Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Best of the Fest

So I did this arts journalism course last week with writer and South African jazz historian Gwen Ansell, which meant that, for the first time in a long time, I worked over 40 hours in a week. I was up early getting educated on the finer points of freelancing, and staying out late at jam sessions and pre-festival events and then finally the grand smash of it all: a total of 32 hours of music occurring, some simultaneously, over the course of about 36 hours of existence. There were master classes and press conferences and interviews and shows and I generally just moved until I dropped.

Favorites that have survived the bleary, post-festival re-cooperation period: Friday reminded me of a formidable presence on the jazz-rock scene, Steps Ahead, in its current incarnation. Still led by the now-70-year-old Mike Manieri. Totally blew me away. They played LOUD in a boomy hall but came to PLAY. Especially liked drummer Kim Thompson, a magnetic ball of energy. She kicked the whole band. Evidently, this was her first time playing with the group.

Then Saturday brought Lionel Loueke, the guitar-hero of just about every jazz musician I met in Benin. He wore a lime green shirt and clicked and sang and guitar-effected his way into our ears, along with his collaboration of international Berklee musicians.

But Saturday's favorite was definitely Tutu Puoane, a sprightly, innocent-yet-knowing South African vocalist who has been working in Belgium and the Netherlands. She was completely in control musically, bending her vocal chords from perfect anunciation to bluesy growl and delivering an honestly touching performance.

I don't know how many Cape Tonians actually got to enjoy the festival. It was expensive, inside the convention center - a sort of circus, really. There was a free concert Wednesday night on Greenmarket Square and Sunday morning in the townships... It's a young event.

A long talk with young saxophonist and pianist Kyle Shepherd got me to realizing some of the ways in which indigenous South African music is being erased or suppressed in this place. Kyle reports that there is a tendency of South African university professors to teach to a uniformly American style of jazz, to the point where they deny the authenticity or validity of other African forms of music, like goema or street music or kwaito or mbaqanga... As it turns out, that is the stuff that is the most fascinating to me, and not the South African jazz musicians who reinterpret standards from the American song book. I am starting to understand the strife and pride of composers like Mac and Hilton Schilder who militantly create their own music informed by their own experience and cultural tradition. To me, the very REASON I'm interested in Cape Jazz or South African music that is jazz-influenced is because that music has something in common with the sounds of the African-American diaspora. I've heard people say they play jazz or listen to jazz because it sounds like "our music."

In other news, Andy has been accepted to the joint program with the Yale School of Forestry and the Yale Divinity School. Worries and excitement about August and September are developing, when I will ideally join the workforce in some capacity.

To the streets!