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Two Tenors South Africa Style

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The latest batch of albums from Canada's We Are Busy Bodies label, which specialises in vinyl reissues of South African jazz, spotlights saxophonists Winston Mankunku Ngozi and Ratau Mike Makhalemele, separately and together, on three discs originally released in 1975 and 1976. Ngozi and Makhalemele both opted to remain in South Africa during the apartheid era, thus missing out on an international career. Each player, now passed, deserved wider recognition, Ngozi as a post-John Coltrane stylist, Makhalemele for soul jazz. Historical context: 1976 was the year of the Soweto Uprising.

The Cliffs featuring Winston Mankunku Ngozi
Alex Express
We Are Busy Bodies
2023 (1975)

In 1968, on tenor saxophone, his premier horn, Winston Ngozi recorded the landmark album Yakhal' Inkomo (World Record Co.), leading a quartet completed by pianist Lionel Pillay, bassist Agrippa Magwaza and drummer Early Mabuza. The title track, which in English translates as "the bellowing bull," is one of the two Ngozi originals which make up side one of the album. The other is "Dedication (For Daddy Trane and Brother Shorter)," which precisely indicates where Ngozi was coming from. Side two comprises Coltrane's "Bessie's Blues" and Horace Silver's "Doodlin.'" (Hear "Yakhal' Inkomo" on the video below.)

From the mid 1970s, Ngozi adopted a more commercial style, blending post-Coltrane modal jazz with fusion and marabi. On Alex Express, first released by The Record And Tape Company in 1975, he leads an octet which includes two trumpets, organ and guitar. It chugs along nicely if a mite predictably. Playing alto, Ngozi puts aside the broken-note approach which peppers Yakhal' Inkomo in favour of a sound en route to marabi-derived sax jive. There are lively solos from Ngozi, trumpeter Stompie Manana and guitarist Allen Kwela.

Mike Makhalemele
The Peacemaker
We Are Busy Bodies
2023 (1975)

Mike Makhalemele's The Peacemaker, also first released in 1975 (by Jo'Burg Reccords), is high-grade no b.s. soul-jazz and as such it comfortably stands alongside anything in that style coming contemporaneously out of the US. The band is a quartet completed by keyboardist Jabu Nkosi, electric bassist Sipho Gumede and an uncredited drummer (their name does not appear on the original album or on subsequent reissues). It is good-time music but it came with a deeper vibe. In the US, soul-jazz was originally associated with the (mostly metaphorical) back-to-Africa movement. In South Africa, too, it was liberation oriented. But the message had to be coded unless the artist was willing to risk, at best, being denied radioplay or, at worst, getting their head broken and/or going to jail. Hence the liner notes here open and close with the make-of-it-what-you-will statement "Something is stirring in Africa" and go on to say that The Peacemaker "is the message of Black Man who has hope in his heart and who has banished fear from his life."

Mike Makhalemele & Winston Mankunku Ngozi
The Bull And The Lion
We Are Busy Bodies
2023 (1976)

A year after Alex Express and The Peacemaker, someone at Jo'Burg Records had the bright idea of teaming Ngozi and Makhalemele up for The Bull And The Lion. The title, and historical precedent, suggests a cutting contest along the lines of, say, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. It is actually closer to Stitt and Booker Ervin's Soul People (Prestige, 1965) but with the blues element replaced by a kind of fusion-with-gonads. The two tenors are accompanied by keyboardist Tete Mbambisa, guitarist Trevor Rabin, electric bassist Ronnie Robot and drummer Neil Cloud. It is good-time music with bedroom eyes.

Tracks and Personnel

Alex Express

Tracks: Alex Express; Over The Cliffs; Gu Gu Lethu; Ever Green; Revelation.

Personnel: Winston Mankunku Ngozi: alto saxophone; Stompie Manana: trumpet; George Tyefumani: trumpet; Roger Khoza: organ; Allen Kwela: guitar; Philip Kiti: bass; Peter Jackson: drums.

The Peacemaker

Tracks: Going West; End Of The Road; 15th Avenue; My Thing; Peace Train.

Personnel: Mike Makhalemele: saxophone; Jabu Nkosi: keyboards; Sipho Gumede: bass.

The Bull And The Lion

Tracks: Togetherness; Snowfall.

Personnel: Mike Makhalemele: saxophone; Winston Mankunku Ngozi: saxophone; Tete Mbambisa: piano; Trevor Rabin: guitar; Ronnie Robot: bass; Neil Cloud: drums.

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