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cdcover Roger Lucey - 21 Years Down The Road
25 September 2000 The Folk 'n Jazz troops of the late 50's and 60's had been effectively silenced - forced out of the Sophiatown shebeens & the Hillbrow Coffee-Bars - into the distant & relative safety of exile or the collective comfort of the Suburban Soiree, the odd Liberal Lounge dead poets' society, the occasional campus Free Peoples Concert or FOLK FESTIVAL. Big Abe's Nite Beat in Hillbrow was on it's last legs, the 505 crippled & the collectively run Troubadour down at the black bus rank in Noord Street had just undergone it's 3rd fatal name change - trying its best to hide from the security spotlight. MANGLES in Braamfontein opened just after Totem in Durban closed - both died at 3 years old - and Goodness knows what was happening in Cape Town and the rest of the country. It seems nobody by Boss did! A handful of musicians just kept on blowing their hearts out & their heads off.

The 70's did not have much to offer the last remaining revolting (?) Troubadours of the 60's - there were the 3rd Ear / Nusas / Safma Free Peoples Concerts at Wits through which a few Folk singers & Jazz die-hards had the audacity, at the time, to take on the might of the State and the Mediocrity of the Record Industry with full frontal lyrics and licks - Roger Lucey - one of those... Long-hair, torn jeans, attitude... with loaded guitar, a head-full of ideas & a soul full of songs - a threat to the order, safety & security of the state? A tear-a-away from Tekweni in eGoli 1975 - a year before Soweto '76 - joining the growing chorus of decent; blanked-out Rand Daily Mail editorials daring to shout the odds... urging the country to wake-up and stop the nightmare. Extending that dare from Mangles in Braamies into the Market Kuif down in Newtown. The Road remains as long as it ever did before. You Only Need Say Nothing, to have nothing at all to say. Roger is still saying it, singing & performing. Here's a selection of those songs from that time.

David Marks (3rd Ear Music, Durban, 2000)

For further information on Hidden Years Archives Project please keep in touch with 3rd Ear Music Company (Pty) Ltd
Tel: +27 31 207-5314
Fax: +27 31 207-5305
David Marks (in Durban) mailto:david@3rdearmusic.com
Dylan Marks (in London) mailto:dylan@3rdearmusic.com

The proceeds from the sale of these limited edition CD's will be used for further research into this unique & historic Hidden Years Music Archive Project.

Taken from the 3rd Ear Music website
http://www.3rdearmusic.com

 

cdcover Various Artists - Tassenberg All Stars
3 September 2000 A live compilation of tracks recorded at this year's Oudtshoorn Festival. Most of the alternative Afrikaners are here: Koos Kombuis, Piet Botha, Gert Vlok Nel and Valiant Swart. Valiant's 9 minute 'Die Mystic Boer' is stunning. One of my favourites on this album is 'Jannie Cocaine' by Akkedis, an anti-drug song they tell us, just in case we miss the point. The lone female voice on this album is that of Laurinda Hofmeyer with a haunting song called 'Moment'. I don't know the band Mikanic, but they get 2 tracks which are pretty good. Other artists include Theuns Jordaan, Jonathan Martin (accompanied on piano by an uncredited Piet Botha) and Delta Blue. (BC)

 

Marcus Wyatt Gathering
21 August 2000 This debut album from SA trumpeter Marcus Wyatt has been looming for some time now and it was worth the wait. 'Gathering' is a symbolic title for the album as Wyatt has gathered together not only an intelligent selection of his older and more recent compostions, but also the cream of the musicians with whom he has been working for the past few years. His list of band credits include Interzone, Dave Ledbetter's Truly Fully Hey Shoo Wow Band, Carlos Mombelli's fusion outfit Prisoners Of Strange, Iconoclast, and Jimmy Dludlu's C-Base Collective with whom he appeared at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague. To do full justice to these 10 original and absorbing tracks, Wyatt first called in his old compadre, saxophonist Buddy Wells, and then also decided to use two different sets of backing musicians. For the more acoustic songs he used the band Voice- (bassist Herbie Tsoaelie, drummer Lulu Gontsana, pianist Andile Yenana, and tenor saxophonist Sydney Mnisi). For the balance of the tracks he brought in the heavyweight combo of drummer Gaston Goliath, guitarist Johnny Fourie, bassist Carlos Mombelli and Afrika Mkhize on keyboards.

The resulting opus, on the Sheer Sound label, is a formidable SA jazz experience. Wyatt pays tribute to two of his major influences - Miles Davis, with his constant searching for boundary-breaking experimentation, and Hugh Masekela who glorified the African trumpet sound. 'Gathering' is an album that manages to soar across jazz styles while remaining true to its roots. It is an essentially South African jazz album but tracks like the opening 'Raindance', 'Freedom Love Song', and the album's highlight, 'Lullaby For An African Princess', can stand proudly alongside any international contemporary offerings. It has a lilting, soothing and evocative nature and is going to draw belated but well-deserved attention to one of South Africa's most exciting new jazz trumpeters. (LM)

 

Paul Hanmer Playola
7 August 2000 SA jazz pianist Paul Hanmer has released 'Playola', his third solo album. As with his previous two acclaimed offerings, the seminal 'Trains To Taung', and the more introspective 'Windows To Elsewhere', Hanmer draws from an eclectic mix of influences to produce these evocative and essential slices of contemporary SA jazz. Hanmer is an intense and dedicated musician who searches deep into his psyche to find the inspiration for these seemingly simple melodies and arrangements. By combining these original compositions with his many influences from SA jazz past and present, Hanmer has managed to produce a body of work that could go a long way to establishing SA jazz as a solid member of the international and contemporary jazz community.

Hanmer's creative fingers have graced albums from the groups Unofficial Language ('Primal Steps' and 'Move Moves') and The Sheer All Stars ('Indibano'). He also co-wrote and produced Cape vocalist Gloria Bosman's debut album, 'Tranquility'. 'Trains To Taung' has already made its mark both in South Africa and internationally. It didn't take long for glowing word-of-mouth reviews of this tuneful, rootsy masterpiece to spread and Paul Hanmer became one of the young SA jazz pianist to watch.. 'Windows To Elsewhere', his second solo album, was more introspective and proved a little too complex and inaccessible for all those fans who had fallen for 'Trains To Taung'. With 'Playola', Hanmer has managed to produce a 74-minute album that should largely please both camps. The highlights include 'Bacarolle', 'Kwaito Right' and 'Zondwa Stomp', but overall it is an absorbing and consistent album that will impress the newcomers and satisfy the converted. (SS)

 

Lungiswa Lungiswa
24 July 2000 This is the debut offering from Lungiswa "Lulu" Plaatjies, the niece of Dizu Plaatjies and a part of the Amampondo set-up since the age of seven. Lulu was 10 when she worked on Amampondo's debut album, 'Uyandibza' and derived many influences from her grandfather who was a traditional healer and who exposed Lulu to the music at the African ceremonies they would attend together. Her musical education continued in Johannesburg where she learned to sing in a variety of styles and languages including Zulu, Xhosa and Scatho. In 1993, while attending the 'We Have To Mix' concert at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, Lulu met Robert Trunz, the head of MELT 2000 who agreed to help her produce her first album and who introduced her to Tony Thorpe who contributed greatly to this album.

'Lungiswa' is an album that straddles the African and World music genres. With Amampondo providing the strong percussive background, Lungiswa's sweet, plummy voice ranges through these many different sounds and styles giving the album a broad and intriguing appeal. She narrates her musical history in the second track ('Intro Song') after beginning the album with a slowed-down six-minute choral version of 'Nkosi Sikelel i'Afrika. These are followed by Lulu's Xhosa version of the Marvin Gaye classic, 'Inner City Blues'. Lulu retains the song's melody but rewrote the lyrics to give it a relevant and touching message. Her straight cover of the same song, with the original English lyrics, closes off the album. But covers aside, there are many impressive moments on this album to guarantee Lungiswa a place in the future of SA music. There's the jazzy percussive 'Oh Re Yayay', the energetic Ska-ish instrumental 'Tribal Song', and the traditional 'Zimban'. But the highlight of this album is the song 'Fundal' which introduces regular thumping drums and a beguiling melody to turn this into a World Dance classic. Robert Trunz and producer Tony Thorpe had enough confidence in Lungiswa's talent and background to allow her a free reign with the material on display here. The result is an album that is going to turn Lungiswa into a household name both in SA and overseas. (7.5) (SS)

 

cdcover David Gray White Ladder
14 July 2000 It took a while to get here, on a local pressing, but 'White Ladder' is now on the SA CD shelves and ready to spread its magic across our land. Welshman David Gray's third album was initially only released in Ireland in early '99. By the end of the year it had scooped many of the Irish media's "Best Album" awards and David Gray had, eventually, arrived. There have been no sightings of his first album, but 'A Century Ends' popped up in a bargain bin and had a few strong folk-rock moments that hinted at Gray's ability to casually deliver gravelly, emotional vocals and lyrics, and great tunes.

There are 11 songs on "White Ladder", although first single 'Babylon' re-appears as 'Babylon II' at the end of the album. 'This Year's Love' featured in the soundtrack to the film of the same name and helped raise Gray's profile in England. But this is not a singles/chart album, it is a slow-burning, complete album with it's own relaxed pace and feel. A happier Leonard Cohen, a sweeter-voiced Dylan, a younger Van Morrison. That good, but not similar to any of them, except on his only cover, a longer, rambling, folked-up version of Mark Almond/Soft Cell's 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye' that drifts temporarily into the lyrics and vocal style of Van Morrison's 'Into The Mystic'. It's his nod to the past, to his musical journey and to the work of his heroes and influences. But this is a fresh and individual achievement from David Gray, hopefully it's not too good to repeat. (10) (SS)

 

cdcover Off The Edge Just Another Band (BMG)
25 June 2000 On January 23rd this year, we gave you a sneak preview of a track off the new album from one of South Africa's best bands. Well, the album is finally out! It's the third offering from the band, and like 1998's 'On The Run', it's excellent, except this time, this is definitely the band's piece de resistance, and it's far better than the band's two previous albums in every sense of the word. This is the album that should make people all over the world sit up and take notice of Off the Edge. As was the case with 'On the Run', the band's line-up is Peter Hanmer on guitars and keyboards, Tony Groenewald on bass and piano and Judy Marshall-Schutte, who, as this is being written, is just about ready to introduce her soon-to-be-born baby to the world of great music! Congrats, Judy, and all the best!

The new ten track CD is comprised of a stunning mix of good, solid hard rockers such as 'Cheating' and a number of superb instrumentals such as 'Ovation' and 'Blueprint'. Peter Hanmer is one of the most underrated guitarists and songwriters in this country and he has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills on this album. Tony Groenewald's writing and bass playing skills are of a consistently high standard, and Judy is certainly a major find with the most amazing range and control. One of the many tracks that makes this album a "must buy" is the nine minute-plus epic, 'St. Aidans', which is about a beautiful church in Grahamstown, South Africa. This track would not be out of place on any of Alan Parsons' conceptual albums. We featured it on The Dinosaur Days radio show this week and the response was phenomenal!

You have it all in this album: excellent musicianship, singing and songwriting, catchy riffs and hooks, involved and emotive instrumentals and production that can rival anything, anywhere, all topped by a really dynamic sleeve with some stunning design work by PixSTAR Digital. If comparisons have to be made, take the best of Boston, Trevor Rabin, Pablo Cruise and Alan Parsons Project, merge it into one unique sound and you have an album of sheer class that can rival anything in the current South African music scene, and can certainly hold its own against its better known overseas contemporaries. It's about time a major label sat up and took note.

By Leon Economides (taken from the Dinosaur Days website)
http://www.dinosaurdays.co.za

Off The Edge on the net: http://www.rock.co.za/offtheedge

 

cdcover Lesley Rae Dowling Clear (BMG)
12 June 2000 So let's welcome back SA's own 'Stone Rose'. Lesley Rae Dowling's 'Clear' album was released late in 1999, probably in time for the SAMA Awards, and won two (Best English Adult Contemporary Album, and Best Sleeve Design for the very effective cover and booklet by Gaby Prado). Lesley looked as glacially spooked as ever when accepting them, probably not used to the bright lights and big (Sun) city after spending lots of time on the family farm in the Helderberg Mountains above Stellenbosch. She took seven years to release '93's 'Unbounded Waters', which rode on the back of local acclaim to garner a UK release on EastWest Records. EastWest waited a few months and then sent over one of their producers to work on the next album. Bad idea, bad chemistry. The project was closed and Lesley took another extended break. She travelled around Europe, cleared her head, learnt how to make wine on the farm, and kept scribbling. She also, possibly, listened a lot to the recent Fetish and Sugardrive albums. Just a guess.

In 1998 Lesley connected with the Jurgen von Wechmar who had produced many of the 'Alternatief' local legends including Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Springbok NGs and The Led. It took them a while to get the songs out in Von Wechmar's home studio in Banhoek, and they used a group of local musicians who were a far cry from the A-list that worked on 'Unbounded Waters'. But the back-to-basics approach and style worked out well, and 'Clear' arrived in the "end of 1999" rush. It's a pity it did so then as this is no hurried stab at the pop charts. The cover certainly deserved its award, Dowling's turquoise eyes transfixing and engaging from their minimalist, sharp, bright background. And it actually sets the tone for the music inside. Eleven brooding compositions that avoid the standard verse/ chorus format for altered lyrical patterns, wrapped in some truly strong, sensitive and restrained rock arrangements. Dowling's growly croon is as emotionally taut as ever, but there's a new vulnerability in her voice, and a sensuality in her lyrics. 'Touch' boldly opens the album with a rock swagger, but 'Size', 'Camp' and 'Jealous Heart' settle things down with their low seductive spark. 'Clear' is an absorbing album that simmers throughout, always edgy but rarely exploding. When it does, towards the end on 'Swimmer', it feels timely. And then the delicate 'Quiet' wraps it all up. Semi-sweet, a little dry, mildly intoxicating. I wonder what her wine's like? (7.5) (SS)

 

cdcover Various Artists Smooth Africa (BMG)
29 May 2000 It's difficult to decide exactly who the producers of this collection were hoping to attract. From the sepia bleak landscape cover and bland title one would imagine it was those tourists to SA with too much money and too little time. A quick listen to the contents however brings those MOR SA jazz fans into the marketing glare, sounding as it does like a commercial free hour of "smooth jazz", SA style. But a closer inspection of the sleeve, and a few more listens, begins to make sense of this album. That recent Helmut Lotti album 'Out Of Africa', featuring the Belgian Cliff Richard doing versions of all our sacred classics (so to speak), left a bad taste and a general suspicion of any overseas musical entrepeneurs looking to repackage some SA music for the international market. This album is the brainchild of Dave Love, head of Heads Up Records (USA), who accompanied Joe McBride to Cape Town for the Jazzathon concert and flipped for the local stuff. He returned, lined up the hot SA jazz gang, hauled them into a handful of studios, and released this 12-song collection.

So, how did he do? Well, the quality of the artists appearing here are beyond question. Besides the big names - Hugh Masekela, Jonathan Butler, Jimmy Dludlu, Joe McBride, Pops Mohamed, Andy Narell the balance are all those illustrious names currently listed under the Sheer Sound banner. There's Gloria Bosman, Paul Hanmer, Gito Baloi, Tony Cox, Sipho Gumede, Errol Dyers, McCoy Mrubata and Robbie Jansen, all working with each other to record these 12 pieces, and the results are pretty impressive. This is "Smooth" South Africa jazz beyond doubt, but not much to do with Africa in general. But these are small quibbles because this collection will charm the pants off both the tourists and those jazz fans with glass tables and swish stereos. But it will also bring many of these artists to the attention of many folk in between. Jimmy Dludlu's delicate 'Point Of View' off his 'Essence Of Rhythm' album; Paul Hanmer's 'Meeting Of The Woman' off his seminal 'Trains To Taung' album; Joe Mcbride and Jonathan Butler's brave attempt to rework Abdullah Ibrahim's classic 'Maneneberg'; Gito Baloi's cool 'Cape Vibes Got 'Em'', and the evocative 'When Days Are Dark And Friends Are Few' from Sipho Gumede. To top this all off, Dave Love contributes a song as well, and he's called his lovely trip hoppy jazz piece, 'Smooth Africa', and explains why on the sleeve. Love says: "The perception of dark Africa can only be overcome by visiting the wonderful continent. There is a smoothness that can only be experienced by a visit". So that explains the motivations behind this album, and credit to the "Love" man for getting this recorded and released. It's a strong collection of SA smooth jazz and will give great value to whoever buys it and deserved exposure to all these great artists. Not bad at all for an "uitlander". Pay attention Mr Lotti! (8) SS

 

Phambili Phambili (BMG)
15 May 2000 Move over Amampondo, Phambili has arrived and looks set to take SA marimba music back into the world music arena. Phambili (meaning "Forward") is a seven-piece Cape Town-based musical collective featuring marimbas, drums, and a fluent brass section that began when four of these musicians (Bongani Sotshononda, Brian Huna, Jongi Monatsi, and Themba Huna) were schoolboys back in 1988. Originally the lads stuck to their marimba, drum and flute hybrid, playing traditional SA pieces. But as they grew, finished school, and began to study music, their influences started to expand until a brass section and contemporary jazz elements were added to the mix. The group began to appear on local and international stages (they have just returned from headlining the SA Freedom celebrations in Venezuela) alongside SA music legends Abdullah Ibrahim, the late Basil Coetzee, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Bayete.

Their self-titled debut album is a sparkling offering with the marimbas dominating these eight compositions. The arrangements are simple with the fluency of the playing coming to the fore. Opening track 'Sweet Times' is a popular knees-up African wedding tune that sets the tone for this album. Here the group sticks to their original acoustic sound with a song that accelerates into a frantic thrash. On 'Niamh', a Gaelic influenced composition by Bongani, the brass section slips into the arrangement to add some steel to the delicate marimba melody. 'Tears Of Joy' calms things down with a simple melody given the full marimba treatment. 'Little Ringo' has no Beatles connections, instead being a sweet little dedication to Bongani's sister Ringo ("For her love of our music"). 'Wake Up', performed with the Solid Brass Quintet, finishes the album on a stirring and energetic note. 'Phambili' is a short, sweet and competent debut from a group that can only move forward now with confidence and high expectations. (7) SS

 

Youssou N'Dour Joko
1 May 2000 "My hope is in you, I wanna watch your spirit touch the sky, so much more we can do". Prophetic words from the song 'My Hope Is In You', which is just one of the wondrous moments on Youssou's new album 'Joko' (subtitled 'From Village To Town'), and could easily be the song that proves that 'Seven Seconds' was no one-off fluke. Despite being one of the most visible and acclaimed African artists performing on the world, jazz and pop stages these days, Youssou N'Dour still hadn't managed to captured his golden voice and charismatic live presence on a single album, till now.

For 'Joko' he roped in an assortment of friends including Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Wyclef Jean, but not Santana! The result is an album that will amaze World and Pop music fans alike, and one that will surely push him into the 'household name' league. It has that same melodic crispness that epitomised the two Ishmael Lo albums, 'Iso' and 'Jammu Afrika', but surpasses both those albums with its depth of quality and variety and songwriting strength. Listen to the opener, 'Wiri-Wiri', followed by the harmonic sway of 'Birima', two songs in and hooked. There's 'Don't Walk Away' with Sting, 'This Dream' featuring Peter Gabriel, and 'How Come' featuring Wyclef and Marie-Antoinette. Wyclef also oversees a slow groove through the Tosh/Jagger hit 'Don't Look Back' and adds his Fug-Gee-lalalas to an extra version of 'Biriwa'. This 16-track album is as good as we've heard from this continent, and, if 'My Hope Is In You' isn't a massive hit, then the world's gone deaf, simple as that. (8) SS

 

cdcover Chris Tokalon Dance In De Light (Music For Our Chakras)
3 April 2000 Chris Tokalon's debut album works on a number of levels and succeeds on them all. A flute and saxophone expert with over 20 years experience in the SA music industry, Tokalon found his musical career beginning to intertwine with his interest in sound as a healing medium. 'Dance In De Light' (subtitled 'Music For Our Chakras') his self-produced debut album, comprises seven pieces of music, each composed, arranged and designed to systematically tune the body's Chakras (energy centres) by utilizing various forms of rhythm, mood, pitching and intention. The album works on one level as a calming and evocative piece of ambient music that would not be out of place in a chill room at a rave. But when listened to with the necessary intent, the music begins to function as something way beyond the normal ambient piece. It in fact becomes more of a healing musical journey whereby the body's main chakras are toned in ascending order, initially as a gentle "awakening" or "stirring", and later as a mantra-like process. Each of these melodies function individually as a complete journey and integrate with the other pieces to achieve a balanced and effective "tune-up" for one's mind, body and spirit.

These musical pieces are all composed of simple melodies and harmonies, performed by Chris on his well-known flute and saxophone. To flesh out the arrangements, he called in his longstanding musical ally and friend, guitarist Greg Georgiades, and percussion maestro Dave Reynolds. Georgiades also plays the oud (fretless lute), alongside the ever-present and hypnotic overtone singing and echoing monochords. The resulting album is a piece of music that defies simple categorization or description. It retains a broad musical appeal while functioning on a far deeper level as an uplifting and therapeutic sound journey. All of these songs operate as functioning parts of the whole album, and doing critiques of the individual tracks is to grossly miss the point. To borrow the title of one of Chris' well-known cabaret-type shows, "Don't tune Chris, he'll tune you!" http://www.soundman.co.za(8) SS

 

Tony Cox - Matabele Ants
20 March 2000 This is the third solo album from the ex-Zimbabwean steel string acoustic guitar wizard. Accompanied by Barry van Zyl on assorted and intriguing percussion (including a brushes solo on the 1988 Durban telephone directory), Cox produces yet another seamless combination of Leo Kottke-type dexterity and his "two tunes in one song" melodic mastery. The album was produced in a more casual manner at fellow guitarist Nibs van der Spuy's old mansion in Durban, and stands proudly alongside Van der Spuy's recent and wonderful 'Lines On My Face' album. As with his two previous offerings, 'Cool Friction' and 'Looking For Zim', Cox keeps it sweet and simple, letting the African soul in his music shine through. Opener 'Watertree' sets the mood with Cox's urgent repetition of the basic riff driving the song. 'Kwe-Kwe' is a jolly knees-up with background claps adding to its impact, and 'Anthole' finds Cox attempting (and succeeding) in conjuring up images of ants scurrying around. 'Ek Se' is a delicate Goema piece and 'Kwazulu' sounds similar to 'Freedom', the song with which Richie Havens opened the original Woodstock Festival. If African instrumental music is your bag, then put this in yours. (8) SS http://www.tonycox.co.za

 

cdcover Bernard Binns - Physiognomy Of The Soul
6 March 2000 You're not going to believe who just stepped into the early 2000 limelight, with the first quality SA rock album of the year. The older SA pop fans amongst us will certainly remember The Helicopters, who emerged from Vereeniging in 1981 and cast a medium shadow over the '80's SA music scene. Their biggest hit was a naggingly hooky little single called 'Mysteries And Jealousies', and, if you can still recall the plummy vocals of the lead singer, then you'll remember Bernard Binns. Binns fronted the band through a string of singles and two albums, 1985's 'Love Attack', and 1987's 'In The Flesh'. The band folded its blades in the early '90's and Binns spent the next few years working in the music and communications industries. Then in 1998 he connected with Adrian Levi, ex-Ella Mental guitarist, and the two took a year to complete 'Physiognomy of The Soul', his debut solo album.

The time and care taken in attempting to merge these lofty lyrical concepts with a broad vista of sounds and styles has, to a large degree, succeeded admirably. 'Physiognomy Of The Soul' is not as intense as its title or evocative cover suggests. These 12 songs individually make for strange bedfellows, but as a whole the album is as thrilling a one-hour musical trip as we've had for years. 'Hypocrite' opens the batting here with a stalking groove and Binns' "in-a-cave-with-a-megaphone" vocals swirling in the mix. 'One Good Love' is a deceptively sweet pop song with the crushing "Why do you piss me off so much" chorus. The first single, 'Physiognomy', is adequate if a bit too retro, but 'Mon Amie (My Friend)' steals the show here with its beautiful piano intro and soaring melody. 'Scorch', 'Head Rush', and 'Absolution' add a harder core to the middle of the album, tempered by Bruce Cassidy's flugel horn touches on the moving 'Toronto (Canada Moon)'. 'Soul Girl Soul Boy' throws Sly Stone onto a late-'90's dance floor and embarrasses neither and 'Tuna Free' will hopefully pop up as one of the next singles. The mellow 'Angelique' closes off the proceedings followed by the (unnecessary?) extra remix of the industrial chanting of 'Absolution'. All in all, 'Physiognomy Of The Soul' is a strong, subtle and consistently un-boring piece of work and it should surprise and impress a lot of people. Welcome back Bernard! (8)
http://www.bernardbinns.co.za

 

Fruit Fly Navigators - The Urgency Of Now
7 February 2000 This debut, five-track EP was released late in '99 and was almost lost in the end of year rush. But with January being a notoriously quiet month, this five-piece decided to promote it as the first interesting SA release of '00, and so it is. 'The Urgency Of Now' spreads its six power tracks over 20-odd minutes and manages to cram in enough invention and highlights to leave one very keen to hear a full length offering.

The members of the band are Mark Norrie (vocals), Craig Jenkins (guitar), Adrian Jacobson (guitar), Dave Campbell (bass) and Billy Weisenger (drums). Together they have created a hard rock sound that works off a thundering rhythm section and deft guitar touches, with Mark Norrie's vocals resembling Arno 'Nude Girl' Carstens' with its clarity, whoops, emotion and confidence. Opening track 'Me=You' draws minor comparisons with Placebo, one of the bands that were name-checked as influences on the group along with Stone Temple Pilots and Radiohead. But this is no copycat album, excellent songs like 'Crime City Blues', 'Happy' and 'Drive', leave no doubt that this is one of the SA bands to watch very closely during 2000. A sterling and solid debut (7) (SS)

 

James Phillips Soul Ou
23 January 2000 As the appropriate title says, this was a solo performance by the ou with the most soul in SA rock. That it turned out to be his last released album is just an extra irony in the story of James Phillips. These songs were recorded by Lloyd Ross at the Shifty Studios with no album release in mind. They were purely intended as rehearsal tapes for the concert Phillips was to perform in Grahamstown and as such have a haunting, quiet feel with Phillips accompanying his sensitive vocals with a lone, sparse, guitar, keyboard or piano.

The songs were mostly unreleased and in most cases, unheard, even by the most devoted and obsessive fans, and there were many! The songs range across the many styles that Phillips handled with such ease including blues, folk, jazz and rock. They are all shot through with his renowned humour, irony and cynicism. They reflect the mixture of relief, concern and overall optimism of the new democracy in which he found himself. The old targets were gone and Phillips began to look inward for his subject matter. He found these low-key and heartfelt songs and poured his soul into them. 'Soul Ou' is a sensitive and fitting epitaph to this great South African man, musician and artist.

 

cdcover Frankie's Playground - Frankie's Playground
This solid and sonic hard rock album states its intentions clearly through the menacing ou glaring at you on the cover. He's saying this ain't music for sissies, for those trancers and ravers and folkies, no, it's for those who still like their music loud and hard and heavy. But, although there's the obvious nod back towards those '70's giants Deep, Led, Black, and Aero, there's also a knowing use of some of the more recent NIN-type progressions. But it's not all full-tilt, there's the new ballad-ish single, 'Evening Sunshine', with it's ascending guitars and strong vocals.

The album was recorded in the famous Area 51 Studios in Hanover, Germany with producer Tommy Newton. Other names involved in the project were Terry Hoax, Headcrash, and Phillip Boa and it features some top European musicians including Tore Ostby on guitars, Otto Van Alphen on bass and Matthias Liebetruth on drums. Highlights include 'Fire And Rain', 'Nadira' 'Fake' and 'Desire'. So, this worthy and well-crafted release is mostly no-frills, solid rock, with varied lyrics, tons of drive, sonic volume, and that concrete core that scares away all those for whom the expression "If it's too loud, etc etc" still applies. This ain't no playground but it's fun!  

Amersham - Revolving Doors
11 October 1999 Amersham are the Wimbledons of the SA Premier (Rock) League. Many doubted they would survive in the top SA rock division since the release of their debut album, 'Pickled', but survive they have. This they have achieved through a combination of solid rock traditions, consistently fresh songwriting, an inexhaustible dedication to dynamic live performances, and a cheeky sense of humour. As a result, Amersham have accumulated a devoted core of followers and an impressive catalogue of albums. The 14 songs on this mostly "Best Of" compilation are drawn from their previous three studio albums - 'Pickled', 'Wearing Thin' and 'Upside Downside'. They've thrown in three new tracks ('Schizophrenic', 'Drive On', and 'Supermanic') as well as a great live version of one of their crowd-favourites, 'Green Is For Go'.

These 14 songs feature the classic Amersham line-up of Adam Lomas (guitar and vocals), Nathan Waywell (bass and backing vocals), Tim Trotter (drums, percussion and backing vocals), and Marc Bentel (guitars, keyboards, programming, and backing vocals). Marc Bentel has recently left the band and been replaced by his predecessor Sasha Sonnibichler, who can be heard on the 'Pickled' tracks - 'Monkey', 'Birthday', and 'Tinman'. But the Amersham sound remains intact with the band supplying fresh, energetic and varied arrangements to Adam Lomas's wistful and pure-pop vocals. 'Abduction' covers the subject of alien abduction while in the loo, 'Borne Again' is an emotional ballad dealing with the "pseudo-religious aspects of awe-inspiring sex" (truly!), and 'Schizophrenic', the new track, is a radio-friendly pop classic with a killer chorus. So, no relegation fears for the Amersham "Crazy Gang" just yet. 'Revolving Doors' should give their careers a timely boost and will add more convertees to their no-nonsense SA fun-pop sound.  
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Just Jinger - Here's To You
27 September 1999 The first Just Jinger album, 'All Comes Round', made an impression on me only because I lent it to my neighbour who played it loud and non-stop until it began to insinuate itself into my brain. Their second release, the five song EP 'Something For Now', wasn't too bad either and between them, these two CDs sold approximately 130,000 copies, making Just Jinger the most successful SA rock band of the decade (ever?). Add to that the fact that the band's line-up has changed a few times and you'll see why this, their second full-length album has caught the interest of all those fans and critics alike. So, 'Here's To You' arrives in a blaze of glory, hype and expectation leaving me feeling a little anxious about reviewing it. I decided to avoid those "Counting Crows copyists" and "Just Art" references and give it a few decent listens before spewing forth, and now I'm even more confused.  While I recognise and respect the effort and skill that went into making this album, it's really not my bag. But after hearing it a few times, I must admit that it has its merits and is certain to please all those who bought and loved the first two albums (and that recent live video).

This is definitely Art Matthew's album and he's stamped his creativity, style and ideas all over it. It's a big, strong and bold album with a crisp and upfront production and intelligent arrangements (kudos to Chris Gelakis!). Not all the songs are winners but as a whole it works well. The title track seems a little iffy until we find out that it's a tribute to South Africa, which makes it a little more relevant. But Art feels that his "soft-loud-soft" method of rock ballad song-writing has worked so far, so why change it. He wrote all these songs, so they tend to sound a little samey (Art imitating life?). But so do all those Pearl Jam albums, which this resembles, so let's not write it off for that reason. The band has crammed 13 tracks into 47 minutes so they've kept it compact and trim. 'Perfect Ground' is a confident opening track followed by 'Here's To You' and the soaring 'All Around'. 'Those Days' is a lovely ballad with some gorgeous guitars lifting the song to epic status. 'Many Things' and 'Truly Faithful' are speedy without being dance-worthy and 'Feeling Loving' and 'No Friend' are no slouches in the head-banging department either. So, after hearing this a few times I'm still not completely convinced either way. But a lot of you are going to buy this, regardless, so you decide. I'm more concerned about my neighbour who just bought the Britney Spears and Lou Bega CDs.
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Moses Taiwa Molelekwa Genes And Spirits
10 September 1999 Much has been written about this shining new star in the SA jazz firmament since this, his second album, was released on the MELT2000 label. Moses Taiwa Molelekwa was born and raised in Tembisa township during the apartheid years but has risen above the despair of those times to lead the new generation of SA jazz musicians into the new Millennium. He is a pianist of immaculate pedigree and skill and has been acclaimed as the exciting successor to established and inspirational figures like Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela. But Moses felt that he preferred to move away from the traditional jazz structures and has attempted to appeal to a wider and more crossover audience, without compromising his roots. This he has done with 'Genes And Spirits', an album that welcomes a variety of African, Cuban, Jamaican and Brazilian influences as well as a selection of quality contributors including the Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassey, the Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, and the remarkable voice of Flora Purim.

'Genes And Spirits' is a ten-track album that finds Moses exploring a range of styles while still underpinning these tracks with his fluent and understated expertise on piano and keyboards. It is an album that maintains a traditional jazz core wrapped up in a seamless selection of contemporary sounds, with all the songs being his own, original compositions. There's the exuberant gait of 'Down Rockey Street', the shimmering drum 'n bass of the autobiographical 'Spirit Of Tembisa', the trip-hoppy vocals by Faith Kekana on the opening track, 'Tsala', and the repetitive simplicity of the title track. And simplicity is the keyword here. Moses Molelekwa was confident that the emotion, skill and effort that went into this album would be enough to elevate it above many of the other current SA jazz albums. He was right; 'Genes And Spirits' rewards repeated listenings with evocative music that will consistently and deeply touch anyone who allows it to.
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The Usual Born In A Storm
30 August 1999 I always liked the casual, unassuming nature of this band's name. It somehow exuded an air of quiet confidence and a complete lack of pretension or hype. The members of the band James Stewart (vocals), Paul Tizzard (drums), Johan "Yo-Yo" Buys (bass and, er, yo-yos) and Tom Fox (guitars) always seemed to have a focused vision and unity of purpose. They started cautiously with their first two excellent EPs ('Six Songs From The Inside' and ' Like A Vision') before heading off to Reggie Bowman's Melbourne studios to record the 15 songs that appear on this, their debut full-length album. Originally the plan was to simply rework all the songs on those two EPs and release them as a full album, but, thankfully, the plan was extended and although many of those early tracks appear (in remixed versions) on this album, there is enough new material to make 'Born In A Storm' the wonderful piece of work many had hoped for.

It was Bright Blue who initially pioneered this Cape kwela-pop sound, but it's The Usual who has carried the torch since Bright Blue mostly disappeared. Now it is Tom Fox's understated and seminal guitar sound that provides the link between these two bands, not to mention the fact that Peter Cohen (ex-Bright Blue drummer) is the manager of The Usual. Fox's mbaqanga guitar licks and James Stewart's vocals have always formed the core of The Usual's sound, with Tizzard and Buys's rhythm section consistently providing the dynamic underbed to these songs. It's a simple formula, but one that has consistently produced some of the best SA pop of the decade. You want proof? Just listen to the opening six tracks, as strong a set of pop nuggets as ever kicked off an album. There's the hopeful and sparkling 'When I Look Into Your Eyes' and 'We'll Be Together As One', followed by the slow-burning title track and the slightly tweaked and gentler version of their first single, 'The Shape That I'm In'. 'Crocodile Eyes' and 'It's A Cold World Without You' follow, with the latter being the stand-out choice as the next single after 'Born In A Storm'. The balance of the album is as consistent as this opening salvo, with fresh versions of 'Like A Vision' and 'In My Head' also making their welcome re-appearances later on.

So 'Born In A Storm' has exceeded all expectations, including those of Street Level Studios, the band's faithful and supportive record company who always believed that this jangly SA folk-pop was well worth its tireless efforts. The Usual shared that belief and vision and stayed on its chosen path to the SA musical high ground. The quality, sound and shape of 'Born In A Storm' finds them further down that path than they could ever have imagined.
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The Mutant Harmony Trio Song For Ancestors
16 August 1999 This exciting first album by The Mutant Harmony Trio was licensed from Tequila Records and released on the Nebula BOS label. It was recorded at the Digital Cupboard in Johannesburg during late-1998 and engineered by Ian Osrin. These ten songs are all Greg Georgiades compositions and display his versatility and unique guitar style. Georgiades also demonstrates his mastery of the bouzouki and oud, which is a fretless lute. The cover photo by Alex Bozas goes a long way toward illustrating the sparse and enigmatic feel of these African and Arabic-inspired compositions.

The opening track, 'Brazouki', utilizes the fresh and funky sound of the bouzouki (an instument given a bad rap by the Monty Python team). Marc Duby's cool bass line underpins Georgiades' mastery of this instrument as it does on many of these tracks. On 'Blue Nile', Georgiades displays his skill on the oud with a mellow groove down the famous river. The seven-minute title track is described on the sleeve as "A song of remembrance, a retracing of steps leading from distant archetypal memories to the here and now". This essentially sums up the inspiration behind this debut album. As with Paul Hanmer's 'Trains To Taung' album, Georgiades is looking northwards for the musical ideas which he seamlessly fuses with his contemporary jazz interests on this eclectic and very enjoyable album.

1) Dantai - Operation Lahlela cdcover
12 July 1999 Kwaito, as with rap and hip hop, is a musical style that offers a fresh canvas to any artist willing to experiment with beat, melody and samples. It is music that relies on a base of simple rhythms, sparse arrangements and uncomplicated lyrics but still depends on the broad creativity of its writers to constantly take it into new territory. This first album from Dantai is, strictly speaking, a kwaito album although its innovative mixing of this new dance sound with mid-tempo house, rhythm & blues and hip-hop gives it a new and extra dimension. 'Operation Lahlela' is a nine-song EP that runs for almost an hour. Six of these tracks are original compositions and the remaining three include two remixes of 'Dantai' and one of 'Pyjama Jam'.

The album was produced by Terry Pinana, Dantai and David Beukes at the Mama Dance Music Studios in Cape Town and engineered and mixed by David Beukes and Jerry Barnard respectively. The result is a sparkling album brimming with teeth-loosening bass, an assortment of synthesizer effects and solid percussion. All these elements contribute a big, clear and energetic backdrop to Lungu's sweet and confident vocals, which add a complementary lightness to the deeper male vocals of Diggy Bongz and Goggi. The album opens with a killer trio of songs, 'Dantai', 'Pyjama Jam' and 'Living Aint Easy'. 'Dantai' begins deceptively with a single keyboard chord and some scattered marimba sounds before the bass and melody kick in with a vengeance. The three voices swop lead and harmonizing roles throughout the song, giving it a freshness and Fugees-type feel. 'Pyjama Jam' follows a similar pattern with the male voices dominating here. 'Livin' Aint Easy' cools down the mood and works off a lovely piano melody with Lungu's emotional and yearning vocals adding poignancy to what is possibly the best song on this album.
'Kaige', 'Ten Years', and 'Ubzukubhonke' give this album its solid centre before the 'Dantai - Skollie Mix' and instrumental versions of 'Dantai', and 'Pyjama Jam' close off this excellent album. Dantai cite kwaito heavyweights TKZee and BoomShaka as their inspirations; but it is not going to be too long before those roles are reversed.

2) Various Artists - African Jazz Grooves Vol 1 cdcover
12 July 1999 There may be tons of compilations on the CD shelves at the moment, focusing on the better music coming out of South Africa these days. But this collection, compiled by Luyton Driman on the Meltdown label is possibly one of the best. There are eleven tracks on this album and each one features the strongest songs by the artists involved. Pick of the bunch is pianist Paul Hanmer's 'Chefs Groove' off his wonderful 'Trains To Taung' album. Sipho Gumede contributes the title track off his recent 'Ubuntu' album and Pops Mahomed weighs in with 'The Spirit'.

Two of these artists get to contribute two tracks; Max Lasser is represented by 'Lua Lua' and 'Jumpy', while the bassist Gito Baloi's two tracks, 'Mpfumo Samba' and 'Basic GB' are from his solo albums recorded while Baloi was taking a sabbatical from the band Tananas. Tony Cox's two previous acoustic guitar albums were very well received and here we have 'You Asked For It'. Other artists featured include Landscape Prayers, McCoy Mrubata, and Vusi Khumalo. Besides standing on its own as a worthwhile compilation, 'African Jazz Grooves Vol 1' will definitely ignite fans' interest in many of these artists' own albums.


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