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A World of Jazz at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown

Local and international dazzling jazz acts from around the globe: here are some of the highlights that the programme for this year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival has to offer in Grahamstown.
As always, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners, both past and present, play an active role throughout the Standard Bank Jazz Festival. The latest addition to this musical elite is pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini, who grew up surrounded by music from across the cultural spectrum, in a family that treated music as a special healing gift. Makhathini went on to study at the then Natal Technikon (now UKZN) before embarking on a professional music career that led to stints in the bands of Zim Ngqawana, Simphiwe Dana, Carlo Mombelli, Feya Faku and Themba Mkhize, as well as performances in Europe, Britain and the United States. In African tradition it is believed that people don’t die but multiply; after their passing they continue to live as aphanzi, the ancestors, or ‘the ones from the ground’. Thus, in his concert entitled Listening to the Ground (3 July at17:00 at the DSG Hall), Makhathini pays homage to those musical legends who have contributed to the great legacy and history of South African jazz, thanking them for their protection and guidance. Foremost among these is jazz giant Bheki Mseleku, who shared with Makhathini his view of spirituality and how it connects with what we play and the people we become; and so Makahthini honours Mseleku with Tribute (7 July at 19:00, DSG Hall).
Other Standard Bank Young Artists making (multiple) appearances at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival include the rapidly ascending Bokani Dyer and Kesivan Naidoo. Dyer returns from his extensive 2014 European tour, where he united with the four gifted representatives of the Swiss jazz scene who now play alongside him in Grahamstown (2 and 4 July at 17:00, DSG Hall). Similarly, Naidoo and his band, Kesivan & the Lights, who played last year in Carnegie Hall to a standing ovation, now reprise this performance for the Festival on 5 July at 22:00 at the DSG Hall – with the addition of two Swedish guests who were central to Naidoo’s original 2009 Lights band.
Naidoo pops up again, along with fellow Young Artist Kyle Shepherd, to perform with Carlo Mombelli and the Storytellers on 2 July at 19:30 at the DSG Hall. This act has played sold out concerts over the past year, earning much critical acclaim. Composer/bassist Carlo Mombelli is known in South Africa for his cutting-edge voice-like playing style, and vocalist Mbuso Khoza has been described as ‘incredible’.
Plenty of South African musical heavyweights appear in the mix this year, including Ray Phiri, whose career both as solo artist and with platinum-selling bands like Stimela, has seen him become a household name in South African jazz circles. Catch him on 10 July, 19:00 at the Monument.
Pianist Don Laka (10 July at 21:00, 11 July at 12:00 at the DSG Hall) has been performing and composing for nearly four decades, continuously building the ‘Kwaai-Jazz’ brand – an eclectic musical fusion of classical, traditional, modern and jazz – as well as releasing six award-winning albums, most of which achieved gold or platinum sales status.
Pops Mohamed is South Africa’s leading indigenous-contemporary-crossover artist, playing kora (African harp), mbira (thumb piano), Khoisan Bow and various percussion effects. He has released 37 albums in his career, won multiple awards, recorded with the Khoisan people in the Kalahari, and toured globally with the likes of Andreas Vollenweider and Baaba Maal. Here he collaborates with Dave Reynolds – South Africa’s leading steelpan player, a SAMRO Award-winning composer and acoustic guitarist – to fuse world music, Caribbean soul and South African jazz, with an underpinning of African traditional instruments. They perform on the 7 and 8 July at 17:00 at the DSG Hall.
Vocalist Lindiwe Maxolo appears with her band, the Lindiwe Maxolo Quintet on 9 July at 17:00, DSG Hall, to perform songs from her debut album titled Time; while vocal and trombone artist Siya Makuzeni, known for her experimental, edgy, but pure intonation, collaborates with hip young South Africans and a legendary Swiss saxophonist on 5 July at 17:00, DSG Hall. Makuzeni is followed by the talented, up-and-coming Benjamin Jephta at 19:00.
South African born guitarist Vuma Ian Levin uses his music in an attempt to interrogate conceptions of identity, nation, culture, being and power both globally and in post 1994 South Africa, drawing on popular music, jazz, western art music and the full array of South African musics, and celebrating the musical tropes of the historically disempowered ‘African Other’. Levin appears alongside a fantastic international array of his classmates from the Amsterdam Conservatory on 5 July at 21:30 at the Auditorium.
Mandla Mlangeni’s Amandla quintet ‘wraps elliptical melodies in three-part horn harmonies, rich with impasto, swinging like broken chandeliers,’ according to the Jazz Times. He is joined in Grahamstown by the Head of the Jazz School at the Stockholm Conservatory, guitarist Ola Bengtsson to perform as the Amandla Freedom Ensemble on 4 July at 23:30 at the Auditorium.
Moving further afield, several exciting artists head to Grahamstown from across the continent, including the world-acclaimed Zimbabwean singer/guitarist Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi, who boasts a career spanning more than 35 years and 50 original albums (nearly all of them best-sellers), and which has seen him performing on leading stages on five continents. His music incorporates traditional mbira patterns, popular Zimbabwean ‘Jiti’ style, mbaqanga inflections and traditional Korekore drumming patterns to create a music genre of his own: ‘Tuku Music’. (10 July at 17:00 and 11 July at 21:00, both at the DSG Hall).
Multi-award-winning Nigerian jazz guitarist Kunle Ayo is increasingly one of Africa’s most celebrated guitarists, who is greatly in demand for his dazzling live performances. Ayo has six albums to his name and leaves his fans inspired and full of positive energy after every performance. Catch him on 11 July at 17:00, DSG Hall.
A big hit for the Standard Bank Jazz Festival this year is guitarist Lionel Loueke – born in Benin but now a resident of New York and naturalised American – who has studied at some of the world’s most prestigious schools of music, which led him to appearances on a series of high-profile recordings and the creation of critically acclaimed albums. Praised by his mentor, Herbie Hancock, as ‘a musical painter’, Loueke combines harmonic complexity, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African folk forms, and conventional and extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own. Little more needs be said about the technical virtuosity and musical diversity of this world-class guitarist than to list some of the musicians who have called him to work with them over the past decade: Terrence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Charlie Haden, Richard Bona, Nathan East, Sting, Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Santana and Gretchen Parlato. In Grahamstown, he performs with some of South Africa’s best jazz musicians, including Concord Nkabinde, Siya Makuzeni, Marcus Wyatt, Shane Cooper and Ayanda Sikade (3 July at 19:30 at DSG Hall; 4 July at 22:00 at DSG Hall).
From Africa on to Europe: Catch ‘one of the most creative and fearless saxophonists of the moment’ (according to The Times), and one of Holland’s most important saxophone players, Yuri Honing, with his quartet on 2 July 22:00 at the DSG Hall, and 3 July 21:30 at the Auditorium. His album Seven – recorded with Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and Paul Motion – received the Edison Jazz Award in 2001 and in 2012 he was awarded the Boy Edgar Prize, the most prestigious jazz prize in the Netherlands. Honing’s new album Desire was released at the beginning of 2015, drawing influences from Jazz, Baroque music and Contemporary music.
Parisian drummer André Charlier and pianist/organist Benoit Sourisse have had a long-standing career playing together. Over more than 20 years and 1 000 concerts, Charlier and Sourisse have deepened their musical relationship and their friendship, playing alongside Didier Lockwood, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garrett, John MacLaughlin, Toots Thielmans and many more.
Hear them perform on 3 July at 22:00 at the DSG Hall, and 5 July at 22:00 at the SB Jazz Cafe.
The Stockholm Jazz Orchestra is one of the world’s premier contemporary Big Bands, made up of leading jazz soloists with their own career and band. When they get together as the SJO, their focus is on demanding ensemble playing and lyrical improvisation. They made their first appearance on the Grahamstown stage exactly ten years ago, and their ongoing collaborations with and influence on South African musicians have transformed the country’s jazz landscape over the past decade. They appear twice at the Festival: on 4 and 5 July at 19:30, both at the DSG Hall.
One of the SJO’s longest standing members is Johan Hörlén, regarded as one of Sweden’s leading jazz alto saxophonists. He is also lead alto of the famous WDR Radio Big Band in Cologne, Germany, and a well-established band leader in his own right. Catch him in collaboration with renowned Finnish drummer/pianist Jukkis Uotila on 3 July at 22:00 at the Cafe.
Also from Sweden, trombonist Peter Dahlgren is regarded as one of the strongest young modern jazz voices in Europe. In 2004, he starred in the EBU Jazz Orchestra, an international big band consisting of selected musicians from all over Europe. He has also been a member of the famous Norrbotten Big Band since 1997. He leads a fascinating collaboration between European and South African musicians on 3 July 19:00 at the DSG Auditorium.
The Bjaerv Encounters (4 July at 22:00, Cafe) celebrate the big sound of the tenor saxophone, a central component of the history of jazz. There is a long tradition of setting up tenors together, from the collaborations of John Coltrane and Hank Mobley to Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins to the ultimate sax summit of Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman (and Joe Lovano). At this year’s Festival, Karl-Martin Almqvist, one of Europe’s best and most in-demand tenor sax soloists (now permanently employed by the Danish Radio Big Band) shares the stage with Robert Nordmark, his SJO compatriot, with a killer rhythm section. Getting a chance to guest with these two Swedish tenors with huge sounds and massive experience is the rapidly-improving young South African tenor, Sisonke Xonti.
From the little Austrian village of Koblach comes pianist David Helbock, described by Roland Spiegel of Bavarian Radio as ‘one of the most exciting players of the young European jazz scene.’ He has received two awards and the audience prize at the world’s biggest jazz piano solo competition, the Montreux Jazz Festival, as well as Austria’s most important prize – the Outstanding Artist Award, in 2011. He has toured extensively with the Dave Helbock Trio, who will perform on the 6 July at 19:30 at the DSG Hall.
And then to the Far East: Violinist Chi-pin Hsieh and pianist Kai-ya Chang are Taiwanese musicians who grew up with classical and pop music, only discovering jazz well into their professional music careers. The cathartic beauty and freedom of jazz sparked a new direction for them and they both completed master’s degrees in the Jazz Department of the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, Belgium, returning to Taiwan in 2002 as professional jazz musicians and active jazz educators and founding the Taipei International Summer Jazz Academy & Festival in 2004. They take to the Auditorium stage on 4 July at 19:00.
Not enough? Then catch local chart toppers such as Thandiswe Mazwai, Beatenberg and Mi Casa; check out the next generation of jazz talent at the plethora of performances by school and youth jazz bands; and end your evenings chilling at the nightly jazz jams or taking in the Boulevard Blues.

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