"Celebrate Mzansi" from tenor saxophonist Moses Khumalo has a more pronounced township jive style to it, though that’s hardly a knock. The instrumentation remains true to straight ahead jazz, with Khumalo’s clever tenor giving way to an extended, inventive and complex piano solo by the brilliant Sylvester Manzinyane over Prince Kupi’s guitar and the bass and drums of Jimmy Mngwandi and Sello "Skholo" Montwedi. The piece is infectious and captivating.
Flutist Zim Nggawana’s lovely "Beautiful Love (It’s All About Love)" is a reflective piece, while the Sheer All-Stars offer "Langerly," a piece with almost a Brazilian mood that spotlights Hanmer’s fluid piano, Mrubata’s inventive tenor work and Errol Dyer’s Benson-inspired guitar. Darius Brubeck and Afro-Cool Concept perform Brubeck’s "Tugela Rail," a tune that reminds at times of father Dave, with a decided Africa flavor. Voice, a sextet of Yenana, Mnisi, Wyatt, Tsoaeli and Gontsana, the same group that recorded under Wyatt’s name on the opening piece, offers a melodious Donald Byrd-styled "Sweet Anathi."
"Lovers on Empty Corners," by the Sheer Allstars -- Wessel van Rensburg (piano), McCoy Mrubata (tenor), Louis Mhlanga (guitar), Sipho Gumede (bass), Frank Paco (drums) - is a quietly impressive piece, while Mrubata’s "Amasabekwelanggeni" notches the intensity level up a notch. Mrubata’s fiery tenor and Feya Faku’s trumpet work in a swirling intensity over the busy rhythm (Yenana on piano, Tsoaeli’s bass, Morabo Morojele on drums with Romeu Avelino on congas and bongos) in this excitingly layered work.
Steel drum master Andy Narrell performs his "Dee Mwa Wee," a number that drops the level back to serenity. With his band of Mario Canonge (piano), Michel Alibo (bass), and Mokhtar (drums), he is able to paint a peace portrait that soothes. Pianist Bheki Mseleku’s "Imbali," on which Faku (this time on flugelhorn) and Tsoaeli make return appearances, along with Ezra Ngcukana (tenor), Enoch Mthalana (guitar), Philip Meintjes ((drums) and Tiale Makhene (percussion), is light fare compared to all that has preceded it.
The closing number, "Shawn’s Uhadi Samba" from pianist Hotep Idris Galeta is a more substantive number that reminds oddly enough of Vince Guaraldi . The gait is lively and the piano beautifully played. Zim Nggawana (alto), Marcus Wyatt, Victor Masondo (acoustic bass), and Kevin Gibson (drums)
As Heads Up did with smooth jazz on the Smooth Africa and
Smooth Africa II collections, this wonderful collection sets its sites on a stylistic neighborhood. Though there are steps beyond the boundaries, it is more successful than not. It is unquestionably a grabber in any language.