Norwegian pianist/composer Andreas Loven has an especially compelling personal history. In his early twenties he left Oslo and an engineering career to move to South Africa to pursue jazz. Based in Cape Town, he has since performed extensively all over South Africa. This dual background gives his music a unique voice, one with both European and African flavors. He leads a South African quartet here, recorded in Cape Town, released by a Norwegian record label: his story in a nutshell.
District Six refers to a multicultural community in Cape Town which was demolished by the ruling apartheid regime in 1966. It was a shining example of how different cultures could coexist and thrive, a spirit to which Loven dedicates this music. The album opens with "Good News," a bright, upbeat tune with all the optimism promised by the title. Veteran saxophonist Buddy Wells makes a strong impression. He and Lovens further the musical partnership begun on Loven's debut album Nangijala (Losen Records, 2015), a beautiful collection of impressionistic duets which the pair supported with a Norwegian tour. It is surprising that Wells (who is also a composer) has never recorded as a leader. "In Tune" follows, a reflective trio ballad for the rhythm section which gives drummer Clement Benny a chance to show his prowess with brushes, and finds bassist Romy Brauteseth in a conversational mood. She gets her turn to shine with her solo on "Roots."
"African Piano" could almost be the album title, had it not already been taken by the famous album by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (released at the time under his birth name Dollar Brand). Perhaps this tune is intended as a tribute? It's a grooving piece in any case, with a hypnotic vamp. "Inside District Six" sports an especially catchy theme, as well as an insistent rhythm. The drums lay out on "Please Forgive Me," but the powerful repetitive rhythm doesn't need them. Loven begins the piece solo, and ends it the same way, muting the piano strings on the inside of the piano to achieve a percussive effect similar to the sound of the mbira (thumb piano). Benny comes roaring back on "The Boiler," playing an electrifying drum solo over the vamp.
Andreas Loven makes a strong, personal statement with District Six, aided every step of the way by a powerhouse band, equally capable of nuance and high energy. Here's hoping we hear more from all of them.
Good news; In Tune; Roots; African Piano; Shine; Inside District Six; Please Forgive Me; The Boiler; Departing Tokyo.
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