Lionel Pillay with Basil Coetzee: Shrimp Boats

Previously issued in 1987, these four tracks offer an evocative slice of South African jazz, including a cover of Weather Report's Birdland


The material here was issued as a compilation in 1987 on Mandla 001 and comes from sessions featuring pianist Lionel Pillay.

The title piece, Shrimp Boats, was given a jazz arrangement and recorded solo by Abdullah Ibrahim in 1971. In an extended improvisation with a mesmeric feel Pillay here uses electric keyboard; he brings in piano at times but the drone-like backing would benefit from greater variation. Basil Coetzee plays with his clear, slightly rough-edged tone, distinctive and inventive, working within the parameters of the simple melody. Stompie Manana’s trumpet is added, economical but nicely positioned with some basic African percussion.

The rest of the tracks are from a 1980 session, Pillay using altoist Barney Rachabane and tenor saxophonist Duku Makasi. Pillay had played on the original of Yakhal’Inkomo, with Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi in 1968; the version here features Makasi’s rich-toned tenor and shows a more exploratory side of Pillay. After keeping the momentum going, the pianist solos, retaining an African element, although with a hint of Erroll Garner, whilst Charles Johnstone’s bass assumes the rhythmic lead.

Slow Blues For Orial is exactly that, Rachabane’s alto to the fore, whilst Pillay sticks to piano, suitably soulful. However, he can’t resist inserting the odd passage of unnecessary Wurlitzer-style electronica. Johnstone’s walking bass leads, simple but effective.

Joe Zawinul’s Birdland, from the Weather Report album of the same name, completes the side, and is a straightforward cover. However, there is a question mark over the personnel on it, as the saxophonist might be Robbie Jansen and what sounds like a guitarist isn’t credited.

(1) Shrimp Boats; (2) Slow Blues For Orial; Yakhal’Inkomo; Birdland (47.36)

(1) Pillay (p, kyb); Coetzee (ts); Stompie Manana (t); Charles Johnstone (b); Rod Clark (d, pc). South Africa, 12 November 1979.
(2) Pillay; Barney Rachabane (as); Duku Makasi (ts); Sipho Gumede (b); Gilbert Matthews (d). South Africa, 29 September 1980.
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