Hugh Masekela and his regular five-piece band give a great show. They take an audience through shifting moods; Masekela gets us singing our hearts out, yelping in call-and response, he then brings us collectively to our feet, either to dance, or just to celebrate and enjoy ourselves.
He doesn’t spare himself. His flugelhorn chops had had quite a work-out earlier, at the sound check – , but he upped the playing energy level in performance. His voice produces the kind of exteme – deliberate, controlled – sounds which a throat doctor would certainly advise against. And then there’s the presence, the acting: Masekela is in constant motion. Even in a quiet moment when the band is keeping low to let him quietly stroke a guiro, his facial expressions go from triumph, to laughter to mock-fear: it’s completely mesmerizing. And then the band in perfect synchronization take the mood onwards. They put their foot on the gas and let the volume rise to fortissimo, then subside again so that Masekela can sing. You go with the flow.
Tonight I found my ear caught several times by the uniquely joyous South African harmonized backing vocals, but perhaps above all by the whipcrack power and unremitting drive and energy of drummer Lee Roy Sauls. This show is professional, it’s engaging. I’ve heard it before, and the sense of pure enjoyment doesn’t pale on repeated listening. Next stop, nah then. A Leeds Jazz promotion in Grassington, Yorkshire on Tuesday.
A particular hat-tip is in order for the Valamar sound crew and production team, who create studio quality. On a beach.
Earlier in the evening, there had been an upbeat set from Caecilie Norby, who situates herself fairly and squarely in the broader North American singing tradition. She mentioned Abbey Lincoln, sang some Joni Mitchell, but I found myself being reminded of Teresa Brewer. The high points of the set were energetic and compelling duos with her husband, bassist Lars Danielsson, who was – I gather – playing on borrowed equipment, but with huge musicianship and verve. (Diversion: LondonJazz – and I think most of the UK press – uh? was it not released in the UK? – managed to miss his album Liberetto with Tigran and John Pattitucci completely; from Ian Mann’s review it sounds fab!)
And then the afterparty in the gardens of the Villa Polesini. It’s an unforgettable setting, and last night’s combinations were irresistible. A house band of Croatian musicians delivered high quality throughout. Portuguese singer Amalia Baraona gave us bossa nova with authenticity, style, ownership, humanity, warmth, musicianship, class. But the high point came with the combination of Norby’s bassist husband Lars Danelsson, with the Masekela-band trio of guitarist Cameron Ward, Randall Skippers on keyboards and Lee Roy Sauls (in the different setting Sauls was showing subtlety and inventiveness, a total contrast to the raw power I had picked up earlier) on drums. Lars Danielsson is a bass player of class, but the unanimity, the collective drive, the UBUNTU he was getting from the other players took him to another level, absolving him of the bassist’s habitual sense of responsibility, allowing him complete fulfilment. You could see it on his face. This is the kind of perfect circle, a moment of completeness which jazz can bring. I know I shall never forget it.