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Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2015

Mark Sullivan By

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Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Cape Town International Convention Centre
Cape Town, South Africa
March 27 & 28, 2015

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival takes place over two jam-packed nights, on five simultaneous stages. Now in its sixteenth year, it also includes a number of ancillary events during festival week: workshops, a photo exhibition, master classes, and an outdoor free concert in Greenmarket Square (on Wednesday night). The free concert offers a taste of the festival to community members who can't afford festival tickets, or can't get them (the festival sells out in advance every year). Like the festival itself, the concert included a mix of international and South African acts. Headlined by British saxophonist Courtney Pine and South Africa's Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse, the bill also included the winner of the popular local "Open Mic Jazz Vocal" competition, Zoë Modiga, and Cape Town pop group Beatenberg as well as the All Star Band (a showcase for local talent). It was a jubilant street party, and a great introduction to the city.

Day One (Friday)

Basia

The first big international act on the Kippies stage—the huge amphitheater that was reserved for the acts with the broadest audience appeal—was Polish/U.K. singer Basia and her band. After opening with "Third Time Lucky" and "Baby You're Mine" she told the audience that she was "glad you like samba, because there's going to be a lot of it." The next selection included a scat section with her backup singers a la The Manhattan Transfer, giving the performance more of a jazz flavor. For the fourth tune she noted that "it is a jazz festival" before launching into the swing feel of "How Dare You." Basia was in good voice, and has a solid band. There was still some adjustments being made in the P.A. (it was early, after all), but it was fine for arena sound.

Andrea Motis & Joan Chamorro Group

Over on the Moses Molelekwa stage—a large rectangular auditorium-like space—I heard acoustic jazz from the Spanish ensemble the Andrea Motis & Joan Chamorro Group. There's a long tradition of jazz trumpeters who also sing, from Louis Armstrong to Chet Baker. Andrea Motis is more of a vocalist who plays trumpet, but she does both very well. The band's sound leans toward mainstream acoustic jazz, making the Baker comparison apt. Their set included the standard "April Showers," a ballad, an up-tempo Latin tune, and an original with a more contemporary funk feel. So they have some range. Something of a prodigy, Motis was a delight on vocals and trumpet, and guitarist Josep Traver also stood out. A pleasant discovery.

Gerald Clayton Trio

Rosies was the most traditional performance space in the Cape Town International Convention Centre, a proscenium theatre with permanent seating. It would be suitable for dramatic productions or classical music recitals, and had the best sound of any of the venues, as well as the most comfortable environment. The Gerald Clayton Trio (the first American act I heard) was perfectly suited to the setting. It's a very conversational piano trio, in the Bill Evans mold. Drummer Obed Calvaire was unusually active (and technically dazzling). In "Dusk Baby," a gospel-tinged tune with echoes of Keith Jarrett, he and Clayton took an extended piano/drum duet. Bassist Joe Sanders often chose to lay out like this. On the closing tune he would sometimes interject a phrase here and there instead of walking constantly—again, very conversational. The group also played Clayton's "Under Madhatter Medicinal Groupon (UMMG)" (a wry reference to Billy Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)"), and the ballad "Skylark." There was a bit of bass thump bleeding through from another stage during the closing tune, which I'm sure was distracting to the musicians (the only disturbance of this sort that I noticed during the festival). This performance was still one of the highlights of the festival for me.

Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse

Saxophonist/vocalist Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse brought his township jive sound to an adoring audience on the big stage (his first instrument was drums, which explains the nickname). Hits like "Burn Out" and "Jive Soweto" got the kind of response most performers only dream of, including spontaneous line dancing in the audience. When Mabuse sung his cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" the crowd sang along with the kind of fervor Marley himself used to receive: a potent reminder of the power of music during the years of struggle against apartheid. The energy level in the room was simply awesome: they almost literally blew the roof off the joint.

Mahotella Queens

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