My best gig of 2014

2014-12-21 18:00

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This was the year I became Carlo Mombelli’s stalker.

Whether it was watching him run his now-defunct weekly jam session at the Bassline in Newtown, Joburg, on Wednesday nights, taking part in experimental music recitals at the Wits Theatre or performing with his new band (Kyle Shepherd on piano, Kesivan Naidoo on drums and Mbuso Khoza on vocals); he was a constant in my music life this year.

Mostly, it has been Mombelli with this latter collective, otherwise known as the Stories band, that has captured my imagination.

Every gig with the Stories band (I witnessed five this year) has left me reeling, my mind blown, proclaiming Mombelli’s genius.

They have been spiritual occasions that have nourished the soul, nurtured the mind and dumbfounded the ears, and last week’s gig at Johannesburg’s relatively new jazz club, The Orbit, was no exception.

In March this year, Mombelli released his new album, Stories, his first since disbanding his long-running crew, The Prisoners of Strange.

Story time

Mombelli flew to Basel, Switzerland, to record and hunkered down in the Idee und Klang studio with Australian-born trombonist Adrian Mears, German drummer Dejan Terzic, Swiss cellist Daniel Pezzotti and South African vocalist Mbuzo Khoza.

But when he launched Stories in South Africa, only Khoza remained from the studio band, with Shepherd and Naidoo joining in.

When I interviewed Mombelli in March, I wondered how he would perform the compositions on Stories with no trombone, no cello and with a piano instead.

“It’s not really about the instrumentation,” said Mombelli. “It’s about the headspace.”

And what a beautiful headspace it proved to be.

When I first watched the quartet perform at the Stories album launch in the Wits Great Hall in March, it was a mesmerising performance – one of those nights you feel privileged and lucky to have experienced.

By the time I watched them perform at The Orbit on a Friday night in April, it was spellbinding. I could hardly breathe.

I wanted to go back the next night to see them again, but the gig was already sold out.

National treasure

At the third Stories band gig I saw in August at The Orbit, I realised these shows were already my musical highlight of the year. Nothing else came remotely close, which meant the show in October, also at The Orbit, felt like the icing on the cake.

Which brings me to last week’s performance, my fifth of the year.

Sitting there last Wednesday, dumbfounded once again, I realised this quartet is no longer the Stories band: they have moved well beyond that.

They are a force of nature – a whirlwind of sound, a national bloody treasure.

They are a band now navigating uncharted waters, creating new fantasy worlds of sound for the rest of us to populate in our heads.

My only hope is that the five gigs I was privileged enough to see this year are just the start of this journey and that when Mombelli goes back into the studio to record again, it will be with Shepherd, Naidoo and Khoza at his side – because, in my opinion, this band needs to go down in history.

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