Sounds of South Africa at the New York City Center, November 16

Seton Hawkins By

Sign in to view read count
On November 16, Sounds of South Africa graced New York's City Center. Featuring performances by legends such as Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim, as well as the American concert debut of the venerable Soweto String Quartet, this evening functioned partly as a South African music showcase and partly as an extravagant commercial by the evening's hosts, inviting the audience to visit South Africa.
Opening the concert was the United States concert debut of the Soweto String Quartet, performing with vocalist Khanyo, a Sarafina alumna. The SSQ's debut in the US is awfully late, as they've been performing together since the 1980s, and as their sound is almost tailor-made to appeal to the worldbeat aesthetic. They were featured exclusively on a single piece: the swinging, catchy kwela-styled "Eureka from their 1996 album Renaissance, which came across quite stunningly. As their debut demonstrated, the Soweto String Quartet's albums do not do them justice. Live, they produce a richer, deeper sound, and they swing harder. Judging by the audience reaction to their solo piece, it's quite probable that New York will be seeing them again soon.
The remainder of their performance was with Khanyo, but still culled from repertoire that is standard to South Africa and also material they've recorded: "Nytilo Nytilo, "Pata Pata, and the ever-popular "Imbube (known in America as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight ). Khanyo is something of a Miriam Makeba in the making: "a tremendously powerful singer at home in more traditional styles to South Africa, but also in jazz, gospel, and R&B. It would be nice to hear more of her in the future.
The downside to the set was the canned back-up band supporting the SSQ and Khanyo. Granted, bringing that many musicians from South Africa for a 30-minute set is not terribly viable, so one can understand the decision. Still, it would be preferable to see and hear the full band at their next concert.

Following the Khanyo/SSQ set was a solo piano performance by Abdullah Ibrahim. Per his style, Ibrahim's set was a tapestry-like performance of his compositions threaded together without pause. And as on past occasions, the piece "Blue Bolero seemed to function as a segue for him, allowing him to work his way from piece to piece.

Abdullah Ibrahim's minimalist approach to piano playing may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who like it, this set was especially good: a sprightly take on "Soweto Is Where It's At and a long, rhapsodic performance of "Blues for a Hip King. Generally, one hears him nowadays with his excellent trio, so this performance had some surprises. Solo, Ibrahim was far more fluid and involved in his playing, employing more runs than he normally does, and even hints of dissonances that recalled his playing in the 1960s. Some members of the audience may have gotten restless towards the end, and the multiple cell phone rings were unwelcome, but judging by the applause, it seems most people were aware they were witnessing a truly special performance here.

Closing out the show was Hugh Masekela, performing with a band that includes longtime friends of his, such as keyboardist Tony Cedras, bassist Bakithi Khumalo and, most importantly, saxophonist Morris Goldberg. Goldberg, a South African musician who arrived in the United States around the same time as Masekela, provides an excellent stage counterpart and sometime foil to Masekela. While Masekela's trumpet is bright and urgent, Goldberg's saxophone tends more towards a richer, full-bodied sound. Sometimes he embarks on his own flights, but generally he seems to sing out powerful, thoughtful, R&B-influenced lines. Additionally, Goldberg's deadpan stage behavior allows him to hold his own against Masekela's hamming. The two of them performing together are a truly powerful team.

The band worked its way through a number of Masekela's classics, such as "Stimela and "Grazing in the Grass, as well as some relatively newer works, such as "Happy Mama from his 2002 album Time. Given Masekela's recent performance here at SOB's, consisting solely of classics, it was a welcome change to hear some of the newer works.

Individually, each of the performers contributed some excellent playing. Cedras and Khumalo are both criminally underrated on their respective instruments, and Goldberg and Masekela's instrumental dialogue was fantastic to hear. However, as a whole, the band felt a little underpowered. This may have been because of the venue: the City Center is fairly large, and perhaps the band just wasn't amplified enough. However, the band also didn't seem altogether comfortable as a whole. Maybe just a bit of an off night for them, but it was noticeable.


More Articles

Read Panama Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Panama Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Holston
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom Live Reviews Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
by Geoff Anderson
Published: February 20, 2017
Read The Cookers at Nighttown Live Reviews The Cookers at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "Los Lobos at The Barre Opera House" Live Reviews Los Lobos at The Barre Opera House
by Doug Collette
Published: February 4, 2017
Read "The Billy Hart Quartet at the 21c Museum Hotel" Live Reviews The Billy Hart Quartet at the 21c Museum Hotel
by Joseph Boselovic
Published: September 28, 2016
Read "Chris Isaak at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury" Live Reviews Chris Isaak at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: May 15, 2016
Read "Brian Charette/Jim Alfredson Organ Duo at Nighttown" Live Reviews Brian Charette/Jim Alfredson Organ Duo at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2016" Live Reviews Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2016
by John Kelman
Published: July 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!