Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Dudu Pukwana: Blue Notes For Johnny

Chris McGregor's bands mixed free jazz and township music but in this tribute to bassist Dyani, the South African element is to the fore

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Like Blue Notes For Mongezi (reviewed separately with background information about the band) this CD was previously available as part of Blue Notes: The Ogun Collection, a set that also included Blue Notes – Legacy and Blue Notes In Concert.

In the late 60s and early 70s McGregor and his associates were at the centre of much of my live listening. After the Chris McGregor Group disbanded, its members could often be heard with several splendid bands, including Isipingo, Makevu, Zila, Jabula, Spear, Jabula-Spear and Assegai. All, to some degree or another, melded South African dance music, especially kwela and township jive, with fiercer, more abstract elements derived from the free jazz/fire music developments which began to emerge in the US in the 60s.

On this tribute to Johnny Mbizo Dyani the South African influences are very much to the fore and, notwithstanding its energy and sometimes acrid sound, the music is suffused with longing and nostalgia for home. Adding to the poignancy is the knowledge that both McGregor and Pukwana would be dead by mid-1990, when real steps to end apartheid were just beginning. Only Moholo lived to see the end of apartheid and go home.

Listening to this album more often than strictly necessary for reviewing purposes it seems that it has grown even more deeply emotional, powerful, moving and enthralling than it was when first issued 14 years ago. Pukwana’s glorious, throaty alto cries out, sometimes with pain at the absence of Mbizo, sometimes with exultation when the music really catches fire.

There are also lyrical pieces, such as Ntyilo Ntyilo (with lovely playing from McGregor and Pukwana switching to soprano) and the reverent reading of Nkosi Sikelele Afrika. Each of the three versions of Funk Dem Dudu (only the first was on the original LP release) has its own identity, which makes them worthwhile bonuses rather than just space-fillers.

With the superb melding of the sound of the players, not least McGregor’s left-hand figures and Moholo’s tom-toms, it is almost as if Dyani’s bass is really there: it’s not that he is not missed, more that he is so strongly present in spirit.

Discography
Funk Dem Dudu-To Eriko; Eymomzi; Ntyilo Ntyilo; Blues For Nick; Monks & Mbizo; Ithi Gki-Nkosi Sikelele Afrika; Funk Dem Dudu; Eyomzi; Funk Dem Dudu-To Erico (65.28)
Pukwana (ss, as); McGregor (p, pc); Moholo-Moholo (d, pc). London, 18 August 1987.
Ogun OGCD028