It’s seven years since the last Kyle Shepherd album I own: his fifth, the 2014 Dream State. It turns out there was a sixth I missed in 2016: for Naxos, the recording of the SWR New Jazz Meeting 2016: Sound Portraits from Contemporary Africa with, among others, guitarist Lionel Louecke https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=JAH-468. Catch-up on that is next on my agenda.
Now, a seventh Shepherd release has arrived, on the Matsuli Music label: After the Night, the Day Will Surely Come https://matsulimusic.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-night-the-day-will-surely-come . The digital version is already available; vinyl drops on 11 October and, as is becoming the norm, there’s nothing for us CD dinosaurs.
After the Night is a solo outing, something we haven’t heard since the fragile, incandescent Japan-recorded Into Darkness. It was worth the wait.
A solo piano recital by a South African pianist, in the form of a seamless medley of earlier compositions and new improvisations, will inevitably invoke the facile comparisons to Abdullah Ibrahim that have haunted Shepherd’s career.
If you’re going to be compared to anybody, Abdullah Ibrahim is a very distinguished comparison. And there are intersections and commonalities. Shepherd briefly studied under Ibrahim, who has become a reference point for many Cape Town musicians. So, too have an oceanic, rolling left hand and other elements of the shared Cape soundscape, such as the modal patterns of the Islamic call to prayer. And both men do often opt for similar small-group and solo formats.
But that’s where it stops. After the Night…, like the previous albums, sounds a highly individual voice and vision that isn’t “like” anybody else currently playing. His invention draws on broad references, including other sounds of the Cape, from lyrical ballads and hymns to club music, the cycles of contemporary concert music, and those of traditional Xhosa multivocality. Percy Mabandu’s sleeve notes rightly foreground the awareness “of a shared musical inheritance.” Shepherd brings these inspirations together in ways that are sharply current (he’s still only 34) and experimental. In live performances he often includes conversations with visual material (he’s a soundtrack composer too). He liberates the string sounds imprisoned under the piano lid.
The selection here opens with Shepherd’s For Keith, which takes on a particular poignancy after that pianist’s death a year ago left such a gap. There are several other compositions we’ve heard on earlier albums, including Desert Monk, the Sweet Zim Suite (Shepherd also studied with Ngqawana at the Zimology Institute) and Cry of the Lonely.
In this context, though, they are woven together differently and with new ideas to shape the narrative arc made explicit by the title. Recorded in 2020, the recital leads a listener through the emotional night that followed Jarrett’s passing, into the sickness, isolation and sadness of the Covid times that followed – and towards the light.
The second half of the recital, and particularly its culmination in a re-visioning of Dream State’s Zikr (an allusion to Sufism and immersion in the attributes of the divine) – re-heard through parts of the piano as a kora tune – is spellbinding and compelling. And, yes, genuinely does inspire hope.
Part of that hope for music comes from rising vaccination figures, and increasing ingenuity from organisers in creating safe musical spaces. In a month that in normal conditions would have seen the Joy of Jazz festival, the organisers merit congratulations for devising a new kind of event. From September 24-26 they’re offering car owners (maximum four in a car) live jazz concerts on the Sandton open-air roof parking area.
The concerts reflect exactly the kind of South African jazz diversity and quality that Joy of Jazz ought always to showcase.
On Heritage Day, Friday 24, a double-header presents vocalist Ziza Muftic and her ensemble, followed by a tribute to Sibongile Khumalo from Gloria Bosman with the Uhadi Quintet: McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Feya Faku, Herbie Tsoaeli and Justin Badenhorst.
On Saturday 25, veteran guitar maestro Themba Mokoena leads a guitar summit, and saxophonist Steve Dyer presents music from his album Genesis of a Different World with pianist Bokani Dyer, reedman Sisonke Xonti and more. (Dyer has a new album just out, Revision: see this commissioned interview I wrote here https://londonjazznews.com/2021/09/13/steve-dyer-revision/ )
On Saturday September 26, Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Vuma Levin leads a new performance, The Throwing of the Bones, featuring three pianists: Thandi Ntuli, Mark Fransman and Nduduzo Makathini.
With tickets from R200 per car, this offers far more affordable prices than Joy of Jazz normally sets, for music that is among the best they’ve ever assembled. To maintain Covid-compliant numbers, advance booking is mandatory and you can find details here: http://www.tmusicman.co.za/concert