Race and South African jazz teaching – two years later…

Two years ago, I raised in this blog, the issue of a Eurocentric jazz curriculum. (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/who-should-teach-jazz-in-south-africa/ ). The column was triggered by a letter from one of my readers, an SA musician studying overseas, as well as the publication of a very interesting piece of network studies research about the implications of homophily (preference for association with similar others) for diversity and career progression among South African scholars.

The responses to the piece were fascinating. They inevitably included accusations of “racism”, from a few individuals who really didn’t seem to have read it. There was even an invocation of what we have come to call the ‘Zille Argument’: “without [European music] their (sic) would be no harmony and no musical instruments. But this does not fit his (sic) tired and wordy narrative,” opined one commenter.

Now, it seems the UCT task team set up by former Vice Chancellor Max Price to explore the issues raised by students during #RhodesMustFall has reached conclusions very similar to those I explored then. (For a media summary, see https://mg.co.za/article/2018-07-13-00-black-students-undervalued-at-uct ; for the full report see https://www.news.uct.ac.za/images/userfiles/downloads/media/UCT-Curriculum-Change-Framework.pdf )


The primacy of the conservatoire model of music education and of the genres of the Global North, as well as the neglect of African curriculum and materials, the report suggests, contribute to a context inimical to learning for working class black students at the South African College of Music.

Rather than rehearsing the arguments of two years ago, however, let’s look at only one aspect of what the report contains: how the privileging of some narratives (those of the Global North) over others damages the core business of universities: the exploration and creation of knowledge.

The answer is, important stories don’t get told. And since music (its sound and its praxis) embodies sociological and historical narratives as well as sonic ones, erasing those stories impoverishes knowledge. For everybody.

None of us sees everything about the situations we observe or are part of, and knowledge can travel in more than one direction. If playing South African jazz calls for an African sound then those who grew up in the communities that birthed and shaped that sound have a lot to teach those who didn’t – especially about what it means. (Example: a note is only called “dirty” in implied unfavourable comparison with a “clean” one. If a note is deliberately sung or played in a way that challenges the Global North convention – and it is merely a convention – then it isn’t “dirty”; it just is what it is, saying what it needs to say. There’s no cause to “clean it up”.)

This, given the current demographics of much South African jazz teaching, implies some role reversal. Students may know stuff teachers should be open to learning – as the best teachers everywhere always have been. The constraining paradigm of the conservatoire method runs directly counter to any notion of two-way learning. So change has to come.

Nothing in this categorises any individual, of any race, as a villain, and the changes hold out the promise of better teaching and learning, and better music.

Read the report. Reflect that Kendrick Lamar’s Damn just won a Pulitzer – an award showcasing narrative power. Start wondering about the real cost of the ignorance of our own untold stories that prevails in many South African music academies…



Frank Leepa biography: brutal history, personal beefs and brilliant music

“Sankomota was a name I’d been playing around with for a while. It came from the stories told by Mathabatha (Sexwale’s) grandmother. Sankomota is a kind of David-and-Goliath figure in Pedi folklore. It seemed appropriate somehow…”

Frank Leepa in Two-Tone July/August 1992

book cover.png
The cover image for Born for Greatness

To outsiders, music is a baffling business. Novelists regularly get it wrong, veering wildly between portraying the musician as a crazed monomaniac, and creating a character who’s about something else entirely with the instrument as a mere accessory after the fact – sometimes in the same book. But the practice of music is often equally baffling to those who live with and around musicians. Parents and family patriarchs often don’t see it as a job at all – but if it is one, it’s a disgraceful one. Some find it hard to believe that a band can really break up bitterly over whether a number is best played in A Flat or G, and must invent deeper, darker tensions. Others (who regularly change up their own jobs when career satisfaction diminishes) expect the same group of players to stick together for life, churning out the same repertoire simply to please them. Others again become adoring fans, who elevate their human musical heroes into supernaturally awesome Marvel ones, too good for any of their colleagues, spouses or friends…

You’ll find many of those memes somewhere in Mpho A. Leepa’s biography of her guitarist/composer brother Frank, Born for Greatness (https://gekopublishing.co.za/tag/born-for-greatness-biography-of-frank-leepa/ ), expressed either in her own authorial voice, or through the attitudes of others she recounts. The book first launched with a tiny print run in 2014 (http://kaganof.com/kagablog/2014/01/07/born-for-greatness-biography-of-frank-leepa/ ); it has been reissued and should now be more widely accessible in bookshops – and if it isn’t, you should be encouraging them to order it.

Uhuru II
A young Frank Leepa (r.) during the second incarnation of the band Uhuru

Because, despite all the partiality you’d expect from a book written by an adoring sister, it’s also a valuable historical document. There’s a huge lacuna where southern African music history written by those who lived it should be; Born for Greatness makes a real contribution to filling the gap.

The book tells the story not only of Frank Leepa, but of the Lesotho he grew up in: its political as well as its cultural milieu. We sometimes forget, today, that the monarchies apartheid South Africa tolerated within its geographical borders – both the independent and the incorporated ones – were tolerated because many of their rulers could be relied upon (and indeed were appointed) to be as reactionary and repressive as apartheid South Africa itself. The rebel royals among them were routinely deposed, imprisoned or assassinated, as they had been by the colonial authorities before.

1st album
The first, self-titled, Sankomota album

Mpho Leepa paints a chilling picture of repression in Lesotho, and its brutal and bloody impact on her own family, and contextualises the anti-authoritarian stance Frank Leepa lived and sang as defiance against far more than the apartheid regime over the border. She draws moving links between her brother’s lyrics and the events surrounding the persecution of her family.

Every legendary band – and Leepa’s Sankomota was certainly that – has multiple foundation myths. Mpho Leepa’s version tells us a great deal about her brother’s visionary and dynamic role in forming the outfit. What’s less prominent in her account is the influential role across Lesotho’s scene played by the legendary percussionist BJ (Black Jesus) at that time. When I talked to Frank Leepa for Two-Tone in mid-1992, he described BJ as the “father figure” of Lesotho’s modern popular music and told me: “We found we shared the same obsessions. He invited me to stay, found me rehearsal space and helped me out a lot.” Leepa’s working relationship with BJ – in and out of various iterations of bands called Uhuru and Sankomota, and later in the self-reliance oriented Sanko Foundation – lasted until the guitarist’s death in 2003.

Mpho Leepa’s account is brilliantly perceptive on the detail and texture of a musician’s life in Lesotho: the petty slights, exploitative managers, unreliable transport, collapsed gigs and all. It will ring true for anybody who’s ever encountered the southern African music scenes of the 1980s and 1990s. There are also some extremely useful addenda, which, while not exhaustive, go a long way towards mapping work, reviews and shows, as well as including extracts from Leepa’s own reflections on his projects.images

What’s missing is more on Leepa’s actual music: how it sounded, and the process by which it was put together. By the end, we don’t even know what model of guitar or brand of string he preferred – but in the story of a guitarist, such detail matters. That, though, is perhaps a story best told by those who worked with him – we do get a flavour of his relentless perfectionism from the recollection of onetime bandmate Laura Mhlanzi (Bezuidenhout). Sadly, what constantly intrudes is the author’s hero-worship, shading far too often into flat denigration of other people (particularly other women) in his life.

By the end of the 280 pages, it’s clear that there are two books within these covers. One is an important family memoir: stirring resistance history, tragic memories, joyous moments and, yes, interpersonal beefs too. The other is an equally important narrative about a great popular musician, whose achievement in shaping an instantly recognisable and highly influential African sound should never be underestimated. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QewADpS1_QM ) [For a complete discography, see https://www.last.fm/music/Sankomota/+albums]


Leepa was a talented and imaginative guitarist and composer, something his solo 1992 show at the Market Theatre, Frank Leepa and Friends, began to demonstrate outside the confines of his various ensembles. (That gig included, for example, a moving reworking of a Johnny Dyani composition.) Now we need a researcher to take the foundations of that second narrative – well laid in Born for Greatness – and build on them to tell us even more of the musical story, so that it is not lost.

Nicole Mitchell’s Downbeat award should bring her to South Africa

The Downbeat Critics Awards are out http://downbeat.com/news/detail/downbeat-announces-winners-of-2018-critics-poll , and South Africans can enjoy a slightly smug feeling. We heard the Vijay Iyer sextet before they scored that award for Far From Over, in March at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. It was a joy – but I suppose it would be repetitive to ask that Iyer be invited back?

Actually, there is one respect in which CTIJF is already repetitive: jazz headliners over the years have been overwhelmingly male – and where they have not been, the jazzwomen have been overwhelmingly vocalists. That’s allowed us to hear some superb musicianship in song, which is never a bad thing. But it’s overdue that festival programming also acknowledges the world of female instrumentalists.

Nicole Mitchell

The 2018 Downbeat poll offers us more than one name here. But one that stands out, for a lifetime of achievement encompassing playing, composing, ensemble and community leadership and scholarship, is that of flautist Nicole Mitchell. Mitchell, who has been nominated and awarded multiple times in the past, took away this year’s instrumental award for flute, and a rising ensemble award for her outfit (although it’s closer to a collective) the Black Earth Ensemble.

Syracuse, New York-born, but a longtime resident of both California and Chicago, Mitchell grew up with parents who, today, would probably be pigeonholed as Afro-futurists: they were concerned with new ideas, interested in science fiction and, of course, music. She began with classical training on piano, viola and flute, and attended the University of California San Diego, and then Oberlin College. But she found California arid in terms of diversity and open-mindedness, while at Oberlin she was the only woman in the entire jazz programme, constantly cautioned about how hard it would be for her to make it in the genre.

“How is it,” she has reflected, “that someone can consider themselves supportive of egalitarianism and all this stuff, and then they don’t ever work with artists of colour, or women?”

Moving to Chicago, she found an edgier, more open-minded scene. She began working with members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_for_the_Advancement_of_Creative_Musicians ) an organisation whose first female president she later became. She also worked for 13 years for the visionary Third World Press: the oldest African-American press in the country.

AACM group Samana – Mitchell back left

Under AACM, she was a part of the all-woman instrumental group Samana. But she also resumed her scholarship, working towards an eventual Masters degree from Northern Illinois University. She taught at half a dozen universities in and around Chicago, and in 1997 formed the Black Earth Ensemble, a multi-ethnic, multi-gendered, multi-generational outfit whose concern, she told one interviewer, was about “the concept of ancient to the future (…) you can create something familiar and bridge that with the unknown.”

Black Earth
The Black Earth Ensemble

That futurism relates both to the sci-fi her father so avidly consumed, and to her own admiration for the work of black speculative writer Octavia E. Butler https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_E._Butler , in tribute to whom she recorded the Xenogenesis Suite https://vimeo.com/3985660

albumMitchell has released more than 20 albums, and is also currently Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine. Her most recent outing with the Black Earth Ensemble, the 2017 Mandorla Wakening II: Emerging Worlds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ngBAQJExOE , engages with possible futures in which technological advances can be liberated from their current commodified context and integrated with collaboration, sharing and care for the environment.


For more spiritual exploration, check – if you haven’t already – the newly-discovered John Coltrane tapes released by Impulse late last week as Both Directions at Once https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH3mb3oXCpw . The title references Trane’s speculation about, in Ben Ratliff’s words in an excellent, thoughtful Pitchfork review (https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/john-coltrane-both-directions-at-once-the-lost-album/ ) “the possibility of improvising as if starting a sentence in the middle, moving backwards and forwards simultaneously.” There has been much anorak excitement about a “lost” Coltrane album, and it is unarguable that having more of the prophetic saxophone thinker to hear is a wonderful thing. Trane.jpgBut when media who never seem to notice when a new South African jazz album lands, suddenly and as never before get all breathless about the event, you can’t help wondering about their priorities. Trane was a titan who made transcendently beautiful and challenging music and still has huge amounts to teach us. One of the things his life and work teach is that we should be listening to new jazz now, as it’s being made and as the experiments are happening, not wait to get excited until the artist is dead and the music can be commercialised as a hipster’s collectable. Both Directions at Once is not exciting because it is a rare collectors’ antique. It’s exciting because of what Trane says.



Fifty years of Yakhal’Inkomo – and still too few people are listening

percy event

“There’s more to defending democracy,” says writer, visual artist and broadcaster Percy Mabandu, “than being fishers of corrupt men.”

Mabandu is reflecting on the near media silence that has greeted the 50th anniversary this year of the release of one of South Africa’s greatest jazz standards, Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal’Inkomo. At the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown on 30th June, Mabandu will lead a tribute to this event, involving readings from his book Yakhal’Inkomo: portrait of a jazz classic and music from an ensemble comprising saxophonists Linda Sikhakhane and Sisonke Xonti (who’s also musical director), bassist Shane Cooper, pianist Andile Yenana and drummer Ayanda Sikade.

Mank 50 yrs agoThe anniversary, he argues, is an important political, as well as cultural moment – or, rather, there is no separation in that piece of music between the two spheres. “For me, it’s emblematic of the contribution of the arts to this country’s journey towards democracy. By that time in 1968, organised political resistance had been decimated, and Black Consciousness was formally inaugurated in December, after Yakhal’Inkomo appeared. In that space between, it was the musicians and creative workers whose voices were keeping hope alive. We saw them uplifting the country. Now we have this moment of remembering to help us recapture that spirit, outside the pontifications of politicians. And it breaks my heart that so few people get the immensity of it.”

Mankunku himself was crystal-clear about the political meaning of the tune, when I spoke to him in March 2003, six years before his death:

Mank old
Mankunku in the early 2000s

“Things were tough then – but don’t ask me about all that: I don’t want to discuss it. You had to have a pass; you got thrown out; the police would stop you, you know? I was about 22. I threw my pass away, wouldn’t carry it. We had it tough. I was always being arrested, and a lot of my friends, and I thought it was so tough for black people, and put that into the song. So it was The Bellowing Bull: for the black man’s pain. And a lot of people would come up to me and say quietly: ‘Don’t worry bra’. We understand what you are playing about…’”

A lot of people understood. The album sold at least 100 000 copies in its first five years, and may be the best selling SA jazz album of all time – but the contract included no royalty provision and a 1970s fire at the Teal label warehouse in Steeldale allegedly destroyed all sales records.

Mabandu has organised musical readings before, but none of them on this scale at a national event. He’s worked with different ensembles, and although the two reedmen are his regular collaborators, he’s also particularly excited by the addition of Yenana on piano. “First, Andile played with Mankunku. He knows this music in a different way from younger players. But also, the enigma of that 1968 ensemble is the pianist, Lionel Pillay. We know too little about him.”

(Pillay – who also worked as Lionel Martin to evade apartheid restrictions – also collaborated with Early Mabuza and Basil Manenberg Coetzee https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dV_ZprvaMs , but died in 2003, his later years saddened by psychological problems. Music historian Gerhard Kubik writes of listeners being moved to tears by his solos https://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Transatlantic-Derivatives-Developments-Twentieth-Century/dp/1496806085 ). “Having a pianist in the group,” says Mabandu, “helps us to think about how best to memorialise Pillay too.”

bookWhen preparing for this performance, Mabandu talked to pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, and saxophonists Kevin Davidson – who worked with and has written about Mankunku – and Salim Washington. “Every time I talk to musicians,” Mabandu reflects, “it offers fresh ideas about that tune.

“One question that always arises is what previously unrecorded music that shares the spirit of Yakhal’Inkomo is around in the aether from that period. Neo Muyanga’s research and composition project on protest music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggM9mG05REw has been a big inspiration. It’s certainly more than jazz. And an important discourse question for me is how to grow the language in which I have explored Yakhal’Inkomo into other kinds of music.”

As for what the performance will show, Mabandu is emphatic that it “can’t just be another show. It must challenge listeners and musos in breaking expectations. So the formal repertoire is going to be what I think of as one huge Yakhal’inkomo – but that doesn’t limit what else we will bring to it – something I’ve been discussing a lot with Sisonke. There will be sheets of paper on stage, and there will be drawing. That isn’t a gimmick, but a holistic art performance: one aspect of growing the language of ‘talking about’ music. And other things may happen too…”

Mabandu acknowledges gratefully how the jazz festival in Grahamstown did see the importance of the Mankunku anniversary. “But how little it’s been noticed elsewhere poses a big question. We are talking a lot now about identity:  ‘our’ culture – but how deep – or how surface – is our real relationship with that music?”

Bokani Dyer’s Neo-Native intelligence

Bokani Dyer

“What does being a ‘native’ mean?” asks pianist and composer (and 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz) Bokani Dyer. “Does it mean you’re tied to a specific geographical location? Or that you’ve found a home within a certain community of ideas?”

Titles are important to Dyer. Each of his earlier three albums (Mirrors in 2010; Emancipate the Story in 2011; and World Music in 2015) was thoughtfully – and sometimes subversively – named. (World Music, for example, embodied multiple influences to challenge the compartmentalising commercialism of how the record industry markets the music.) And his fourth, this year’s Neo Native, neonativehttps://itunes.apple.com/za/album/neo-native/1368041977 uses the ‘neo’ not to suggest some modified musical genre in the style of, for example, ‘neo-soul’, but for a “reinterpretation of the construct ‘native’.”

Born and schooled in Botswana before music studies at UCT, Dyer’s father is South African saxophonist Steve Dyer, with whom he travelled (and still travels) regularly. His mother belongs to the Kalanga people, “so my ‘native’ is already multiple things, before you even look at the heritages of my parents’ parents and their broader families. Neo Native carries through a personal interest in identity that’s been present in all my recordings.”

The outing travels far around Africa, from the Kalagadi desert to Mali and other destinations West, to Mozambique, the Northern Province of Ray Phiri, and the Cape Town of the young Dollar Brand. But it’s not facile pastiche: each choice is made to say something very specific.Mirrors.jpg

The Brand track, for example, Dollar Adagio, “is a way of expressing my sentiments when I hear Abdullah Ibrahim playing, rather than an attempt to mechanistically reference him. And, yes, especially the early Dollar – there’s that Monk thing about him then: something my teacher Andre Petersen drew my attention to – that beautiful ability, which the movie Brother with Perfect Timing https://vimeo.com/211272119 gets across so well, to say a lot with less than most other players would need. He commands his space, and takes his time…If there’s a musical reference, it’s probably the track Monieba on the Dollar Brand/Archie Shepp album.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1r1vFnwfF0 .emancipate

The album’s core is the four tracks – Nguni, Xikwembu, Chikapa and Mutapa – that comprise the African Piano Suite. These, too, are threads weaving through all his albums, and also including African Piano on Emancipate the Story https://soundcloud.com/bokani-dyer/african-piano and African Piano – Water on World Music https://itunes.apple.com/dm/artist/bokani-dyer/687857481 . There’s an upcoming project – “maybe the next album, maybe a bit later” – which will bring all those threads together in a solo album, also employing some prepared piano (which he already plays on stage).

“I wanted to explore the piano in a different way, inspired by African idioms and musical instruments, seeing how it is possible to give those a voice through the piano. This suite is a selection from what will feed into the later solo project, and I’m interested in whether, for people listening to it, it can communicate on a level that’s inherent in ‘Africanness’ before ‘jazzness’.”

wotldThe dialogue between African and American voices in South African jazz is a long-running one. Regularly, jazz players will give primacy to explicitly asserting and exploring African elements, for example, Eric Nomvete on Pondo Blues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6jetAovKbQ ; Ndikho Xaba, Sakhile in the 1980s or the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Zim Ngqawana in our own time. Less obvious but equally important in that context are the intellectual concepts and approaches black South African musicians also bring to international standards, developed through their lives and learning in their communities.

Sphelelo Mazibuko

Both of those, believes Dyer, are important for the identity – that word again – of South African jazz. “A lot of my generation of younger musicians are listening to ‘world’ music now. When I hear music from other regions of Africa, it still sounds deeply traditional, but also very fresh and modern. Those nations have had a different journey from South Africa – we’re interesting because South Africa has forged a unique jazz identity: one that sounds both African and jazz. Maybe…maybe…,” he pauses, “we have different musical linkage points back into heritage – I’m still thinking about that…”

The album comprises 14 tracks, all original and mostly new but including re-conceptualisations (in the former case quite radical) of the tracks Kgalagadi and Waiting from earlier outings. Kgalagadi was an arrangement of a traditional theme, and so are the newer Gono Afrobeat and Sangare tribute Oumou, sung by Moroccan guest Asmaa Hamzaoui.

Romy Brauteseth

Part of what makes Neo Native such an effective vehicle for these explorations is the tight mutual understanding that has developed between the trio, which also includes bassist Romy Brauteseth (both thoughtful and challenging on Waiting) and drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko (offering fireworks on Fezile). They’ve been working together for more than two years now – “and sometimes I think they know my music almost better than I do!” says Dyer. The trio format allows for close working; the long experience together has created an ease and comfort with one another’s approach. “We’ve grown together, we allow each other to be, and everybody’s freer than they would be if we’d just met for a session. Those relationships let us ask questions like ‘What does this music mean?’, rather than just ‘How can I execute this music professionally?’”

Though it’s easy to hear echoes of Dyer’s earlier work on the album, there’s more here. It’s not about ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, but rather a negotiation of a super-permeable membrane between what he called the music’s ‘Africanness’ and ‘jazzness’. With every release, it’s getting harder – as it should, and as Dyer very deliberately intends – to decide which side of that border you’re on. And that, in this age of xenophobia, tells us about identity too.



Claude Cozens: improvisation in the key of freedom

“What if you didn’t spend so much of your time taking care of business?” muses drummer Claude Cozens. “What wouldn’t you be able to do?”


Taking care of business is increasingly dominating the time of working musicians. Digital music distribution and the stifling of arts journalism by many media means that work formerly done by record labels, managers, publicists and arts writers is now outsourced back to the musicians themselves. On the upside, at least they aren’t paying labels and managers for services that are sometimes barely token. On the downside, it all erodes the time available for creative work on the music.

For Capetonian Cozens, “I know that Hugh [Masekela] and Abdullah [Ibrahim] went the hard road. I respect that. And there are other ways of buying time to concentrate just on composing, like doing the hotel circuit in the Middle East for a while,” he reflects.  That’s a role that sometimes gives hotel management and patrons a lot of power over players – although, he adds, “doing something like that was how Keith Jarrett perfected playing ballads – and he’s the last person you’d think of in that context.”

But Cozens was growing increasingly frustrated by the pile-up of what he calls his “creative backlog”: ideas, compositions and projects clamouring to be realised while he was tied up arranging the next gig. Now, studying towards his Masters degree at the University of Bergen in Norway – he finishes in May 2019 – he has managed to liberate himself from some of that, thanks to the freedom his university programme offers. The first product has been the CD Improvisations 1, which he completed in March (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/claudecozens5 ).

Cozens hooked up with the university while touring with pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, and was excited by what he calls the institution’s “openness”. While he’s unstinting in his praise for many of his own teachers at UCT, he feels that South African jazz curricula in higher education are too often “stuck in the 1970s”, in terms of both repertoire and the top-down, conservatoire style of pedagogy.

“At Bergen, the university is there to serve me as a student. They asked me what I wanted to do! At first I found that a bit surprising – wasn’t that their job? But because Norway has identified that American culture is not their culture, that’s brought freedom in what counts as subject matter, and new ways of doing artistic research. A performance-based masters was possible, and I could self-design my own study.”

The result will be a masters thesis constructed from what Cozens envisages as a series of CDs, where he works with a full, synthesised ensemble to “explore the possibilities of uneven rhythms and patterns […and] make them feel ‘natural’”.

He was inspired, he says, “partly by [multi-instrumentalist] Mark Fransman. He can play any instrument he picks up. So the sound I’m going for aims to fuse that instrumental flexibility with the way DJs put mixes together. The computer these days is a powerful instrument in its own right. If I get it right, I can create something that’s multilayered: that dancers can hear as good for dancing, but that scholars can find complex enough for analysis. The possibilities are endless. I’ve got an orchestra and I can create whatever I want.”

Getting it right, he admits, is in no way easy. While the first set of Improvisations alludes to some familiar Cozens rhythmic inspirations such as ghoema beat alongside some more intricate patterns, the next installment will be “entirely complex rhythms: things like 15:8 and 13:8. It’s the kind of complexity that makes me think of what happens with African dance steps…” And as with all his work to date, “I’m aware the first attempts might suck. Everybody who wants to keep exploring as a musician has to face that.”

Cozens embraces the experimental space that synthesising the sounds offers: “The electronics offer bigger and newer possibilities, where you’re not emulating a band but actually creating a new sonic world…”

The drummer is aware of the dangers of immersing himself solely in electronics, alone with his computer. He constantly refers to the energy both live playing partners and dancers can bring to his musical thinking. He’s also aware of another danger that studio music can pose: that the producer’s own instrumental knowledge imposes its idioms on the voice of every other instrument. “You’ve got to constantly question yourself. You need to find what you can emulate, and recognise what you can’t.”

The results manage to be both convincing and entertaining: Improvisations 1 sounds like neither an impersonal experimental exercise nor a manufactured studio album. The final three tracks – Strongholds, The Babble, and Rhythms of Rain – take the rhythms out quite far towards the edges. But your feet will still find something to tap to. Before that, She Knows offers a moving piano ballad; Seventeen Again takes a turn around a Cape Town club dancefloor; and Pa Moses alludes to the history of Cape Jazz. It’s a song Robbie Jansen would have enjoyed improvising to – and invoking that name reminds us that edgy modernism and rhythmic risk-taking were always around among the city’s modern jazz players, who also produced their dissertations on disc rather than paper. Leaders of Freedom, meanwhile, alludes unmistakably (though not exclusively) to Ibrahim’s pianism.

It’s inspired, obseves Cozens in his sleeve notes, by “listening to the great artists, playing with some of them, and then sitting down in the practice room searching and crafting a sound and style.”

You get the sense that he is simultaneously luxuriating in the freedom of his current rhythmic explorations, and impatiently thinking ahead to when he can take the fruits of them back on to a live stage. “Taking the chances cold with a live ensemble that I’m trying on the recordings could be a nightmare! But that is going to happen too – I do want to take this music on to stages with a band!”

And he thinks about home quite a lot. “You get reminded all the time Bergen isn’t Cape Town – it seems like you have to take your umbrella with you every single day! And I do miss playing with the guys…”

I talked to Claude Cozens back in March when he was home for CTIJF. He’s likely to be home again for a visit in July