323

Hugh Masekela at SOB's

Seton Hawkins By

Sign in to view read count
The band blasted into an aggressive, uptempo performance and maintained this level of intensity and energy almost unflaggingly throughout the entire set.
Hugh Masekela
SOB's
New York City
April 25, 2006

2006 is going to be the year Hugh Masekela reminds the world why he is a musical legend. Following the somewhat lackluster kwaito experiment with his 2005 Revival, Masekela opened 2006 with the excellent Hugh Masekela Presents the Chisa Years 1965-76, a collection of tracks he performed on or produced. He has also recently undertaken a US tour.
On April 25th, Masekela (or, to be truly South African about it, Bra Hugh), appeared at SOB's in New York. Opening the set with one of his classics, "The Boy's Doing It," Masekela seemed to be setting the tone for a subdued evening, performing it at a slow, relaxed tempo. As it turned out, however, the first minute was a warm up. The band then blasted into an aggressive, up-tempo performance and maintained this level of intensity and energy almost unflaggingly throughout the entire set.
Set-wise, Maskela performed what amounted to a "greatest hits," with songs like "The Boy's Doing It, "Stimela, "Ashiko, "Grazing in the Grass and "Marketplace. The audience was ecstatic at the start of each familiar song, and with good reason: they're all great songs when performed well. And Masekela was in top form that night.

A lot has been said in recent years of Hugh Masekela's voice. Years of smoking and drug use have taken their toll and rendered it scratchy and toneless. Listening to his recent albums, one finds it difficult to argue with that. However, at SOB's, Masekela's voice was surprisingly strong, powerful and commanding on "The Boy's Doing It, while sublimely tender on the encore, "Marketplace. The only slight moment of scratchiness and wear was on the long (perhaps too long) and vocally straining "Stimela, where by the end, the falsetto train whistles were clearly difficult for him. Masekela's flugelhorn playing was forceful and his horn chops show no sign of giving way. It would be wonderful to hear him pick up the trumpet again, however.

Joining Masekela on the stage were some longtime collaborators; a veritable who's who of South African jazz. Arthur Tshabalala and Oakantse Koketso Hendrick Moilwa thickened up the sound with some excellent and funky keyboard playing, while the young yet ubiquitous Sello Montwedi provided an especially exciting drum solo on "Grazing in the Grass. Bassist Fana Zulu has a thick, warm tone reminiscent of legendary South African bassist Sipho Gumede, and during Zulu's solo, he demonstrated impressive funk chops.

However, the two figures Masekela seemed to feed off the most were guitarist John Selowane and saxophonist Khaya Mhlangu. Mhlangu, an alumnus of the Zulu pop/jazz supergroup Sakhile (as was Fana Zulu), has strong R&B leanings in his saxophone playing that provide a nice contrast to Masekela's playing. At slower points in the music, Mhlangu's saxophone teetered dangerously on the edge of smooth jazz, but as the music picked up, Mhlangu also was able to show off the intensity he is capable of building up in his solos.

Selowane, like Mhlangu, provided a nice alternative to the urgency of Masekela with his relaxed, drawn-out solo style. He has spent years collaborating with Masekela, and the effortless rapport and chemistry between the two was apparent throughout the entire show.

There were some minor issues. "Stimela ran a little long, as it often does, and consequently Masekela's voice was wavering by the end of the song. Also, the Afrobeat "Ashiko could have done with just a tiny bit more fire. However, these are minor quibbles.

Overall, the crowd in attendance that night were seeing something special, and judging by the dancing and cheering, they knew it. Let's hope that 2007 results in an album of new material that captures this powerful playing.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Redwood City Salsa Festival 2017 Live Reviews Redwood City Salsa Festival 2017
by Walter Atkins
Published: October 17, 2017
Read AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia Live Reviews AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia
by Mark Holston
Published: October 13, 2017
Read CEO Experiment With Kurt Rosenwinkel at The Sugar Club Live Reviews CEO Experiment With Kurt Rosenwinkel at The Sugar Club
by Ian Patterson
Published: October 11, 2017
Read "Kim Nalley's Tribute to Nina Simone" Live Reviews Kim Nalley's Tribute to Nina Simone
by Walter Atkins
Published: March 31, 2017
Read "Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center" Live Reviews Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center
by David Becker
Published: January 24, 2017
Read "The Wood Brothers at Higher Ground" Live Reviews The Wood Brothers at Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: February 10, 2017
Read "Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights" Live Reviews Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 18, 2017
Read "Jazz em Agosto 2017" Live Reviews Jazz em Agosto 2017
by Mike Chamberlain
Published: August 16, 2017
Read "The Comet Is Coming at Black Box" Live Reviews The Comet Is Coming at Black Box
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 8, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.