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South African emigre Harry Miller was at the heart of a freewheeling, and in pockets Rabelaisian, circle of improvisers who shot through London like meteors in the 1970s and lit up everything around them. They burned bright and fast, and several of the key members, particularly the several South Africans among them, died tragically young. Miller was just 42 when he died following an auto crash while being driven to a gig in 1983, and horn players Dudu Pukwana, Nick Moyake and Mongezi Feza were among a half dozen others who went early.
South African jazz and kwela could be heard in much of the music made on this micro-scene, most explicitly in Pukwana's Spear and Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breathand to a lesser, but still significant, extent in Miller's Isipingo. Yet the greatest unifying factor the various South African and Brit-improv musicians shared was passion. They were voraciously hungry to blow and push at the boundaries of improvisation, and the fire still shoots through their music today. (The circle of players was in another sense forerunners of today's F-IRE collective in London, moving promiscuously between their own and their colleagues' bands.)
Which Way Now is a floor-shaking addition to the era's recorded history (much of what we already have was recorded by Miller's own label, Ogun). Recorded live in concert in Bremen, Germany in 1975 and never previously released, it presents Isipingo in its prime. The sextet powers through four Miller originals. The tunes are uncluttered, township-flavoured platforms for extended soloing and collective improvisation. The shortest lasts just under fifteen minutes, the other three about twenty. The sound, by Radio Bremen, is excellent.
Trumpeter Feza, alto saxophonist Mike Osborne and trombonist Nick Evans are in fierce creative flight throughout, and Miller and drummer Louis Moholo each nail the beat and join the frontline, butthirty years onit is perhaps pianist Keith Tippett who shines most conspicuously. His lyrical, rococo and otherworldly, Ravel meets astral-jazz flights remain utterly his own: brilliant, uplifting and delightful.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.