27 May 2022
Album Rating 4/5
Solo Performances 5/5
Diversity in Songs 3.5/5
Following in the footsteps of their stellar tribute album to Abdullah Ibrahim, The Paxton/Spangler Septet return with another musical homage to South African jazz: Ugqozi.
The group from Detroit have been playing together since the 1970s, held together by a love of South Africa’s music.
Ugqozi expands beyond the confines of one musician, and even one nation, with tracks from names like Mongezi Feza, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Nduduzo Makhathini and Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.
Fronted by Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler, and arranged by Jeff Cuny and saxophonist Salim Washington, Ugqozi is another fine gem from the group. The album also includes Dan Bennett, Kasan Belgrave, Philip J. Hale, Damon Warmack, Kurt Krahnke, Sean Perlmutter, Alex Harding and John Douglas.
Ugqozi has an uplifting and soul-nourishing quality. The title comes from the Zulu word for inspiration: a theme at the source of the musician’s fingers and straight to the ears of the listener.
The album opens with a true anthem in South African jazz history: Mongezi Feza’s ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me Cos You Think You Know Me’, also made famous by the magnificent Louis Moholo Octet. It’s a stirring tune and wonderfully played by the Detroit group.
‘Ithemba’, a ballad by Nduduzo Makhathini, dials the pace of the album down to a stroll while Hugh Masekela’s ‘Part of A Whole’ is a classic bluesy track that struts and grooves its way into your ears. The Septet plays it with flair and gusto.
Classics and well-loved tracks are compiled in this album but reimagined in the context of the group’s musical heart: Detroit jazz with an undying love for the South African tradition.
‘Lwandle’s Lullaby’, like ‘Ithemba’, seeks to highlight contemporary South Africa as opposed to the traditional, and in this tune, the oboe takes centre stage. Where a lot of the more traditional South African music might have opted for a flute, the oboe really shines through with an otherworldly quality.
By the time of the fifth track, the Paxton/Spangler Septet transposes the essence of South African harmony and music to another African nation: Nigeria.
Fela Kuti’s ‘Water No Get Enemy’ was one of my favourite of the group’s renditions. The classic horn stabs are interlaced with gorgeous harmonies reminiscent of South African jazz, producing a wonderful melting pot of a tune. The deep baritone of Alex Harding meets its saxophone cousins in a union of joy.
‘Pata Pata’, as made famous by Miriam Makeba, has an almost childlike wonder to it, which the group capitalise on with finesse. It’s a bouncy, uplifting tune, sure to cheer any mood.
Ugqozi finishes on the track ‘Jabulani Easter Joy’, which embraces the freer side of the jazz spectrum. A life-affirming rhythm section holds the power to this tune and the horns spiral up and down in a wonderful frenzy.
The Paxton/Spangler Septet is a group of highly talented musicians who dedicate their music to the legends that have shaped them, most often from South Africa. Ugqozi concludes as it begins: with frantic joy.
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