Without introduction, the quintet struck their notes and stated their African roots, starting off with the traditional Kudala, immortalised by The Blue Notes, with the European horns wafting the refrain with aplomb.
At 10.30pm Saints, which is the venue for the Standard Bank Jazz & Blues Cafe, was full, most eyes drinking in the dexterity of the world-class local and international musos coalescing their notes on the small stage in front of floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the night street.
Most eyes because there were a handful of people at the tables disconcertingly craning their heads to watch the soccer on the screen mounted on the back wall. Digital screen taking precedence over live jazz. It’s a strange world but the venue manager could have made it a lot simpler by simply switching the damn thing off.
The craning heads didn’t upset the musos though, it was the chatter emanating from a table of four in the far corner that had the exuberant pianist and former Standard Bank Young Artist for jazz, Afrika Mkhize appealing for quiet. His hands waving and his big eyes bugging at us as Shane Cooper (another SBYA winner) soloed his double bass during the second number ‘Moles Dream of the Prairie. After a few glares from the jazz-loving audience the table shut up and we could hear what Cooper’s spider fingers were plucking out on ‘Square Time’ which gave Matthias Wenger’s alto sax a turn to shout as Sphelelo Mazibuko urged him with the drums and Mkhize yelled him on to yell, Andreas Tschopp’s trombone bopping and parping along.
The thing about the Jazz & Blues Cafe is, if you can deal with the cold wind whipping down High Street, you can skip the R95 ticket and watch these maestros through the window. Which is why we could see a small sea of faces behind the band, listening through the glass. It’s kinda surreal, but adds to the cafe’s jamming vibe. It’s where the musos on the more formal set-up at Standard Bank Jazz’s DSG venue get loose, and on a good night, mix and match with each other until the early hours.
Being the first night of fest, it didn’t quite get to the hip-shuffling fireworks its known for. Due to the long trip into the heart of the Eastern Cape, or the soccer, the musos hadn’t quite got their fest vibe on yet and stuck to more traditional arrangments. There were sparks in the final two numbers though. Cooper’s own composition The Sirens of Baviaanskloof had the drums and bass tumbling heavy notes, rolling like rocks down an aloe-strewn mountain kloof as Wenger let his sax loose at full throttle trying to ride the avalanche. And in the last track, Mkhize’s own Malume, we saw our pianist finally let go, rolling his head all the way back, mouth open the whites of his eyes staring at the ceiling as he made that shitty little keyboard turn into thunder.
Strangely there was no call for an encore but the Jazz & Blues Cafe was by far the liveliest place at midnight in festival city. It usually is.
These guys pop up in various permutations all over the Standard Bank Jazz programme. Don’t miss them.
Matthias Wenger – sax
Andreas Tschopp – trombone
Afrika Mkhize – piano
Shane Cooper – bass
Sphelelo Mazibuko – drums