Voice: Songs For Our Grandchildren (2003)
Holding true to the identity established on Volume 1 of this series, the South African bop quintet known as Voice has chosen to stick to material that represents their country's jazz legacy on Volume 2: Songs For Our Grandchildren. You wouldn't necessarily appreciate that fact on first listen, given this group's overwhelming literacy in the world jazz tradition. But maybe that's the point: it doesn't really matter what country you come from in the end. Or does it?
Two compositions by the late Kippie Moeketsi and guitarist Allen Kwela round out a set of originals from the crew, spanning the range from a deliberate, paced ballad ("I Remember Billy") to an off-kilter Monkish romp ("Scullery Department") to zippy hard bop ("Syd's Dilemma"). Each tune most definitely has its own flavor.
"Ida," dedicated to saxophonist Sydney Mnisi's mother, starts out languid and lyrical, gradually moving into a lightly bossa-tinged beat. The horny head is very brief, leaving almost the entire tune open to exploration. Marcus Wyatt's faltering flugelhorn solo tells a story of melancholy loss, floating at mid-tempo from phrase to phrase. Mnisi's second solo, on soprano, endows the tune with a forward-looking edge, singing birdlike over the changes and heading toward resolution.
The optimistic "Days Mandulo" immediately hits with a punchy edge, driven by harmonized horns toward a swinging conclusion. Wyatt works his horn for all it's worth when he gets to the front, stretching the beat like a rubber band and riding roughshod along rippling bebop lines. But more than showcasing any particular player, this tune emphasizes a group identity. These musicians listen and respond, keeping it tight through the changes.
Bassist Herbie Tsoaeli's "Children in the Rain" has the most readily identifiable South African flavor of any piece on the record. His descending lines provide as much structure as anchor, serving as a complement to pianist Andile Yenana's alternating Tyner-ish chords. Yenana, more than any other player here, has his ears attuned to the vocal harmonies, township rhythms, and cyclical flow of his country's music. Those features may be sublimated in this setting, but subtlety is usually a mark of maturity.
Whatever their roots, the members of Voice can hold their own against any bop quintet today. They have the confidence, the intuition, and the flexibility to communicate articulately, whatever the style.
Track Listing: Scullery Department; Ida; Days Mandulo; You Are the Way; The Promise; Children in the Rain; #18 St. Mary's; I Remember Billy; Syd's Dilemma.
Personnel: Marcus Wyatt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sydney Mnisi: saxophones; Andile Yenana: piano; Herbie Tsoaeli: bass; Morabo Morojete: drums; Lulu Gontsana: drums (5,8).