Ugqozi is a celebration of modern, urban African music, especially that from South Africa, with which co-leaders trombonist John "Tbone" Paxton and percussionist RJ Spangler have been in love for decades. It is also an affirmation of the vibrant Detroit scene of which the multi-generational Paxton / Spangler Septet is a part.
Actually, the band is not a septet. Depending on whether one goes by the sleeve credits or the press release, it is either an octet with three guests or a nonet with two. Not a septet anyway. And not that it matters. But just for the pedantic record.
Mostly mid-tempo, sunny and played with a winning loose-limbed swing, Ugqozi, which means "inspiration" in IsiZulu, is a seven-track affair with a 58:10 playing time (which seems shorter). The material mostly consists of covers, of which five are by iconic (for once the word is justified) elders and ancestors, and one, "Ithemba," by rising South African star, pianist Nduduzo Makhathini. The other five are trumpeter Mongezi Feza's "You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos," trombonist Caiphus Semenya's "Part Of A Whole," Fela Kuti's "Water No Get Enemy," Miriam Makeba and Jerry Ragovoy's "Pata Pata" and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Jabulani Easter Joy."
The sole original, "Lwandle's Lullaby," is by guest tenor saxophonist Salim Washington, who also plays oboe and flute on the track, which has echoes of Pharoah Sanders' late 1960s, early 1970s astral jazz and in particular his Impulse debut as leader, Tauhid (1967). With Detroit bassist Jeff Cluny, who does not figure in the lineup, Washington also wrote the unfussy and effective arrangements for the album.
The septet going on nonet is packed with strong soloists, notably including Paxton, saxophonists Washington, Dan Bennett and Kasan Belgrave (trumpeter Marcus Belgrave's son) and keyboardist Phillip J. Hale. Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding is heard only on "Water No Get Enemy," which he got to know well as a member of the onstage band during part of the US run of Fela! The Musical, and on which he here contributes a magnificent solo..
All up, the perfect soundtrack for a long, hot (in a good way) summer.
You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos; Ithemba; Part Of A Whole; Lwandle’s Lullaby; Water No Get Enemy; Pata Pata; Jabulani Easter Joy.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.
Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.