Hugh Masekela: Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela (2004)
Still Grazing is a retrospective. Like all retrospectives that lack any kind of bonus material (even the token unreleased alternate take or live recording), it raises the question of just whom it is for. Fans of the South African trumpeter/flugelhorn player/vocalist/songwriter will already have most or all of these eleven songs, compiled from six albums released between 1966 and 1974 ("a formative stretch of a long career," notes the cover blurb). And because it's being issued in conjunction with an eponymous autobiography, one would think that existing Masekela fans are the intended audience and therefore the ones to please.
Those same fans have been disappointed at least once before, namely with Grazing in the Grass: The Best of Hugh Masekela. Released on Sony in 2001, that particular best-of omitted the chart hitsand don't these in the minds of most listeners constitute "the best" of an artist's career?"Up, Up, and Away," "Puffin' on down the Track," and "Riot." Many of the better-known songs that Grazing in the Grass did include were contemporary remakes, presumably due to licensing issues. So why, when Universal (which owns Verve, which owns Blue Thumb) has the rights to the songs so glaringly absent from the Sony best-of, did they fail to include two of them on their own retrospective? This, it seems, is just another instance of the major labels' girth coming between them and their listeners.
Musically speaking, Still Grazing is strong; but then, in making a case for Masekela's career, it ought to be. It starts off with "Child of the Earth," something of an acquired taste when it comes to vocals, and it features the vibrant "Ha Lese Le Di Khanna" and the noteworthy cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Felicidade," all from The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela (1966). There is, of course, "Grazing in the Grass," and the equally rousing "Up, Up, and Away." Recorded in the early 1970s, "Languta," "Been Such a Long Time Gone" and "Stimela (Coal Train)" draw on reggae as much as jazz and Masekela's characteristic musical flavorings of the townships. Thus Masekela's growth is in evidence, although the disc's twenty unused minutes could easily have been filled to provide a more complete view. Together "Puffin' on down the Track" and "Riot" total under five minutes.
Producer Stewart Levine's brief liner notes are decent at covering the basics of Masekela's career and Levine's own role in it, but they add little that is intelligent or new to the picture. I suppose its purpose is to pique enough curiosity to send listeners out to the area bookstore to pick up the album's print companion. But Still Grazing is better suited to the newcomer, and it is unlikely that newcomers will want to read Masekela's 400-page life story after hearing a few tunes from an eight-year span of his career. As it stands, this disc is of no value to collectors and limited use to Masekela neophytes.
Track Listing: 1. Child of the Earth; 2. Ha Lese le Di Khanna; 3. Felicidade; 4. Up, Up, and Away; 5. Bajabula Bonke (The Healing Song); 6. Grazing in the Grass; 7. Gold; 8. Mace and Grenades; 9. Languta; 10. Been Such a Long Time Gone; 11. Stimela (Coal Train)
Personnel: Hugh Masekela (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals); Cecil Barnard, Charlie Smalls, Bill Henderson, Joe Sample (piano); Richard Neesai Botchway, Bruce Langhorne, Arthur Adams (guitar); Henry Franklin, John Cartwright (bass); Bishop James Morton, Big Black (conga); Alexander Abreu (tenor sax, soprano sax); Wilton Felder (tenor sax); Wayne Henderson (trombone); Isaak Asante (percussion, vocals, talking drum); Nat Leepuma Hammond (flute, conga, vocals); Chuck Carter, Stix Hooper (drums); Samuel Nortey (percussion, vocals, shekere); Stanley Kwesi Todd (bass, vocals); Acheampong Welbeck (drums, bells, calabash)
Record Label: Blue Thumb Records
Style: African Jazz