen: tenor and soprano
saxophones, EWI (10); Lance Philip: percussion; Dave Parsons: Indian string instruments (5,12);
Robin McLennan: vocal (7); Fran Barton: vocal instrumentation (2,11). Recorded February 2002 at
Massey University Conservatorium of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.