Paul Hanmer - Trains To Taung
It seems strange that among all the talented musicians in South Africa there doesn't seem to be anyone to challenge Abdullah Ibrahim's title as the king of SA jazz pianists; and there still isn't a South African jazz piano album that compares to Ibrahim's classic Mannenberg. Well, what was, was. After lurking in the background for some years now, Paul Hanmer has released his first solo album Trains To Taung. If you've been searching for an album to replace Mannenberg on your stereo, then look no further.
The Cape Town born and educated Hanmer has been working as a session pianist, composer and arranger for the past few years as well as performing and recording with some of the biggest names in SA music. Included in this stellar list are Tananas, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri, McCoy Mrubata, Tony Cox's Cool Friction band, Pops Mahomed and Hanmer's fringe project, Unofficial Language. But Trains To Taung is the labour of love that finally fuses all these influences and styles into a seamless whole.
The 'Taung' in the title refers to a small village near Kimberly where bones from South Africa's earliest inhabitants were found. It is obvious that Hanmer has attempted to trace the path that music in South Africa has taken from its early days to the present. Quite a task! Yet contained in these nine tracks are traces of all the moods and styles that have been encountered on this fascinating journey. The opening track Meeting Of The Women begins with a simple jews harp melody that is soon joined by a rumbling, deep piano bass groove. Then the restrained percussion moves in as Hanmer carries the melody along with simple piano figures. Eventually all the instruments drop out of the mix leaving the jews harp to quietly run out the track. Conscienceless, Prop Hat and Umhlangano are quiet and gentle piano compositions. Hanmer carefully picking his notes and leaving spaces to create the image of a pianist hunched over his keyboard in a late night jazz club, purging his soul of all the music and emotion that he has been cooped up inside him. Bassist Denis Lalouette, drummer Jethro Sasha, percussionist Basi Mahlasela and guitarist Louis Mhlanga patiently support and complement his musical catharsis.
The highlight of the album is Chef's Groove, a nine minute opus that has an infectious Mannenberg-type hook running through it. Following it is the title track which, on the liner notes, is referred to as a journey. This piece clocks in at 11 minutes yet has the timeless feel, sound and rhythm of a train moving through an African landscape.
It is obvious that great love and care has gone into the production of this beautiful and significant album. The cover and tissue-like liner pages enhance the overall feel of the album. On them Paul Hanmer describes the intention behind his work as such: "Trains To Taung is an instrumental journey from the very roots of an ancient music, that resonate in the deepest memories of the soul, to the pulse of Urban Africa today". On this wonderful and timeless album Hanmer has achieved just that.
Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman.
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