Thursday, October 20, 2011

Free Jazz

Last night, Zwe took me to this great little corner restaurant in Melville, Jozi called "Wish!". It was not great for the awe-inspiring food (it was good, but not amazing), nor the decor, which is actually really pleasant and suitably artsy. They have abstract paintings that are awash with colour on the walls, and red chairs that look like they come from an alternate time that never actually existed. If that makes sense. And our waiter was more than a little distracted as a famous DJ was sitting at the table behind us.
The reason it was such a gorgeous evening was because there was a live jazz band playing there that you could listen to...for free. Not just any jazz band, a jazz band consisting of Marcus Wyatt on trumpet and fugal horn, Afrika Mkhize on keyboard, someone called Clement Benny on drums and Thembi Nkosi on a huge, gleaming double bass (in my next life, I will be a bassist. No question). Benny is a drummer who seems to make the rhythm section melodic, and Mkhize is prone to flights of incredible, fragile beauty on the piano. Nkosi thrilled me down to my toes with his masterful handling of his bass throughout, and Wyatt is, well, there's a reason he is such a famous musician.

They played a standard or two, but their real strength last night seemed to lie in the music they had worked on together. After a particular passage, several listeners (including my own dear boyfriend) actually shouted with joy.
Being able to sit a few feet away and listen to such great music is something we all experience too rarely in these days of widespread recordings and such easy access to the music of almost any band one could wish to hear. Seeing a band live in such an intimate setting is really exciting. You can hear the scatting Mkhize sometimes does to accompany his playing, and Benny's zen-like expression that seems to be completely unaware but is actually taking in all the subtleties of his fellow musicians. You can tell when someone has lost their place because of the sheepish smile that creeps over their face, and you could watch Wyatt pacing and soloing nonchalantly from the door, or taking his place as frontman.
The four players achieved excellent balance last night, not something I have often been fortunate enough to hear. Each note of each instrument contributed to a seething Jazz whole (jazz music can never simply be "whole": that implies some kind of completeness. Jazz is never complete) and I enjoyed being able to hear the bass in particular, which is often drowned out in live performances.
I was particularly pleased to see that there is free jazz at "Wish!" every Wednesday night. Whether or not next Wednesday brings the same excellent quartet or another band, I am looking forward to returning.

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