Thursday night’s shindig at the DSG Hall saw two former Standard Bank Young Artists for Jazz, pianist Bokani Dyer and bassist Shane Cooper, in a magical collaboration with two visiting musicians, Swiss saxophonist Christoph Irniger and Brazilian drummer Alex Buck.
Though billed as a Cooper gig, the show was a true sharing session among the members of the quartet. They opened with a piece titled “Tafadhali”. Cooper remarked that it was inspired by the jazz music being made in Ethiopia. “Tafadhali” loosely translates to “being spun”, not only in Arabic, but in the various hybrid languages of the people who gave the world many magical musical voices. Like Mulatu Astatke the Ethiopian.
They followed it up with a tune composed by pianist, Bokani Dyer titled “Khalagadi” which segued into a tune by Buck, “Mobile Essay 1707”. Here, the saxophone of Irniger launched a sonic language that in turn took on a searching and ebullient quality. He sounded strident and equally tender as he climbed into the song note after rigorous note. He blew, not sheets, but washes of sound that draped themselves onto the propulsive rhythmic patterns like a warm reassuring technicolour cloak. We were now in a musical state of dreams.
Drummer, Buck felt unimposing even if he was emphatic about his sense of time. He scuttled and rattled from his high hat to snare and bass bin, then back in reverse and across again.
The twin openers were followed by a charming cut, “Bamako Love Letter”. A South African jazz reflection of what happens when those raised on the sound of the post-blue notes era discover the Islamic Maghreb.
Cooper plucked his bass line to conjure up the sound of the Kora. Dyer too tempered the strings of piano to give it a metallic feel that flattens and split the heads of his notes, giving his phrases a kind vibratory ring. The melodic lilt of the Sahel flowered unmistakably as a central theme of the song’s main motif. The saxophone registered melodic propositions that snaked up and up then going low as the arrangement drew down at a momentary post-bop pit stop; but only to circle back to the main melodic lilt.
By the time the band entered the victory lap of the night’s repertoire, Dyer was a man about the Lord’s work. Besides, the closing number was his own composition, “African Piano” which is lifted from his second album, Emancipate The Story. He dispensed some of the most inspired phrases and blocks of sound on the festival’s programme. Line after colourful line, he spun his notes along, twisting out all easy familiarity from the song to find something new for us all. The whole band could only be lifted by his effort. Hence turning this into a successful session for a band that had only been playing together for less than 48 hours in Jazztown.