Louis Moholo-Moholo

Bra Louis-Bra Bra-Tebs/Spirits Rejoice
Ogun CD017/018

Sole survivor of the legendary Blue Notes band that left Apartheid-era South Africa in the mid-1960s, drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo finally returned permanently to Cape Town in 2004. But during the three decades that he and his fellow exiled countrymen lived in Europe they added an undiluted tincture of African sensibility to the developing Free Music scene.

This CD assembles two important large group sessions. Spirits Rejoice, released on LP in 1978, is an octet date, which finds the drummer and two other expatriate South Africans – bassist Johnny Dyani, another former Blue Note, and bassist Harry Miller, who left the country on his own – working out with the ne plus ultra of BritImprov including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, tenor saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Keith Tippett. Elaborated are five longish pieces that mix Xhosa tribe rhythmic inflections, revivalist hymns and freeform Energy Music.

Recorded in 1995 after Moholo-Moholo finally toured a post-Apartheid South Africa with his own group, the previously unreleased Bra Louis-Bra Bra-Tebs, with its definite beat, leans more towards World music,. The most obvious difference between it and he other CD is the vocals of Martinique’s Francine Luce that are an odd admixture of jazz-pop, roots music and improv vocalese. The cast of instrumentalists is completely different as well. However the main soloists are those who made the South African trek in the drummer’s band: British-raised, Netherlands-based tenor saxophonist Toby Delius; younger Johannesburg-born, London-based pianist Pule Pheto, who has worked with bassist Barry Guy and works as a producer for soul singers; and Caribbean-born alto and soprano saxophonist Jason Yarde, who also played with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

Stretched out over 12 tracks in contrast to Spirits Rejoice’s five, the Freebop pacing and unique South African lilt that ricochets between tribal chants and Methodist hymns usually takes second place to Luce’s vocalizing. What that means is the backing is often locked into a pop-R&B vamp, built on muted passing tones from trumpeter Claude Deppa, slurred fills from Yarde’s soprano, unison piano comping and repetitive beat undulations from bassist Roberto Bellatalla and the drummer.

Throughout, Luce puts on as many vocal guises as a verbal quick change artist. On the traditional “Utshaka”, she comes across as a balladic Abbey Lincoln, backed by muted trumpet and irregular tenor honks. Another traditional piece “Hayi Umntu Endinguye”, finds her wordless vocalization moving from near country and western cadences to become anthem-like stolid. It also features with contrasting dynamics from the piano, as Yarde adds contrapuntal peeps and ends his solo with what sounds like “Taps”.

Written by the bassist, “Maybe Of Cause” takes in both scat and improv jazz as the high-pitched trumpet and contrapuntal horn lines appear to embolden Luce to channel Annie Ross at the beginning and Maggie Nicols at the denouncement. Finally, “Motherless Child”, gets a treatment reminiscent of American Black Nationalist chants of the 1970s. Built on a rock-like vamp and staccato piano fills, Luce dramatizes the words before lapsing into Leon Thomas-like glossolalia.

Elsewhere, while Delius gets some space for abrasive multiphonics and sibilant intonation, and Deppa takes a high-pitched slurry grace note laden solo, overall the instrumental marrow seems secondary to the vocal perimeter. Although the session passes pleasingly with a relentless rhythmic impetus it doesn’t approach Spirits Rejoice.

Freed from a vocalist’s demands, the session appears more rhythmically and polyphonically sophisticated. Additionally the soloists – who admittedly are given more space than on Bra Louis-Bra Bra-Tebs – ratchet the output up a few notches. Especially notable is Parker, who is fully in a freebop mode with flutter-tongue guttural smears, and Tippett, who on “Wedding Hymn” manages to pump out lush, two-handed kinetic notes with the strength of a Herbie Nichols. Driven by cross beats and flams from the drummer, it makes you wonder if this riffing Freebop is really what a nuptial melody is like among the Xhosa.

Alive with contrapuntal call-and-response from the horns, the tunes let the four-piece rhythm section go its own way, keeping things rhythmically exciting with repeated dance-like motifs. “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me”, written by trumpeter Mongezi Feza, another former Blue Note, rocks with gospel-like choruses and lilting contrapuntal themes. Not only is there metronomic cross patterning from the pianist, but one of the trombonists – either Nick Evans or Radu Malfatti – lets loose with a sequence of buzzy plunger tones midway between Kid Ory and your local Salvation Army band.

Musical ingenuity also makes “Amaxesha Osizi (Times of Sorrow)” less of a plait than a multi-layered exposition that in its 11 minutes uses alternative dynamics to suggest both a liturgical and a martial work. As the unison horns move the tonal centre with legato harmonies, the alternating horn lines follow a warm, side-slipping solo from Wheeler that adds emotional resonance to the performance.

Although both discs are prime examples of Moholo-Moholo’s art, it would seem that in these cases the acidity of exile produced more profound sounds than the congeniality of homecoming.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bra: 1. Sonke 2. Lakutshona Ilanga/Ntyilo-Ntyilo 3 Unisone 4. B My Dear 5. Maybe of Cause 6.Utshaka 7 Moegoe 8. Motherless Child 9. Yes Please 10. Hayi Umntu Endinguye 11. Yes Baby, No Baby 12 Ntyilo-Ntyilo

Personnel: Bra: (trumpet); Jason Yarde (alto and soprano saxophones); Toby Delius (tenor saxophone); Pule Pheto (piano); Roberto Bellatalla (bass); Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums); Francine Luce (voice)

Track Listing: Spirits: 1. Khany Apho Ukhona (Shine Wherever You Are 2. You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me 3. Ithi Gqi (Appear) 4. Wedding Hymn 5. Amaxesha Osizi (Times of Sorrow)

Personnel: Spirits: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet); Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti (trombones); Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Keith Tippett (piano); Johnny Dyani and Harry Miller (bass); Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums)