Chris McGregor

In His Good Time
Ogun OGCD 038

By Ken Waxman

Justly famous as the leader of the South-Africans-in-Europe Blue Notes combo and the Brotherhood of Breath big band, which mixed Apartheid exiles with British free music players, the piano talents of Chris McGregor (1936-1990) were never properly appreciated. This CD should go a long way towards rectifying that. Adding four tunes recorded at the same 1977 Paris concert to the original Ogun LP, In His Good Time confirm McGregor’s keyboard and compositional skills.

Exposed early on to rousing hymns and Xhosa folk melodies while growing up at a Church of Scotland mission in the South African hinterlands, McGregor’s melodies – he composed nine of 13 tracks here – would continue to reflect those influences even as he internalized modern jazz and classical sounds.

Practically stream-of-consciousness playing, with almost no breaks between tunes, McGregor’s well modulated solid and swinging lines easily reflect his background. Studded with Kwela and ecclesiastical tropes, he’s a jazzman with no recourse to the blues. When he doesn’t sound as if he’s playing for a foot-stomping religious service or a simple dance, his tremolo muscularity can be linked to the sounds of Herbie Nichols, McCoy Tyner, or, when he breaks into free time contrasting dynamics, early Cecil Taylor. However some pieces like the staccato “Mngqusho” skirt a George Shearing-like facility without enough menace.

More fundamentally though, it’s the original lines plus a pair of tunes composed by Blue Note associates Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza which allow his talents their greatest exposure. Feza’s “Sonia” is one of those uniquely Southern-African lines, infectiously simple, highly rhythmic and definitely jazz. With equal weight for left hand walking bass and right hand melody elaboration, McGregor’s instant arrangements are highlighted more so here then when spread over clusters of two or three tunes. “Umhome”, McGregor’s arrangement of a tradition melody is another stand out. Here maximal vibrations emphasize the ingenious mood and color changes as dense chording is lightened by the piece’s Africanized beginnings.

Like Duke Ellington in his solo forays, this CD proves that McGregor was a lot more than the band’s piano player.

Tracks: Green Hymn; Kwa Tebugo; Sonia; Call; Raincloud; Umhome; Burning Bush; Shekele; Yikiti; Mngqusho; In His Good Time; The Bride; Ududu Nombambula

Personnel: Chris McGregor: piano

—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2013