Kippie Moeketsi and Hal Singer – Blue Stompin‘
(WABB-091 . Album Review by Adam Sieff)
Any release featuring South African alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi (1925-1983) is to be warmly welcomed. This is a reissue of a 1977 collaboration with the Paris-based Oklahoma-born tenor saxophonist Hal Singer (1919-2020) that has been unavailable for 40 years.
Often introduced as ‘Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro’ by his close friend Abdullah Ibrahim, Moeketsi was a member of the Jazz Epistles, the trailblazing 1950s band, alongside Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa, who all stated many years later that Moeketsi was the foremost South African jazz musician of their generation. For someone of such influence and importance, his death in 1983 aged 58 after years of bitter frustration, alcoholism and injustice for him and his fellow musicians is a tragedy.
The album was produced by Rashid Vally, the owner of the Kohinoor record shop in Johannesburg, and the As-Shams (The Sun) record label, and who played a major role in giving a voice to modern jazz in South Africa. The new mastering by Noah Mintz is excellent, the vinyl sounds warm and pristine.
The key selection here is Blue Stompin’, the opener and title track, recorded with Singer and his band during their 1974 US State Department tour of South Africa. It’s a romping blues on the front foot as the title suggests, first recorded for Singer’s 1959 Prestige album with Charlie Shavers. On this version Moeketsi plays a long solo introduction before the piano of Alain Jean Marie brings in the familiar riff and double bassist Gus Nemeth and drummer Oliver Johnson kick off with Singer’s solo setting the pace. Marie’s piano follows with some style before Moeketsi starts stretching out, showing the influence of Charlie Parker but playing with a style very much his own. He plays well, if a little hesitantly at times, with the song fading right on the ending at 11:20 but it really doesn’t feel a second too long.
It was Singer and his band’s only contribution, as the rest of the album consists of three tunes with tenor saxophonist Duku Moketsi and a rhythm section of double bassist Sipho Gumede and drummer Gilbert Mathews. On Hang On There (in reality trumpeter Harold Baker’s Hang In There) the band are tight, together and the playing is superb with the wonderful Pat Matshikiza following the saxophone breaks with a fine piano solo.
The second side features two long blues tunes, Duke Pearson’s Scrap Iron and Kenny Burrell’s Yes Baby, with Jabu Nkosi now sitting in for Matsikiza on electric piano, plus guitarist Enoch Mthaleni and Barney Rachabane on alto saxophone. The horn arrangements are pure South Africa in accent and with both tracks at over 10 minutes each the soloists get plenty of room.
Although Blue Stompin’ is the album’s focal point, Moeketsi’s playing on the other three tracks is feels stronger and more creative with the energy flowing in the camaraderie provided by musicians he knew well. It’s a privilege to be able to hear this music and inspires one to discover more and learn from his story.
Categories: Album review