Friday, November 28, 2008

Sibongile Khumalo & Jack DeJohnette’s ‘Intercontinental’ - London Jazz Festival day 8

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, 21st September 2008

The surfacing of stellar talent Sibongile Khumalo by drumming legend Jack DeJohnette is something to be grateful for. Tonight’s concert provided an opportunity to air their ‘Intercontinental’ project, the result of a collaboration founded during a residency at Aldeburgh in Suffolk, an unlikely setting for the development of some unlikely music.

It’s easy to have preconceptions about South African jazz. Surprising it may be then, that ‘Priestess Mist’, the opening piece of a truly incredible concert, would be perfectly at home on a classic 1970s Krautrock album by the likes of Neu!, or the very early Kraftwerk. Jack DeJohnette opened the evening by taking a handheld microphone close to his cymbals, then lightly tapping them to amplify the complex harmonics and create a ghostly texture. Sax player Jason Yarde then added some Steve Reich-like ambient loops triggered from his soprano and Byron Wallen’s trumpet.

The second track launched with a skull slicing art noise terror attack, envelope filter and ring modulator effects liberally applied by Yarde. The track initially had a distinct avant-garde classical feel, which then mutated into a latin groove, Khumalo’s vocals clearly echoing Flora Purim from the first ‘Return to Forever’ album. The sound space then hollowed out, leaving Khumalo scat vocal drumming along with DeJohnette’s high tempo triplet-within-triplet side stick improvising.

Khumalo composition, ‘Little Girl’, began with a neatly executed descending chord sequence over a classic swing feel. Initiated by some unpredictably placed heavyweight accents from DeJohnette, the track evolved with the aid of a Coltrane inspired scalar blitzkreig from Yarde. Pianist Billy Childs’ ‘Hope in the Face of Despair’ was a good vehicle for his outstanding technique, the tune's rich harmony nodding to the sound of the great musicals. Every piece tonight consisted of several parts, this one shifting through some contemplative phases leading into DeJohnette’s centrepiece solo. His magnetic centrifugal pulse underpinned some subtle improvising on the base elements of snare, hi-hat and kick drum. It was a lesson in how to do things your own way.

An incredible solo from Khumalo, combining jazz, classical and operatic elements to phenomenal effect ended the last track, and brought the Queen Elizabeth Hall to its feet for a standing ovation. We were left quite in awe.

Review reproduced courtesy of the London Jazz Festival and Jazzwise Magazine.

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