Legendary South African drummer Louis Moholo celebrates his 70th birthday this year. Sole survivor of the uncompromising Blue Notes who hot-tailed it out of the repressive South Africa in 1964, his playing right from the start of this Purcell Room concert showed no signs that his three score years and ten have dimmed his fire.
Moholo has said that No Gossip, the duo with long his time associate and friend, pianist Keith Tippett, gives each of them the opportunity to explore things musically which they would not normally be able to do in larger ensembles. The first set was a continuous performance, in which Moholo played from the outset a subtly energised undercurrent of patterns, complementing Tippett’s gentler-paced piano. Tippett moved through different textures of sound, creating moods that you would not think possible over the effervescent Moholo.
At one point Tippett placed what looked like pieces of card and other paraphernalia across the piano strings giving the piano a sound similar to that of a harpsichord or zither and creating a mood I felt reminiscent at one point to Eric Satie, which together with the hustle and bustle of Moholo’s drums I felt I had been transported to a Parisian thoroughfare with Moholo’s drums providing the traffic and pedestrian noises.
Another mood they created together seemed to bring back their respective pasts. Tippett conjured up a child-like sound playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The quiet chanting of ‘Mongezi, Mongezi, Mongezi Feza’, in memory of that great trumpet player was highly emotional; as was the embrace and look of total enjoyment they emanated at the end of the performance (below).
The second half served up Seven For Seventy: Moholo was joined by Francine Luce – vocals; Jason Yarde – alto,soprano & baritone sax; Henry Lowther – trumpet & flugel horn; Ntshuks Bonga – alto & soprano sax; Alex Hawkins – piano and John Edwards – bass.
Moholo took full charge of the energy tap directing the proceedings from his drum stool. There were times, I would guess, when Moholo had simply overruled or spontaneously changed what had been rehearsed, to go with what he was currently feeling. This rawness, together chants and stage discourse at various points made for a happy township atmosphere. With the occasional bellowing of Jason Yarde‘s baritone and the sonorous sound of John Edwards’ bass, I felt compelled to move my body.
Proceedings did mellow out in places – not necessarily for Moholo to catch his breath, but to treat us to the expressive voice of Francine Luce. One song which was delivered in French/Creole elicited a response from the gentleman sittling next to me, ‘bellisimo’. He was obviously Italian, and indeed it was beautiful and certainly showed how strong her voice is through its entire range.
The set eventually concluded with a reprise of one of the songs played earlier in the set and during the township like discourse on stage you would hear a voice saying ‘ I know we’ve played it before’.
The audience at the end were all on their feet trying to stomp up an encore, but, alas, to no avail. Moholo still has the strength: he is reputed to have played an almost three hour set with that great pianist Cecil Taylor recently, non-stop!! For which all I can say is Happy Birthday Louis, and Viva La Moholo!
This concert will be broadcast on Jazz on 3 on 24th January 2011. Louis Moholo-Moholo will also be on Jazz Library on December 4th