Review: Joy Of Jazz, Johannesburg

Don Albert finds enough jazz genres to keep everyone happy at Joy Of Jazz, but he's baffled by the lack of respect shown by some of the audience

It’s impossible to see all the concerts that Joy of Jazz offers. I never even had time to have dinner. I tried, but alas I couldn’t keep up.

Most of the music I heard was excellent, but the standout performance for me and the best jazz I heard came from the 3 Cohens (Yuval soprano, Anat clarinet and tenor and Avishai trumpet, pictured right). They were sensational as a group and stunning soloists pushed along by a burning rhythm section of Yonatan Avishai piano, Matt Penman bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. drums.

A close second was Cecile McLorin Salvant (pictured left) who managed to overcome being given a mic that wasn’t working. Highlight of her two sets were her arrangement and singing on Something's Coming and her very different take on The Trolley Song. Pianist Aaron Diel almost stole the show, that’s how good he is. He accompanied and soloed with aplomb and humour.

The surprise of the evening was Estelle Kokot. Since leaving South Africa and settling in London, she has honed her persona and artistic professionalism to become an international artist. Her concert with Chico Freeman was quality music and also saw the launch of her CD with Freeman, The Sound Of You.

The Joy of Jazz got underway on Heritage day with trumpeter, composer, arranger and conductor Prince Lengoasa surrounded by 24 women who made up a big band and a quartet of vocalists. The idea was to pay homage to South African musicians/composers, alive or no longer with us. Prince is very aware of our past and he showed it in this concert by playing music by Abdullah Ibrahim, Yakhal’inkomo by Winston Mankunku Ngozi, and had the audience singing and dancing to Caiphus Smenya’s Ndiphendule amongst others. It’s a pity the Amaqhawekazi Big Band was not cut loose for a few solo spots of their own rather than just accompanying the vocalists. It’s a shame the sound wasn’t as good as the music.

The Yellowjackets can do no wrong in South Africa. They are certainly one of the most popular American bands with SA audiences. Once again Bob Mintzer showed his tenor and EVI prowess and Russell Ferrante displayed a buoyant and inventive approach to the piano. The hardworking Will Kennedy was hot and really kicked the band along. But the real find is bassist Dane Alderson: originally from Australia, he's unbelievable. His fertile mind seems to never stop working, his technique is flawless and he’s perfect for the band.

Larry Carlton laid on some blues-tinged funk and R&B. From the UK Matthew Halsall’s Spiritual Jazz was a favourite with the audience from his solid trumpet playing to the fascinating harpist Amanda Whitting (pictured right). Bassist William Parker’s free and avant-garde was not my cup of tea, but the audience revelled in the sounds they made and drummer Hamid Drake pleased his fans.

Trumpeter Paolo Fresu, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and pianist Omar Sosa were a wild card that had the listeners intrigued with their sounds, and when Gurtu and Sosa got into a singing and scatting match the audience and I were knocked out. I have never heard the sounds they sang, and at the tempo they set. It was like a trumpeter triple tonguing. I was transfixed.

To sum up, besides Dixieland there were enough jazz genres to placate everyone.

The other side of the coin was the sound problems and the talking. Why people come to a jazz concert to talk and text baffles me. They pay good money only to sit and chat loudly. Joy of Jazz is not a club. This is the best jazz in the world, jazz performed by the best artists in the world and it demands devotion. Are we so arrogant that we have lost the art of respectful attention in the presence of genius?

Photos by Don Albert

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