|Bokani Dyer, 2013. Photo credit: Tlhalefang Charles (permission pending)|
Bokani Dyer with Soweto Kinch / Seb Rochford / Chris Williams / Neil Charles
(Vortex. 15th May 2014. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
A certain amount of anticipation and intrigue can be generated when musicians from abroad play a rare gig in London, and the Botswana-born pianist Bokani Dyer’s appearance had both of those: Thursday at the Vortex was a full house. Over the last fortnight Bokani has played in Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, arriving in the UK to close his tour accompanied by an ensemble of top UK talent, before returning to his native South Africa.
The set began with some introspective piano before stretching out into a fast paced groove with the tenor saxophone of Soweto Kinch and alto of Chris Williams uniting on the Duke Ellington-esque tune Vuvuzela. Soweto and Bokani have played together previously in South Africa, and their camaraderie is apparent with Soweto engaged and expressive at centre-stage reacting to Bokani’s improvisation. The bop tune Key Notes followed, with space given to both saxes for long and exploratory solos, before Dyer himself returned, the piano running over the top of the tight rhythmic stabs of the back line and horns.
It was in the second set that Neil Charles on double bass and Seb Rochford on drums really came alive. African Piano is a piece originally written for two interacting pianos but tackled here solo by Bokani with one hand on the keys and the other inside the belly of the grand piano plucking and tapping its organs. Rochford, hiding behind a column on stage, mesmerised the audience with a patient and sparse solo building into what sounded almost like two drummers, the bass drum responding independently and melodically to the tapped toms and cymbals.
It is to Bokani’s immense credit that he has assembled such a high calibre of accompanying musician, with Soweto Kinch and Seb Rochford each capable of attracting a large crowd on their own. Thrust together for one show, the understanding created amongst the musicians was impressive with Bokani clearly coordinating proceedings, but leaving Kinch and Williams to embark on some fascinating saxophone interplay as well. His compositions, many taken from his second album Emancipating the Story (Dyertribe, 2011) were strong, and his ability to navigate changing moods and to lead the assembled group were engaging. I’m already looking forward to his next visit to the UK.