Autumn blow

A music festival is always a delight, if the weather is good. It’s a feast for the imagination. And we are fortunate to welcome yet another music festival to Johannesburg.At the helm of the Bassline Music Experience International Jazz Festival 2003 is Brad Holmes, part owner of the Bassline jazz club in Melville, who, with his wife Paige, is director of its affairs. Paige is a dancer and choreographer. Brad is a lover of jazz, the sort of jazz that comes from the hip. The sort of jazz that wears a feather in its hat and moves exactly how it prefers.The Bassline has for years successfully married musicians’ hunger for work with audiences’ hunger for music and as a result it is at the core of the Joburg music industry.

This weekend’s music experience is borne out of demand and arrives at the perfect time. I am therefore certain this festival is the debut of what is destined to become a grand annual jazz festival that will sit proudly on the world festival circuit.An analysis of the plot indicates that: There are two of the best trumpeters in the world; There’s a strong double bass, an eccentric electric bass, Germans, and a professor and a prince on the piano. It is all jazz of course and it will be situated at the foot of the dam, at the ascent of the rolling hill, at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens at Emmarentia. It’s an event of near-Shakespearean proportion.

First up is the only man with a residency at the Bassline, Carlo Mombelli. Holmes once told me that Mombelli was bad for business because when he plays the bar quietens so much that ice can be heard melting. The point is that Mombelli is a rather eccentric fellow whose music is large and imaginative, indulging in all the pauses and purples that are epic. He is in the habit of attracting the very best musicians to his side. Mombelli’s music is therefore sophisticated and classic. His band is the Prisoners of Strange and Mombelli commands their best with a most exaggerated reverse-shoulder action. This is the result of a stage-diving injury in a crowded stadium in Brazil, where Mombelli played with the all-star Riaz de Peda orchestra.

Herbie Tsoali will be playing a key role at this festival. He is a double bass player with the strength of a mountain. Tsoali plays with everyone, including the famous American trumpet player, Terence Blanchard. Blanchard has scored all Spike Lee’s films but one. Al Pacino, Ryan O’Neal and Kim Basinger have all starred in films that Blanchard has scored. He’s worked with the most famous in Hollywood, but this weekend Blanchard will be working with a new trio — Tsoali, Andile Yenana on piano and Lulu Gontsana on drums.”Blanchard’s virtues spring from his sense of restraint. The joy is in the tease!” writes People magazine. My concern is that too much film work may have robbed this man of his jazz. Blanchard certainly admits to his reliance on film, however, “nothing can beat being a jazz musician,” he says, “playing a club, playing a concert. When I stood next to Sonny Rollins at Carnegie Hall and listened to him play, that was it for me.”

Then. Now he’s going to be standing among a powerful Joburg trio. They’ve all played with Zim Ngqawana. So the pressure is certainly on Blanchard, and if he is the big star that Holmes maintains he is and a worthy headline act, he will rise to the occasion.The trumpet, they say, is a natural extension of the body.

So, if you are going to shoot from the hip, it is best to use a trumpet. Miles Davis did it that way and Eric Vloeimans is doing it in a style that is both smart and intensely funky. Vloeimans is a modest man with incredible style. He moves around the stage with the purpose of the Pink Panther at Woodstock. He will be accompanied by the great jazz professor and pianist from Britain, John Taylor. It will be a delightful duet.Sylvester Mazinyane is the rising star of elegance. He is the new prince of the jazz trio. Softly spoken, with a purple turban, Mazinyane wears the elegant colours of his home town with the ostentation of his adopted village. The Jazz Pistols make up the line-up. I believe they are exceptional German jazzmen with a sensitivity to the Sex Pistols that will add the pink cherry on top.Beauty is most important here.

The Bassline Music Experience International Jazz Festival 2003 takes place on May 11 at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia from 10am. Tickets are R170, children under 12 can enter for free. Tickets can be bought at Computicket.

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