TRUMPETER Lwanda Gogwana explains his album, Songbook Chapter One (GMC, distributed by Jassics), as compiled over his career to date: "The arpeggios I climbed to become who I was meant to be." That Songbook did not win the MTN South African Music Award for which it was nominated hasn't hampered a steady flow of performance opportunities, and far better distribution, since then.
The 11-track outing features some nationally known Cape Town guests (Jimmy Dludlu, Moriera Chonguica, Buddy Wells, John Hassan) and a strong core ensemble of younger players of the hornman's own generation, including saxophonist Sisonke Xonti and an interesting pianist, Thandi Ntuli.
It's becoming more usual for South African players to draw elements of tradition into their modern jazz, and Mdantsane-born Gogwana's album is rich with the overtone-inspired harmonies and loping rhythms of Xhosa music. His instrumental voice (on trumpet and flugelhorn) has a warm, rounded tone and displays an impressive stylistic range. The album offers approaches from Masekela-inflected Afro-jazz on Ekhaya, to old-style South African hard-bop blowing on Blues From The Top, to a velvety, Miles-like voice on Marwheel, as well as edgy, imaginative free playing. But his sourcing from the roots operates at the conceptual as well as the sonic. His arrangements draw on the tradition (as expressed by overtone singer Mrs Amelia No-Silence Matiso ) of putting "salt into their songs . by always doing more than one would expect . (Xhosa people) add more and more parts to the song".
Gogwana's vision is polyphonic: a single number can take in free jamming, traditional Xhosa vocalese, jazz scatting, multiple rhythm patterns and Afro-jazz groove. Sometimes this richness of textures operates at the expense of explicit form: it sounds beautiful, but requires repeat listenings to grasp the shape and direction of the whole song. Sometimes, it works so well that the unexpected juxtapositions come together instantly to take your breath away. Marwheel is one example: hard-driving rhythm and Xhosa praise poetry set against quotes from Giant Steps and that slightly eerie, delicate trumpet solo.
On the quintet outing, Guilty, Gogwana demonstrates another voice: restrained, compellingly lyrical and with ample space around his notes. That's a voice we also heard in guest spots on Steve Dyer's album, Ubuntu Music; it's a significant facet of his playing and one wishes this album gave it more exposure (although we also hear it when he plays piano on the long, concluding Jam for Moses Molelekwa). Songbook is certainly an album of the year, for its compositions and arrangements as well as the sounds.
INTRIGUING combinations characterise this week's live jazz too. On Wednesday and Thursday at Cape Town's Mahogany Room, the city's regular guest, Parisian multi-instrumentalist Braka, introduces an improvised project "based on French ballroom repertoire of the 1950s". The quartet also includes vocalist Lucia Recio, saxophonist Nicolas Stephan and tuba-player Daniel Malavergne.
On Friday and Saturday at the same venue, club-owner and drummer Kesivan Naidoo brings out his own group, The Lights, in its Cape Town incarnation, which includes guitarist Gorm Helfjord and pianist Andre Peterson, ahead of their appearance at the National Arts Festival.
At Johannesburg's Bassline on Friday, there's an opportunity to catch another ensemble on its way to Grahamstown. A: Spell features multi-instrumentalist Ronan Skillen (at one point, tabla-player in Naidoo's Babu) alongside two Swiss musicians, reedman Jan Galega Bronniman and vocalist Nadja Stoller. For this concert they are joined by award-winning acoustic guitarist Guy Buttery. A: Spell create improvised music they describe as "a mix between organic and electronic elements" and their southern African tour and CD launch takes in Durban, Cape Town, Mozambique and Swaziland.
ON Sunday, Sandton's Old Mutual Theatre on the Square presents the launch of an album by vocalist Brenda Mntambo. She won the theatre's "spotlight artist" contest last year and is a graduate of the Joyous Celebration gospel ensemble with a generous Afro-soul voice. Her performance begins at 6pm.