To celebrate her recent septuagenarian status, vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin selected twelve tracks spanning eight releases for inclusion on SongSpirit, from her first early-'60s sessions to her latest disc (Musical Echoes, 2002), in essence releasing a "greatest hits compilationthough who in jazz makes hit records?!
Benjamin wisely selects an array of gems, particularly her standout original South African roots numbers "Africa and "Children of Soweto. Both are features for two close musical partners: bassist Buster Williamswhose inimitable resonant bass adds essential foundationand pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, resplendent with chordal block, churchy blues. Dig those ubiquitous South African rhythmic shuffles, too.
Speaking of rhythm sections, Benjamin has always kept esteemed company throughout her career, and Spirit Song makes this evident, from pianists Gumbs, Kenny Barron, Stephen Scott and Larry Willis, to bassists Williams, Basil Moses and Johnny Gertze, not to mention drummers Ben Riley, Billy Higgins and Lulu Gontsana. And if you thought you wouldn't need to hear this compilation of previously released recordings (given, most are out of print), think again. Also included is a previously unreleased track, and a chestnut at thata moody duet from 1973 ("It Never Entered My Mind ) with husband/pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. And of course her memorable and historic meeting with Duke Ellingtonfeaturing violinist Svend Asmussen playing pizzicatois represented on "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good).
This collection is a welcome addition to Benjamin's discography, placing her back into the jazz consciousness and making this soothing, warm-toned vocalist's contributions to jazz once again readily available to discerning ears.
Track Listing: Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life; I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good; Africa; Indian Summer; It Never Entered My Mind; I Only Have Eyes for You; Memories of You; Music; Lush Life; Children of Soweto; I'll Follow My Secret Heart; Loveless Love/Careless Love
Personnel: Sathima Bea Benjamin: vocals; Kenny Barron: piano (4,9,12); Duke Ellington: piano (2); Henry February: piano (6); Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano (1,3,7,10); Abdullah Ibrahim: piano (5); Stephen Scott: piano (11); Larry Willis: piano (8); Johnny Gertze: bass (2); Basil Moses: bass (6,11); Buster Williams: bass (1,3,4,7,8,9,10,12); Lulu Gontsana: drums (11); Billy Higgins: drums (3,4,8,9,10,12); Makhaya Ntshoko: drums (2); Vincent Pavitt: drums (6); Ben Riley: drums (1,7,); Svend Asmussen: pizzicato violin (2); Carlos Ward: alto saxophone (3,10); Ricky Ford: tenor saxophone (8)
Jazz is for me the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century and I'm proud to
play this kind of music. For me, jazz is more than a kind of music, it's the best way of playing
any musical material.