Tenorist Skidmore revisits his collaboration with SA percussion ensemble Anampondo.'
Jon Lusk 2003
This is the second collaboration between British saxophonist Alan Skidmore and core members of South Africa's leading percussion ensemble, Amampondo.
Skidmore's Coltrane-influenced blowing has only been showcased on a handful of solo albums, but his career as a respected collaborator and session player with the likes of Alexis Korner, Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report stretches back to the late 1950s. Amampondo are Xhosa musicians from Cape Town who began playing together 23 years ago and have famously been recommended by Nelson Mandela as ambassadors for South African music.
The two parties first met in 1994 when Skidmore was the first British jazz musician to visit post-apartheid South Africa. The rapport they discovered inspired him to return and record their collaborative jazz-meets-roots album The Call in 1999. Ubizo also means 'the call' (or 'calling', as in vocation) in Xhosa and continues in a similar same vein to their debut. There's the same vibrant chemistry between Skidmore's burbling horn and Amampondo's satisfyingly organic, rumbling triplets. They've even done a re-recording of the traditional song "Sobabini" that appeared on the first album.
As before, the rest of the material otherwise draws on the musicians' combined compositional skills and those of Provocateur label boss Colin Towns, who also contributes discreet keyboards. If anything, the pieces seem more fully developed and considered. Skidmore's confident grasp of typically South African melodies shows on original compositions like the sweet and swinging "Dumisani", which also features inspired rolling piano from Steve Melling. And though Amampondo's marimbas seem to be less in evidence, the closing "Olutalo" makes amends.
One new 'voice' is that of trumpet and flugelhorn player Ingolf Burkhardt, who takes up some of the space previously occupied by Skidmore, adding welcome variety. Apparently mouth-bow veteran Madosini Manqineni and Amampondo founder Dizu Plaatjies, who were with the band last time, couldn't make the sessions due to other commitments. Let's hope there's more from them on the third instalment.
Ubizo is the sound of musicians from very different backgrounds throwing out sparks as they find more common ground than expected. Perhaps it's not so surprising when you consider the roots of jazz lie in Africa. It's also a heartening example of what happens when musicians meet each other half way in mutual respect.