Zim Ngqawana: Zimphonic Suites (2001)
You can take the jazz out of Africa, but you can't take the Africa out of the jazz. From the opening notes, South African saxophonist/flutist Zim Ngqawana's third disc as a leader coveys a sense of revelation and discovery. Zimphonic Suites organizes itself around five musical capsules, each with its own specific flavor and color. The first suite, "Ingoma Ya Kwantu," aims for a sense of "inner attainment," bridging tribal debts to imperial court music with a Coltrane-like devotional pursuit. The first tune leaps off into a deliberately paced modal exploration, briefly touching on a drum solo and then heading back into the savana for a bindingly emotional climax in "Resolution." Ngqawana's flute playing here betrays a refreshing polyglot literacy.
Subsequent suites connect the dots between tribal vocal/drumming music and instrumental improvisation. Ngqawana's core quartet dances about the boundaries and sews things up in unexpected ways. "Ebhofolo (This Madness)" features emphatic vocals strung across swinging bitonal harmony, with some elegant call-and-response playing as well as extended improvisations which vary at times from animal noises to impassioned cries. Perhaps the most dissonant piece on the record, this tune relies on a deeper inner logic to steer it forward. Subsequent efforts bring out references to tribal melodies, dance hall swing, bossa nova, and a variety of other influences. One has the feeling here not just of cross-fertilization, but a strong compositional focus on emotive expression. Ngqawana's saxophone and flute playing, in particular, harnesses a wonderful inner energy to communicate a message transcending style or nationality.
Track Listing: Ingoma Ya Kwantu: Invocation, Royal Drumming, Resolution; Intlombe Variations: Diviners Ceremony, Ebhofolo (This Madness), Bantu (Rainbow Nation); Abaphantsi (Ancestry Suite): Sud Afrika (A Country Without A Name), Ode to Princess Magogo (Classical Composer), Old Blues (Early Harmonic Devices), Compassion (Ubuntu); www.kwantunent.com (aka African Continent); Ballroom Dance Suite: Man and Woman (Duality of Life), Man (A Dying Father Figure), Two To Tangle (Challenges of Life); Celebrations: Chisa (Wedding Festivities), Gobbliesation (In A Global Village), Beautiful Love (It's All About Love).
Personnel: Zim Ngqawana: soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, alto, picolo, and c-flutes, harmonica, bicycle bells, chimes, whistles, vocals, and piano; Andile Yenana: piano, vocals; Herbie Tsoaeli: bass, vocals; Kevin Gibson: drums, percussion.