Chris McGregor: Our Prayer (2008)
Chris McGregor (1936-1990) is best known as the pianist/leader of the Brotherhood of Breath and its small band antecedent the Blue Notes, the group that he formed in South Africa in 1963. The inter-racial band elected for a voluntary European exile from their homeland and its policies that would ban their very right to assemble. In the heady '60s, their blend of bop and Township rhythms rapidly melded with free jazz, creating one of the most dynamic musical mixes of the era.
McGregor recorded Our Prayer, a rare piano trio CD, in 1969 with the virtuosic and intrepid bassist Barre Phillips and Blue Notes drummer Louis Moholo. He was soon turning his efforts to the newly-formed Brotherhood though and the trio CD was shelved. It's a welcome release, dynamic music with an identity of its own and a complement to McGregor's band efforts and solo CDs.
The opening "Church Mouse" announces the South African connection immediately, suffused with melodic and rhythmic values that will at once suggest fellow South African ex-pat Abdullah Ibrahim. But McGregor's style is looser, with sudden keyboard splashes and disconnected runs that reveal the impact of free jazz. McGregor's "Moonlight Aloe" is a Monk-ish ballad, filled with subtle dissonances while Phillips' "Spike Nard" is more elusive still, shifting in its opening seconds from moody, elusive chords to a brief, brisk and Paul Bley-like theme and then to energetic free play in which McGregor's percussive runs tumble up and down the keyboard like Cecil Taylor.
It's a dramatic contrast, filled with odd and alien percussion and driven forward with startling momentum to an eerie and sound-centered world with metallic glissandos from Moholo and the sound of a creaking door from Phillips' bowed bass. It's clearly preparation for the 25-minute title tune, a free flowing invention that evolves through rapidly changing textures and densities to create an almost exhaustive account of period free jazz piano trio methodologies. Alternately dark and playful, it's a window on McGregor's most personal voice: fluent, thoughtful and always conversational.
Track Listing: Church Mouse; Moonlight Aloe; Spike Nard; Our Prayer.
Personnel: Chris McGregor: piano; Barre Phillips: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.