Two unsung heroes of the genre release albums
Two releases, from veteran Ibrahim Khalil Shihab and bright young talent Reza Khota, light up the scene, writes Atiyyah Khan
After five decades, audiences can look forward to a new release by master improviser, pianist and composer Ibrahim Khalil Shihab. This weekend Shihab launches his longawaited second album as bandleader, The Essence of Spring. The album is a follow-up to the 1969 album Spring, recorded with his quartet which at the time featured a young Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi, his brother Philly Schilder on bass, Gary Kriel on guitar and Gilbert Matthews on drums. The album is an essential contribution to the canon of South African jazz.
Shihab, previously known as Chris Schilder, changed his name in 1975 upon embracing Islam. He was chief composer in the band Pacific Express, creating a series of hits on their first two albums. Following this he spent many years travelling abroad, working as a musician in various parts of the UAE and Far East. He is somewhat of an unsung hero since his return to SA in 1999.
Shihab, now in his 70s, has been keen to release new music for a while but has found it quite challenging. He attributes the work behind the album release to the energy and persistence of Cape pianist Ramon Alexander, who is also the producer of the album. The two have formed a beautiful musical companionship with the creation of this album. Shihab says: “Ramon is responsible for this and I’m very grateful to him. He did a wonderful job and he gave me such support musically, especially with some of the arrangements, like with the Pacific Express songs which he arranged.”
Alexander approached Shihab last year about recording an album, he says: “I wanted to produce an album that shows people who this man really is. A man who wore many hats over the years. A jazz composer, a master pianist and a songwriter that appealed to the masses.”
The album is a beautiful representation of sounds from the
Cape, and for it Shihab has worked with a whole range of musicians from the area, amongst them fellow Pacifics drummer Jack Momple, guitarist Reza Khota and percussionist Gary Grainger.
Musically, Shihab has a lot to pack in from all the time that has passed and the album stands as a documentation of his various interests from avant-garde jazz compositions to more easily accessible pop songs. The album opens with a refreshed re-arrangement of Spring by Shihab. Jazz heads can look forward to four new compositions by Shihab, as well as an exquisite solo piano piece. There is the wonderful goema-influenced Bo-Kaap, based on his many years spent in the area.
There are three interpretations of Pacific Express songs which get a reworking, including Angel of Love and I Hear Music as well as anthemic hit Give A Little Love, this time round sung by impressive 20-year-old talent Ruby Truter. ●
Audiences can see Ibrahim Khalil Shihab and the Essence of Spring project at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival next year. Albums available via www.ramon-alexander.com
Guitarist and composer Reza Khota returns with his quartet for their second album, Liminal, which launches today in Cape Town. Liminal is described as being between two states — Khota draws heavily on this idea, both philosophically and musically, on the album. He is part of the new wave of jazz musicians that dedicate themselves to prioritising music that asks questions central to postapartheid SA.
Joining Khota in the quartet is Shane Cooper (bass, Fender Rhodes and synths), Jonno Sweetman (drums) and Buddy Wells (sax). They share a unique chemistry and move with ease into new musical territory. The album is the result of writing over the past three years.
“Rhythmically, I have incorporated my affinity for Indian classical rhythms and beat cycles as well as my love for Ethiopian jazz, Malian blues and Nigerian afrobeat. As a band we tend to zone in on the micro-rhythmic and polyrhythmic interplay that occurs, especially in the improvised sections,” Khota says.
Cooper is a close collaborator. His influence on recent project Mabuta and as electronic producer Card on Spokes can be felt throughout the album, which moves in an electronic direction. Khota explains: “Shane and I share a mutual interest in electronic music, especially analogue sounds, early synths, tape echoes, Fender Rhodes and more.” The rich textures of Sweetman’s drumming add further layers to the instantly recognisable tones of Wells’s saxophone.
Khota has the ability to move between complicated Indian classical rhythmic principles, African groove tradition and jazz improvisation. Hence the album places itself between moments of quiet and intense groove.
“After writing these tunes and figuring out titles for them, I began seeing how the idea of liminality was common to the different titles. In conjunction with the artwork by Grant Jurius, we began exploring themes of the subaltern — people excluded from the system, refugees or those who toil for the riches of others. With the relentless pursuits of extreme capitalism and neo-liberalism, there seems no end to the growing chasm between those that have and those that don’t have,” he says.
The writing explores the states of nature and politics. Album closer Ghosts is a fourmovement suite that emerges as a reflection on the idea of haunting. It alludes to the ghosts of Marikana miners. ●
Liminal is available on all digital platforms.
The album launches in Cape Town today at Jazz in the Native Yard, Guga S’thebe Cultural Centre, 37 Washington Street, Langa. 4pm. R100. Info: 021 695 3493.
Ibrahim Khalil Shihab.