Review – When jazz leaders follow

2012-07-02 08:26

Of all the art forms, perhaps jazz provides the most noble context for experimentation with human interaction. It’s like a sonic attempt to answer the question: what happens when a disparate group of people get together with an equally passionate intent to be heard?

Like last night’s performance at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown by itinerant German saxophonist, Mro Fox, simply billed as The Fox and The Horn. The sax man led a quintet of South African musicians and Swede bassist Daniel Franck at the DSG Auditorium.

The locals in the five-man collaboration included from Cape Town, Kyle Sheppard who is arguably the most exciting pianist of his generation, and Ayanda Sikade, probably the hardest working session drummer in the country. Then there was the most cosmopolitan horns-man, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, sharing the front line with the German sax man.

As Fox, the convenor of the collaboration announced that, “we got together a couple of days ago and started playing together,” he was holding back a whole lot of information. Like the difficulty of uniting the big creative personalities involved.

Sikade has shared stages both locally and internationally with giants like Zim Ngqawana and Abdullah Ibrahim to mention a couple.

Sheppard is similarly acclaimed with a few SA Music Awards nominations and multiple albums as a leader.

Wyatt commands a whole catalogue of albums of his own as leader. However, in jazz – as in politics – the mark of a great leader is his ability to be led.

Hence it was telling to witness someone like Sheppard, a renowned soloist, sitting in as session player in the service of Fox’s leadership.

Fox opened proceedings with a composition by Wyatt, The Space Between, followed by another piece by the trumpeter – a characteristic post-bob piece, built on a strong melody and with ample space for solo takes.

It was followed by a requiem in ode to his belated friend, Anika. It starts with a ballad-like meditation, and then its blue mood swells into a Goema before morphing into a flowering bouquet of collective improvisation.

Here then the perceptiveness of the musicians, and their capacity to empathise with the creative impulses of fellow band members came into full blossom.
Sheppard’s strong Cape heritage can’t have served the moment better as he gave authenticity to the Goema. A theme he has been exploring in his own projects is quintessentially Cape Town’s gift to jazz as far as flavours go.

In the end, the band had shared a good seven-track catalogue of compositions. Three of these were written by Wyatt while Sheppard and Franck each contributed a piece, hence leaving our German leader with only two charts. Quite a minimal show of strength for a guest who came bearing such promise.

» Follow our coverage of the National Arts Festival:

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