Jazz, Pap, Coffee and Easter Egg Pt.2

2010-04-06 08:49
Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Sunday. I hear church bells. Wow. Where do you anymore? I'm compelled to take to them for sanctuary, salvation, wafer cakes, what have you. But then I remember that it’s just the weekend dementia. Yesterday, pap breakfast, 2 coffees, 3 hours of sleep in a bed. A marked improvement on last year’s 4, on a bench outside a 5 star jam-packed with talent, for the most part. As an aside, little Jami at the coffee stand was some of the reason for the hunt. That cute thing had a queue 3 times the length of the 3 other stands manned by men. How do you take the coffee girl for coffee? Anyway. If you work hard enough at these you resemble a meth fiend & I’m stalking Sunday morning city centre looking for a fix or somewhere to type. I crack civilisation at times in public toilets behind stall doors giggling nervously at my grunts and incomprehensible quips, the calibre of which top "this fucking tap’s a sensor. I've been had!" Giggling at the possibility I might roll them and try flushing their corpse. I was a wreck but I’m nice enough. Who knows, I'll find out by 5pm. See you then. The Blk Jks should be the fire. No middle ground please.

Is this the warm up or the show? These guys couldn't care. It’s 30min till 'start' and Blk Jks are in the thick. Only the rude stops & mic blasts of 'one', 'what?' and 'shit' betray the plot. The term 'warm up' has a bastard’s irony where the Bassline outback is in frigid, gale force. Only one mysterious coat stands resolute on the blasted heath, nodding. The audacity! Coltrane's "Moment's notice". A standard for lounge settings, drink and dames to be clichéd. Wait! Here they go... In my notebook, aside from whole letters and words missed at this point for frostbite and brainfreeze, I had listed 7 artists and tracks that spring to mind when watching the mighty Blk Jks: listen to Pavement for tempo changes and Wilco's "Via Chicago" (live) for breaking in and out of signature with precision. Go watch Sonny Sharrock on the Episode 'Sharrock' (dedicated to his memory) of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast for free soloing (includes a tribute by Thurston Moore). Guitar whines from 'Airbag' by Radiohead. Menace in play between drums and guitar on the 30min live performance by Led Zeppelin of "Dazed & confused" off The Song Remains the Same. The sexual vibrancy (interesting) of Santa Esmeralda. AND above all else, the oft intense but listless vocal and "orchestral" feel of Queens of the Stone Age. Heck, throw some Tinariwen in there too. What the Blk Jks could potentially do, like the Lion of the Desert, is build a new sound (sort of like TV on the Radio to mention one more).

Enough of the naming though, after the SA genre rant, should I be comparing? Try telling your girlfriend you like her 'cos she has eyes like your ex. Go on. Do it. You can’t can you because you want to keep having sex. But tell her she could be a composite of all the most perfect features of beautiful women. Well, don't but the idea is that I can’t put my finger on these gents just yet. The audience might be 20 years old on average. This aside, the band didn’t attempt socialising. Pompous? No. Aloof? Maybe. I get the sense it’s not a consideration for them yet. There was a 2 metre gap between the stage fence and the first brave, dancing soul (me). I closed it and with the smile and come hither finger of a registered sex offender, I cajoled young girls and boys to press their flesh to the barrier and enjoy the band. In light of this, it's unfortunate that the gents happened to be playing a story about an older guy who lures a young lady into... stuff. It was also their high point, great piece! Blk Jks tracks are dark; pieces for war destruction and vicious South-Easters and I love them.

We sand-blasted bastards were either agent in our evacuation or blown off Bassline, some over the Southern Sun never to be seen again (till next year). I tried to brave the freeze & dirt to hear DJ Azhul stack & scratch but couldn’t bear more than 5min. On hearing ‘Return of the mac’, I inevitably return to embrace the cheese. Azhul has a third of the Blk Jks crowd dancing; intermission DJs usually entertain zero revellers for rush, bladders & stomachs. DJ Eazy grips me by the shoulder, anchoring himself & shouts "help me look for scratch pads (lingo?)! They’re R600 each & they blew off the decks!" I shout "F*ck! Okay! Hey! Look at the old white people singing "Return of the mac"!" Muted advertising screens showed bygone year’s performers doing something lounge against shitty 90s hip-hop. We both guffaw like morons then stumble into dust devils searching never to see each other again (R.I.P. Eazy & my left eyeball). In sage words DJ Falko said "Why do they put the fucking thing over Easter!? You mos know Easter has all the kak weather. Rain. Wind."

Escalators stopped for some godforsaken reason and both osmose biomass up to Jason Moran. The frontline is floor seating of a press cesspool, a writhing, undulating beast of meaty tentacles affixed with camera lenses. I thought I would be the only one who's heard Jason. I thought dumb. A band of three, on drums, Nasheet Waits; bass, Taurus Mateen and the pianist Jason Moran. Altogether they produce the incredible sound of an ensemble of about 12 players. Every player is rhythmic, every player melodic & the sound is so frantic it vibrates like a fanfare & you’d swear the stage shimmered. It’s alive & it feels like church again. All handle the gymnastics with ease, smiles & no strained faces. Moran is part of a wave of new hope for good jazz music in the States along with another guest to the CTIJF 10th year Robert Glasper (all names to be watched & listened to including Casey Benjamin, Chris Dave and Derrick Hodge, as well as Esperanza Spalding, Greg Burk & the aforementioned Ms Uehara). Just like Glasper & friends, Moran doesn’t shy away from the jazz sensibilities of hip-hop and, no doubt having grown up on it, pays his respects to greats like Afrika Bambataa (whose "Planet Rock" he ended with). The interludes are a giveaway. One a mantra of a child saying ‘Breakdown barriers, breakdown structure, breakdown the art world, breakdown general public’ for the duration of the band crafting it into a slow rolling jazz influenced hip-hop sound something like "Buggin' out" by A Tribe Called Quest. Thereafter the point is made in the 'melodic breakdown' of the piece. So, if I'm going to throw around terms from eastern metaphysics I'll go on to call how Moran practices [a] Monk's mandala: just before he starts getting attached to a motif from "Round midnight" or a children’s song by Debussy, he chases himself and, well, breaks down the easy way out.

My heart is skipping beats and I want to shout but the crowd is apprehensive. That is until after he plays a little stride which he says is "something his teacher wrote, Jackie Boyard, called Tarre- Tari- fuck it, I can never say it right anyway but I just like the fucking song" then we all laugh relatively relieved. He eventually sets my heartbeat right doing something not much unlike anything from Streams of Consciousness, the masterful craft of Max Roach and Abdullah Ibrahim. I was pleased when after our applause he said spoke of how SA has influenced him and "especially Abdullah who, if you think I’m playing like, you’re right. I am referencing him." Hehe! This is a collection of humans who could easily breathe between anyone from Pharoahe Monch to Pharaoh Sanders. I have no doubt you'll get your money’s worth just staying at the Moses Molelekwa stage for the weekend but then thinking about all the young up-and-comers you probably feel a shrug of sadness for the loss of South Africans like Moses. There is NO tribute grander than the stage in his name.

Guru had a heart attack. A proper shame but he's okay now and we have Bilal now which isn't a raw deal in the least. Except I won’t be seeing Bilal just yet as planned after Jason because Bassline didn’t make it. Deemed by ESP authorities to be unfit for partying in this wind, which got worse I guess. This act’s been moved to slightly after George Benson's "Greatest Hits" on the Kippies stage where I’d spend the rest of the weekend!

I decided to give Selaelo Selota a shot even though by now my body figured it was closing time. Everyone stumbles like darted wildlife, drunks, tired, German, makes no difference. We clamour like panicked beasts to a watering hole only we knew there was a predatory badass there. He started clothed, guitar and everything else. But as the energetic performance went on Selota got shinier & shinier until he thought it was time to button down revealing his shiny, lithe torso. I had to wade out of the hall to do something (can’t remember what but attendees develop an instinct for migration every half-hour or so, confused & longing to pack their weekends with as much music as possible). In these squeezed situations you use human cohesion to travel, forget feet, technically the crowd has one foot at this point like a snail or a pirate. I slide by shoulders through the between the folds, chests and breasts of buxom women with the look of conquest in their eyes for the tiny, lively man up ahead & burly men concentrate like air-traffic controllers on their fists packed with tumblers of beer & other lubricants. I’m at the entrance when I look up at the big screen to see to men now topless and shiny having what looks like a crump battle. Selota has 'brought it' as it were. They break into a violent hump dance that drives us all insane and I must see more! Deeper in & I see he’s put his guitar aside to thrust his pelvis out at us all while the band’s in a professional flurry! The hump dance is awesome & for a time the act is drowned in the bloody cry of us all! Haha! Glorious, one-man humping worth R450. The performance was, to borrow from cheesy album blurbs like tour de force, ‘electric’ with all honesty!

We jostle for space further up because in the blink of an eye & without the warm up and warning Mr George Benson strides out & a shining, brown light fills the arena. He has all the calm & confidence of a man with a PhD in Psychology (which he does have for a bit of trivia) and, above all else, he’s also still got ‘it’. It is incredible that as advanced in years as he is Mr Benson still commands the bodies of every woman you know (yuck but true). The big screen shows a big, mighty skull that looks draped with a burst, smiling American football but chops is an understatement. I will have nightmares & probably never court the fairer sex again for the fear that he might come knocking at least once a month saying something like "you know how it is JP. Don’t make this difficult." My love's knees buckle, he sends a shake her way, I become enraged, she runs into his arms & I fall to my pathetic non-George Benson knees & weep EVERY MONTH! Yes, he was a terror. Selota was a prophetic forecast of pelvic action to come. Women tear at their clothes & become possessed. The act is a collection of his greatest hits and goes through everything from 'Love x love' to 'Moody’s mood'. Everyone, including myself, scream word-for-wordand& Mr Benson sings each one perfectly without a hint of his 60s & leaves room for improve sparing us the album act. Speaking of which, special mention must be made for his band who were flawless & astounding. Tom Hall on the keys was, thankfully, given wild applause & whistles for his solos and didn’t suffer the backing to the star thing. Along with younger drummer Oscar Seaton who took a solo in "On Broadway" with just enough and not too much power with what seemed an expression of panic & concentration like he was holding a beer. All the while Mr Benson leered at him over his guitar's neck with a menacing grin, the evil slave-driver, "one wrong strike & it’s the once-a-month with your lover like JP". That glorious bastard! Keep coming back George Benson!

Tough act to follow? Shit yes! But the bulk of the younger audience shuffled eagerly to the front to catch the confident & cocky Bilal. When I got there, a scene so perverse I suggested they rather move the poor passed out girl to a couch (mostly so I could steal their centre spot). Evolution is brutal and this drunk's friend could only must some bullshit about the medic having given her an injection & she’ll be okay. The poor fiend lie in the centre being minced through the fence grating while her ‘friend’ refused to lose their spot & relinquish it to me (don’t worry, girl on the ground woke every now & then to drink some more before laying down again even to...) The entrance of BILAL! This strange creature is a regular wild man (I smile the statement in the weirdness of the guy from The Hurt Locker) sporting a lopsided Mohawk that's a mess because he keeps pulling at his skull (check out Ray from Achewood for an idea or just Google "Bilal" you philistines!)

Can you do this with music? Bilal has always had a perculiar sound or rather progression. Melody changes that tickle you and leave you thinking "what?" It’s totally theirs too which is pretty neat and is kind of "free soul" to seem esoteric about it. It falls into place with his lyrics which are poetic & at times profound juxtaposed with straight up need for sex. It’s interesting but well worthwhile, something important to break with the shinning heroics of pop, like in good stories where you grow to like someone who’s something like a cheat or sex fiend. This maniac got 3 men, 1 gay that I’m sure of shouting "I want to have your babies!" And in a Pendergrassian fit of love he kept singing while flailing from one end of the stage to the other throwing himself to the ground & carrying on rolling even if he tripped & got hurt, something the ladies were going crazy for. I turned to see a girl screaming frantic with despair in her eyes at the possibility of this lovelorn freak hurting himself. I could not have mistranslated this AT ALL the feeling was so palpable. He crashed through the giggling bassist, into the drum kit and knocked over mic stands like an alligator in a death-roll. Eyes wide & voodoo, he reached out to us scream the words "I can't leave you" humping his monitor like Prince does his home appliances and all else in - and animate. It was most frightening that at several points in the possession he nigh on DESTROYED his singing voice and career screaming harder than I've ever heard a man scream for us. He couldn’t leave us. He was set to end at 01h30 with the reschedule and I was there until 2am. I couldn't help but imagine that this KING set up would go on until 04h00 or just become a living monument to dancefloor pregnancy and 5 star entertainment. Someone had to write this chronicle though. As one straight man to another "Bilal, you are possibly the sexiest man alive and I want man sex with you".

For all my bitching attempts at light-heartedness here and there, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is completely in its right to be ranked in the top 5 of Jazz festivals the world over. And in spite of our complaints about anything from price to logistics to crap acts (few and far between) every one here will keep trying to come back. Sunday’s meals: pap, coffee, easter egg. Sated? Completely.

Previous Page: Part 1 of our gonzo trip into the Cape Town International Jazz Fest

Part two of our gonzo trip into the consciousness of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival: encountering the Blk Jks, Jason Moran, George Benson, Selaelo Selota and more.

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