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Paxton/Spangler Septet - Anthem For The New Nation (Album Review)

4 July 2021

Album Rating 4/5

Solo Performances 4.5/5

Live Potential 5/5

Favourite Songs 'African Marketplace', 'Moniebah', 'Soweto'

Detroit meets South Africa in this collection of covers from the legendary pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.

The tracks live up to Ibrahim’s genius with grooving renditions of his music, from ‘African Marketplace’ to ‘Mannenberg’ and ‘Soweto’, in which the virtuoso jazz-blues musicianship stands out.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet is fronted by Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler: Detroit musicians with a life-long love for South African jazz, particularly for the likes of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and of course Abdullah Ibrahim (formally known as Dollar Brand).

The Septet also includes drummer Sean Perlmutter, bassist Damon Warmack, pianist Phil Hale, Dan Bennett on tenor, with both Rafael Leafar and Kasan Belgrave appearing on flute and alto sax. The tracks were arranged by bassist Jeff Cuny who appears on tracks 1 through 6 and there also features a guest appearance on flugelhorn for ‘Soweto’ by James O’Donnell.

Any fans of Abdullah Ibrahim and South African jazz will revel in the fresh takes of the tracks from the Detroit group.

Anthem For The New Nation opens with ‘African Marketplace’, an old Ibrahim classic. The track captures the excitement and energy of a bustling market and the Paxton Spangler Septet capture it nicely with a tight rhythm section and fine solos from saxophone and keys.

The title track, ‘Anthem For a New Nation’, takes the pace down to the slow, gorgeous groove that Abdullah Ibrahim loved to play with. This form of South African jazz captures the sonic essence of hope and joy, which is also found in other Ibrahim tracks like ‘Water From An Ancient Well’ and ‘Chisa’.

The anti-apartheid jazz from South Africa during Ibrahim and Masekala’s time often builds on harmonic progressions around the first, fourth and fifth chords of a major scale, and from this foundation, the musicians sail away with liberating, blissful solos.

This feeling of freedom is captured perfectly in The Paxton Spangler Septet’s interpretations. Not to keep this feeling of joy would be a crime to South African jazz, but the Detroit group nail it.

‘Cape Town Fringe Mannenberg’ comes in as the third track. This tune has been cited as one of the most iconic anthems of anti-apartheid jazz in South Africa, and one that has inspired Nelson Mandela. Such a significant track requires fine musicianship to pull off and again The Paxton/Spangler Septet do just that.

‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ opens with a beautiful piano part before the chiming of flutes. It’s a slow, gorgeous tune.

The diversity of tracks selected shows off both Abdullah Ibrahim’s discography as well as the versatility of the musicians of The Paxton/Spangler Septet.

‘Whoza Mtwana’ keeps the album grooving with uplifting melodies and tight rhythmic progressions.

The final two tracks: ‘Moniebah’ and ‘Soweto’ are two canonical classics. The Detroit group put their own spin on ‘Moniebah’, a song that Abdullah Ibrahim played with legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, resulting in a fine rendition of a classic tune.

‘Soweto’ was a perfect choice to end the album on. It’s a song that never fails to uplift the mood and The Paxton/Spangler Septet nail the delightful interplay between the piano and horn section, while the drums and bass keep the groove rolling on.

Anthem For The New Nation stands as a great tribute to a legendary musician and the songs are pulled off in style thanks to the talent of The Paxton/Spangler Septet.

The album was released on Eastlawn Records on the 4th July 2021 and it sure does deserve a listen.


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