JOHNNY DYANI/MAL WALDRON

Some Jive Ass Boer
Jazz Unité 102

There’s a certain irony in the title, booklet notes and performance of expatriate South African bassist Johnny Dyani on this duo CD shared with expatriate American pianist Mal Waldron.

Recorded in Paris in 1981, more than 15 years after the bassist fled the repressive apartheid regime for England and the Continent — where he would die five years later — here he vocally rages against South African (Boer) oppression and urges Westerners to boycott the country.

Slightly more than two decades later the same country has a democratically elected multi-racial government, which until recently had been headed by then-imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, subject of a Waldron-penned blues here. Oppression is rife in neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe and the Congo, with homegrown dictators revealing themselves as bloodthirsty and corrupt as former colonial masters.

What apartheid did for the proceeding half-century though was force many of South Africa’s best and brightest to leave. Among them was Dyani, a founding member of the multi-racial Blue Notes, which decamped en mass for Great Britain in 1964. Once there former South Africans such as pianist Chris McGregor, drummer Louis Moholo and the bassist mixed it up and matched their skills with emerging avant gardists, adding a unique pigmentation to their experiments. The first two, for instance, had long time association with the likes of saxophonist Evan Parker, while Dyani’s bass work was prominent in the bands of expatriate American saxist Steve Lacy and Danish-Congolese alto man John Tchicai.

Thus it’s no surprise to see him recording with Waldron, who also has had a long-time partnership with Lacy. Born in 1926, Waldron is a quirky, unclassifiable stylist, who mixes deep Black music roots with a cerebral outlook. Some of his pre-European employers included Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Billie Holiday, to give you an idea of his versatility.

Despite their differences as expatriate, this duo recital appears to be more about finding common ground for virtuosity than anything else. However it may say something about a similarity in conception, that neither sees the occasion as an excuse to show off. Three of the tunes — two the longest on the CD — appear to be duo compositions and the idea seems to be to figure out how Dyani’s solid bass work can mesh with Waldron’s swinging blusiness. On “Strange Intrussions”, for instance, the meandering compositions changes time and tempos several times as the pianist’s light, single-note style makes accommodation with the bassist’s hearty string pulls.

Interestingly enough the two “African-oriented” titles are Waldron’s alone, with “Blues For Mandela” exactly that and “African Cake Walk” a pretty successful fusion of the riff-rich strains of a Southern U.S. plantation dance with the heavier undertow of Dyani’s string solo that references Mother Africa.

However the bit of agit prop prophecy that the bassist vocalizes on “Time Will Tell” is almost buried under Waldron’s pile driving chord clusters. Furthermore, he seems to make a better case for the adaptability and potency of native South Africans with his nimble pizzicato attack and arco shifts on his instrument. An anomaly, “Makulu-Kalahari”, which features Dyani singing in Zulu is also a bit out of character. Pablo Sauvage’s added percussion is unfinished and characterless, though playing piano, the bassist’s interpretation could be termed further out than Waldron’s.

In short this is an imperfect session of mixed expression that luckily no longer has to be judged on socio-political as well as musical grounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Safari 2. African Cake Walk 3.Makulu-Kalahari* 4. Strange Intrussions 5. Blues For Mandela 6. Time Will Tell

Personnel: Mal Waldron (piano); Johnny Dyani (bass, piano*, voice*); Pablo Sauvage (percussion)*