Last week I was delighted to be able to buy Spirits Rejoice!, the 1978 recording by the Louis Moholo Octet on the Ogun label, now reissued on Otoroku, the Café Oto label, to coincide with the two-day residency of Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes (perhaps not the best name for a band in these Key Change days!).
I was there for the first night of the residency and loved the energy and the sheer joy of the quintet. It seems to be directed by Alex Hawkins at the piano strongly supported by John Edwards on the double bass and the intricate patterns woven by Moholo at the drums. The form of the two sets the quintet played was based on seamless moves in and out of the strong South African melodies, and a movement between these melodies and the passionate improvising of the two reed players, Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax and bass clarinet, and Jason Yarde on alto sax. The interplay between the two was a key part of the wonderful atmosphere created by the band. As I recall, the band played in both sets one long passage including various tunes interwoven with the improvisation before pausing and concluding the set with one or two shorter passages.
It was fascinating then to sit down and listen several times over the weekend to the Spirits Rejoice! LP and compare the music of the Octet with that of the Five Blokes band. Of course, the Octet is a different and larger band with two bass players – Johnny Dyani and Harry Miller – and two trombonists – Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti -, plus Evan Parker on tenor sax, Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Keith Tippett on piano and Moholo on drums. The music brings together African melodies and free improvisation in a way that seems entirely natural. Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998, p. 1069) note in discussing Moholo’s albums that ‘traditional African musics frequently anticipated the methodologies of free music’; this is certainly borne out on the Spirits Rejoice album.
One notable difference between the Octet album and the live Five Blokes gig is that on the album there is much less movement in and out of the melodies and there is usually a clear delineation between the statement of the melody and the solos. This is immediately apparent on the first track, Khanya Apho Ukhona (meaning Shine Wherever You Are) where the statement of the theme moves into a long solo by Evan Parker. Evan is brilliant throughout the album as are Keith Tippett on several tracks and Kenny Wheeler on the Wedding Hymn track. The track where there is most to and fro between the melody and the improvisation is the second track, Mongezi Feza’s You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me which features the two trombonists. Interesting that this tune also featured in the Five Blokes set.
By contrast, the music of the Five Blokes is much more fluid with the constant movement between the tunes and the improvisation that really keeps the listener anticipating quite rapid changes from one to the other. The changes seem to be cued either by Hawkins at the piano or by certain drum patterns from Louis Moholo. All this gives the music a freshness and an excitement that is very special.
It is excellent that the music that developed from the interaction between the South African exiles and the British free players that began in the 1970s lives on despite the loss of so many of the original exiles. It is such a special blend of musics that adds a wonderful, joyous and heartening sound to the scene. It is also very encouraging that the scene in South Africa continues to produce lively and distinctive music. A good example is the young pianist Bokani Dyer who has a different take on the South African tradition; he is establishing a niche for his trio touring in Britain and continental Europe.
Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998) The Peguin Guide To Jazz On CD London: Penguin