Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dollar Brand – Echoes From Africa

Solo piano recordings or performances are definitive moments in any artists’ career. They truly demonstrate an artist’s dexterity in an unadulterated state. It took me a while to fully appreciate this the idea of a complete set of works performed on a single instrument. The idea of trios was introduced, proliferated, and dominated the jazz seen for a while. Come to think of it, to this day it still does. For reasons I am yet to understand, the set makeup is often drums, piano and bass. Of course, from time to time you get a rare combination like alto saxophone, guitar and piano, for example Michel Petrucciani on piano, Jim Hall on guitar and Wayne Shorter on sax.

It did not take much for me to fall in love with trios because of the endless opportunities for individuals to showcase their skills and creativity. However, the idea of duos came up and left me pondering what one is supposed attentively seek. Duos in my mind have endless instrument and even vocal selections.

There is a whole host of South African music that has been performed by duos, and sadly this kind of ensemble has not received the attention it truly deserves. And this leads us to this old beautiful gem – Echoes From Africa. I was thinking when the project concept was birthed what the first meeting between Dollar Brand and Johnny Dyani was like. And as a true creative and story teller myself, I imagined it went a little something like this:

‘Ma brada Dyani, what up?’ (Cape Town accent)

‘Ma main man Mr. Brand, all cool’ (Deep isiXhosa accent)

‘I have this burning desire to record this music but all I am hearing is a piano and bass. Maybe an occasional vocal here and there! Are you game?’

‘Sure, let’s do this!

(Although a tad bit overexaggerated hahahaa! It’s very possible)

Anyway, I digressed, we are here now, and the album has been out since 1979. It’s really has been that long. This beautiful masterpiece of an album opens with a 16:52 minute track called Namhlanje (Today) which is a celebration of some sort. I fell in love with this track based on the deep African rhythm which is indigenous to Africa. Yes, there are repetitive phrases, but I am fine with those because it is typical what you would find in most African songs. Indeed, this track is a true representation of Echoes From Africa.

When Dollar Brand did a piano and saxophone Ntyilo Ntyilo duet, it stole my heart and took me to places I have never been. For many years it remained my go to duet. Well…Until I discovered Lakutshon’ Ilanga on this album. There have been many renditions of this artistic masterpiece. Of course, I cannot help but feel Mr Davashe would be proud of the newer interpretation of this iconic standard.

Nothing comes close to paying tribute to a fellow musician, and this Dollar Brand has done countless times in his body of work. A true example of leadership as demonstrated in Saud (A dedication to McCoy Tyner). In the true Dollar style, the piece is out of this world, flirting between African sounds and America jazz.

I would have been surprised if Zikr (Remembrance of Allah) was not included in this album. This is largely because of the many things Africa is Echoing, faith remains a greater part of it. It seems to me that once an artist reaches Dollar’s level, every creation they bring to live is a masterpiece and this is a great thing for lovers of music and finer things.

I have an idea, why not explore duets? Echoes From Africa has definitely inspired me. But in the meantime, if you have plans to check out this album, please do that and you will not regret it.

Until the next Dollar Brand review keep jazzing.


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