Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2012: Evan Milton review

With the 2013 edition of the annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival due in a month, here’s Evan Milton’s review of the 2012 festival, loving the the jazz on offer, but puzzled as to why anyone would plan a timetable clash between living legend Dorothy Masuka and a tribute to the late Miriam Makeba.

Cape Town International Jazz Festival - Dorothy Masuka

This review by Evan Milton was written as part of a joint three-way review for Rolling Stone South Africa, written with Miles Keylock and Anton Marshall: three intrepid pairs of ears jostling independently between the five stages over the two nights of Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2012. Read the collated review here:
Both nights of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival started well for the jazz purists. The intense, measured brilliance of Herbie Tsoaeli‘s Friday launch of “African Time” was a showcase of why South African jazz is a critical contributor to the global pantheon. Jazz began as a music of freedom, and has always carried that message locally, and speaking of freedom in Mzansi in 2012 means speaking of roots and traditions. It means pulling those influences into a contemporary space, and conducting journeys of interrogation without fear of returning to the simplicity of a single bass line, or a traditional chorus, delivered only by human voice.
That was your starter, or Andre Petersen‘s superb set where his US-born, Europe-based quintet included Reggie Washington who, poignantly, was playing the actual double-bass once owned by the late Cape stalwart Basil Moses. Another foreigner, Petersen’s saxophonist Marcus Strickland, channeled the spirit of Basil Coetzee in his tone and phrasing. It was sweet, sweet music for the soul After it, one could have been forgiven for wanting to leave immediately, preserving this precious sonic memory. So too, with sets like Steve Dyer‘s latest explorations that showcased a quintet of fiery young talents, including his son, Bokani Dyer. Or Cuban composer and pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, or the pairing of Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez in multiple-layered conversation with the guitar of Benin’s Lionel Loueke.
Coming from such nourishment, how to appraise the Grammy stars like Marcus Miller or Dave Koz? It’s all slick pastels, sharp suits and swooping TV cameras at the Kippies stage. But there’s Miller, speed-bassing through Miles Davis‘ “Tutu” which, dammit, he recorded and played half the instruments on after Prince had said no. There’s Koz, who insisted on playing the CTIJF’s free Greenmarket Square gig, because people that can’t afford tickets also deserve to hear jazz. So, yeah, it’s smooth and theatrical and bedeviled by rousing crescendoes but it’s consummately executed, and the crowd are lapping it up: jiving, toasting with plastic cups, bopping on the cordoned-off corporate seats. It’s jazz, baby; but jazz you can dance to.
Dorothy Masuka vs Miriam Makeba. Really?!
Any festival with multiple stages will have timetable clashes. It was a particularly poignant sadness, though, that saw the 77-year-old living legend Dorothy Masuka,  scheduled to perform precisely when her teenage friend, the late MiriamMakeba was being honoured in a start-studded tribute led by Hugh Masekela. Organisers ESP Afrika are to be lauded for including veteran singer-activists like Masuka, but a broader view should have been taken here. Masuka’s set was sublime, a multi-language presentation of songs and pithy recollections that underscored the deeply important musical heritage she embodies. That some seats in the Rosies auditorium were empty – casting an additionally poignant resonance on the cheap plastic chair Masuka used to rest her injured hip between songs – was criminally sad. Also unfortunate was that visiting diva Patti Austin played over her allotted time, forcing the local songstress to cut short a set, practically midway through a solo by burning guitar southpaw Bheki Khoza (billed fully as Bhekisana Makhosonke).
Before the festival, Zakes Bantwini said he planned to woo the jazz-loving crowd with some standards, and then drop in his million-selling Afro-house hits. His vocal showcasing on a a funked-up “Take Five“, and the skills of his eleven-piece band did precisely that. Loyal fans got their ears opened, subliminally, to jazz classics, and jazz-heads found themselves enticed into getting down to Durban’s finest steamy rhythms.
Before the festival, Lindiwe Suttle said she planned to showcase her melding of neo-soul, rock and African influences with the ’80s avant-club sound of her Berlin-based producer Florian Hirche. The set was a stylised performance, complete with haute couture costume changes and interpretive dance that struggled on an outdoor stage but was a grand stepping stone for the release of the singer’s debut.
Before the festival, Ms Lauryn Hill said… nothing. Because Her Royal Hillness does not deign to speak to the press, or meet with fans. Elsewhere, her set has been criticised as scattered, and the singer as being “under the influence”. Neither are entirely accurate, although most listeners voted with their feet. She came across as an artist playing with a band that’s not played together on big stages before, or recently. Which we all know is true, since the singer more-or-less retired from public performance. Instead of spending much of the show micro-managing her evidently talented musicians, though, Hill ought to have led from the front and just plain delivered on her songs.
With 20/20 hindsight vision, the “Mama Afrika” tribute to Miriam Makeba, helmed by Hugh Masekela – which saw a jam-packed Kippies stage bouncing to every note, and utterly enthralled by guests Thandiswa Mazwai, Zolani Mahola and Vusi Mahlasela – could have been swapped with Hill’s “comeback” show. Punters would have stayed to the last drop of sound from Masekela and, perhaps, without the pressure of being billed as the show-closer, Hill could have relaxed into playing the songs she’s famous for and her fans were there to see.
This review by Evan Milton was written as part of a joint three-way review for Rolling Stone South Africa, written with Miles Keylock and Anton Marshall: three intrepid pairs of ears jostling independently between the five stages over the two nights of Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2012. Read the collated review here:
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