On Record: Various Artists: Indaba Is (Brownswood)

indaba-is

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings are so good at compilations that bring vibrant new sounds from around the world. This time they focus on South Africa, with a compilation of improvised music headed by Thandi Nthuli and Siyabonga Mthembu.

It is extremely helpful to read the commentary accompanying this release on Bandcamp, as it gives insight into the extremely wide range of influences at play here. It goes some way to explaining how the music can be approached from very different directions – jazz, classical, funk and soul to name just four.

What’s the music like?

As implied above, the eight tracks here have a musical freedom that proves to be intoxicating for the listener. The structures are impressive – The Ancestors, for example, give us eleven minutes of fluid music making on Prelude to Writing Together. Some of the issues raised are pertinent, too , few more so than The Wretched’s question What Is History, with hard hitting spoken word examples from Kwame Toure and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela complemented by a vibrant rhythm section.

Bokani Dyer finds a strong sense of purpose on Ke Nako, with its keenly felt references to the ANC, while iPhupho L’ka Biko ft Hymnself & Kinsmen build their way towards an ecstatic melodic loop on the invocation Abaphezulu, crowned by high vocals at the end. A sonorous vocal starts off Umdali, a collaboration between Sibusile Xaba, Naftali, Fakazile Nkosi and AshK, ending with what sounds like a theremin soaring high. The meditative and soulful Dikeledi, from Thandi Ntuli, makes a strong impression with its searching questions, as does the thoughtful Umthandazo Wamagenge from The Brother Moves On, complete with cool keyboards.

Does it all work?

Yes. Indaba Is celebrates musical freedom in a very important context, and rewards an open minded approach with vibrant, deeply felt music.

Is it recommended?

Without doubt. If like me you make irregular forays into jazz and improvised music, Brownswood prove to be an indispensable guide, opening up avenues to explore. At the same time, this is music offering hope for the future, resilient in difficult times and optimistic for where we could go from here.

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Switched On – Joe Armon Jones: Turn To Clear View (Brownswood)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Joe Armon Jones is a man with a vivid imagination and a thirst for collaboration, so it is hardly surprising that he fits into the world of jazz with such refreshing ease. Yet that is not the only world with which he rubs shoulders, as his second album for Brownswood deftly shows. With guests including Georgia Anne Muldrow and fellow Ezra Collective members Oscar Jerome, Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia, Turn To Clear View promises musical exploration, a feeling furthered by its P-funk style album cover.

What’s the music like?

Turn To Clear View builds on the promise of instinctive music that Jones’ first album for Brownswood, Starting Today, showed. The fact he has followed up that album in less than a year and a half, with other projects on the go, shows the rich vein of creativity he is currently mining.

Crucially, Turn To Clear View is accessible from almost every entry point. If you come to this from the P-Funk of Funkadelic or more outright jazz leanings, or even slower disco and hip hop, there will be something for you here.

Perhaps the most obvious and appealing groove is Icy Roads, a nice syncopated number that works up a light-headed euphoria. Asheber’s vocal on Try Walk With Me is part of a warm welcome to the album, with the telling lyrics ‘time to let go’, while the Muldrow-fronted Yellow Dandelion is a treat, full of colour and expression and with a great keyboard solo from Jones himself.

Gnawa Sweet shows off a lovely, burnished trumpet sound from the Ezra Collective’s Dylan Jones, while (To) Know Where You’re Coming From has a nice breezy ensemble melody with trumpet and sax. Jehst’s vocal on The Leo & Aquarius dovetails beautifully with another sensitive contribution from Jones, before an energetic rap towards the end, while Nubya Garcia delivers a passionate saxophone solo on You Didn’t Care.

Finally on Self:Love the entreaty to ‘be yourself’ from Obongjayar is perfectly timed, effectively bringing the mood of the album full circle.

Does it all work?

It does. Turn To Clear View is a well-crafted yet instinctive piece of work, musically fluid and enjoying the rich colours and individual styles of those involved. Jones is very sensitive to the guests on the album, but is clearly a force to be reckoned with when he comes to the fore.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Joe Armon Jones has a stellar career ahead of him on this evidence, and the speed of thought he currently has with his musical projects is enviable. It won’t be long until his next move, for sure!

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On Record – Various Artists: Sunny Side Up (Brownswood)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

After the huge success of last year’s documentation of young jazzers in London, We Out Here, Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label up sticks to the other side of the world for a similarly themed presentation from Melbourne.

Sunny Side Up – as its name suggests – is a celebration of a scene free from musical constraints, happy to take its stimulus from soul, jazz or club culture as the label’s detailed notes proclaim.

What’s the music like?

As free as the preamble suggests it should be. The nine tracks were all recorded at The Grove, a studio housed in the northern district of Coburg, glued together by engineer Nick Herrera and musical director Silentjay.

Phil Stroud’s Banksia begins with shimmering textures bolstered by a dubby bass, before urgent swirls cut to low slung grooves in Dufresne’s Pick Up / Galaxy. Soft breathed sax and heady vocals work well in Kuzich’s There Is No Time, while Audrey Powne makes clever use of micro tones to up the tension for a trumpet solo in Bleeding Hearts.

Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange use broken beats, drum fills, piano and flute for the energetic Powers 2 (The People), then Laneous’ Nice To See You brings a rush of positivity with a series of heady chord progressions and vocal couplets. Silentjay himself works a long melody over samba-infused beats to find Eternal / Internal Peace, while Horatio Luna’s The Wake-Up starts with dreamy, keyboard-led meandering but moves to smooth club grooves.

Finally Allysha Joy’s Orbit makes a powerful impact with its richly scored orchestration and soothing but heady vibes.

From all those descriptions you get an idea of the compilation’s open minded approach but also its careful planning and sequencing.

Does it all work?

Yes – a rich variety of talent that works well in sequence. The different approaches and musical styles are ideal for those looking for something a little different – and fans of the label’s Bubblers series will find plenty here to enjoy.

Is it recommended?

For sure. Brownswood have some serious talent on their hands here, and Sunny Side Up is its ideal platform. The musicians featured seem set for great things in the future if this is anything to go by.

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