Ogun and Cadillac Records – 50th birthday celebrations with Mike Westbrook, Jason Yarde, Alexander Hawkins and others
(Cafe Oto. 28 September 2023. Live review and drawings/photos by Geoff Winston)
This was a cleverly constructed and joyous evening. An Ogun – Cadillac 50th birthday sandwich, both groundbreaking labels being formed in 1973, kicking off with the first showing since the 70s of The Real McGregor, a film recently re-discovered languishing in a loft, which captures The Blue Notes in 1967 in magnificent flow during their one year residency at Ronnie Scott’s Old Place.
A beautiful duet by Mike Westbrook (piano) and Chris Biscoe (sax) followed, and then Alexander Hawkins led (or mucked in with!) an explosive septet, so familiar with The Blue Notes repertoire that they powered and reeled, joyfully and respectfully through a dozen numbers without a single break – barring a mild pause before an encore – so close to the original spirit that it could have been the second set from Blue Notes themselves.
Paul D J Moody gave a fascinating introduction to the film describing the challenges he has faced in restoring both the film and the soundtrack. The soundtrack is now in great shape and sounded crystal clear thanks to innovative technical leaps that brought messrs Moholo-Moholo, Dyani, Feza, McGregor and Beer as close a you could imagine to them being in the room with the mesmerised audience.
The film itself, whilst still WIP, is well on the way; the evident damage to some sequences did not detract from either the McGregor interview or the extended live sequences which had Feza and Moholo-Moholo notably exercised as they took to the fore. Of course, Louis Moholo-Moholo, now back in South Africa at age 83, has been a regular on the London scene with inspiring performances at Cafe Oto and the Vortex in various combinations (links below).
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Westbrook casually mentioned that his set with Biscoe would be “unpremeditated”. He and Biscoe go back over 40 years, and Westbrook’s beautifully lyrical solo piano sequence paved the way for Biscoe’s powerful, yet measured accompaniment with piano dropping back to form a nuanced structural base for Biscoe’s expressive departures. Their second peregrination was a carefully crafted, blues inflected dedication to jazz stalwart, the late John Jack, who set up Cadillac with Westbrook.
There was no stopping The Blue Notes spirit as soon as the septet hit the stage. Alexander Hawkins (piano) with saxophonists Ntshuks Bonga, Jason Yarde and Roberto Ottaviano, bassist Neil Charles and drummer Steve Noble were joined by Claude Deppa, with his unusual and distinctive flugelhorn, to work together with rocket-fuelled intensity to add their own distinctive signatures and interpretations to music that has become ingrained in their musical DNA over the years. The ensemble work was electric, mixing the odd bit of sight reading with memorable takes working from memories that had become second nature, and solo improvisations that flew from all the musicians.
There were quirkily memorable moments – as when vocals were just perceptibly insinuated, or when the brass meandered off stage to give Neil Charles his thoughtful solo spell that led to a drums and bass conversation with Noble cracking staccato accents, and ultimately to a rousing encore that had Noble blowing a whistle and the brass all clustered in unison.
It was raucous, it was tough, it was gospel, it was township, it was free-flowing jazz. It was truly celebratory.
SET LIST FOR THE BLUE NOTES SEQUENCE
– Do It
– Dikeledi Tsa Phelps
– The Tag
– Ngwele, Ngwele
– Joe’s Jika
– Angel Nomali
– You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me
– For The Blue Notes
– Ntyilo, Ntyilo
(Many thanks to Alexander Hawkins for the set list.)