Joys, Woes; Highs, Lows

Wouldn't you be proud to be in that fraternity?


Chris McGregorâ??s Brotherhood of Breath
Chris McGregorâ??s Brotherhood of Breath
RCA/Neon : 1971

Chris McGregor, piano, xylophone; Dudu Pukwana, alto sax; John Surman, baritone sax, soprano sax; Mike Osborne, alto sax; Alan Skidmore, soprano sax, tenor sax; Harry Beckett, trumpet; Marc Charig, cornet; Mongezi Feza, Indian flute, pocket trumpet; Ronnie Beer, flute, tenor sax; Nick Evans, trombone; Malcolm Griffiths, trombone; Harry Miller, bass; Louis Moholo, percussion, drums.

Brotherhood of Breath is an easy band to love. The proto-Brotherhood, leader McGregor’s Blue Notes, formed in South Africa: the very existence of this mixed-race ensemble was an affront to apartheid. Unwelcome and unable to secure gigs, the band headed north, eventually ending up in England, where they quickly fell in with a Who’s Who of late ’60s UK jazz players – the more adventurous among them, anyway.

These two tracks are from the Brotherhood’s first album, which was produced, notably, by Joe Boyd, best known for his work with Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Incredible String Band, etc. (McGregor puts in a cameo appearance on Drake’s Bryter Later.) Where their second album, Brotherhood, was freer, knottier, and more ambitious, their debut maintains an unfailingly pleasant combination of big band charts, African rhythms, and avant tonalities without ever feeling like it’s pandering. “MRA” swings hard, calling to mind the blues and roots of Mingus’ larger ensembles, only with no single voice rising out amid the massed sound. It’s a crowd of gentlemen surging as one, chewing on the rhythm like it’s bubblegum. There’s a palpable joy to this cut; one senses the musicians having trouble letting go of the riff, thrilled by the ride.

On the other hand: “Devashe’s Dream” starts as a straightforward, almost nostalgic big band ballad; one can imagine the father of the bride and his newly betrothed daughter taking a spin on the dance floor to something like this. That is, until Pukwana’s solo starts to draw attention to itself, and the blue notes and wails start to become more frenzied and agonized. (“Think I’ll sit this one out after all, love.”) Then there’s Feza’s turn, at around 3:45. This solo is an odd, squiggly thing, neatly noisy, a bit fussy, and likely to have left the dancers scratching their heads. Then Dudu returns to beautifully scream the gang home. (“Cheers to the wedding party!”)

A few links for the those interested in more:

Church of Me‘s Marcello Carlin expertly runs down the entire BoB discography in brief at an old I Love Music thread here. (Marcello provides a wonderful encapsulation of the sound: “Africa meets New Thing meets London.”)

Carlin (as “Mark”) adds a remarkably rich comment at the album’s Amazon (US) page. While you’re there, why not pick up a used copy? They’re not ridiculously expensive (yet).

And, via the phenomenal Restructures links page, here is a remembrance by Chris McGregor’s brother, Tony, from 1999.

Finally, the incomparable WFMU dj Doug Schulkind (he of “Give the Drummer Some”) has done us all a favor: you can stream his three-hour, March 2004 show devoted entirely to BoB and related jazz by hie-ing yourself here. Go to.

Category Brotherhood of Breath

11 Responses to Joys, Woes; Highs, Lows

  1. Thank you guys- we never get service this good in the real world! I look very forward to hearing it.

  2. You’re welcome, Pat. I only got to your post late last night, though, after this one was just about in the can, so while it looks like the answer to a request, it’s actually just pure serendipity. Go figure.

    Great work on that ridiculous list, btw, and thanks for putting it all together.

  3. Great to hear these again after all these years.

  4. Hey- I somehow completely missed Brotherhood of Breath! It is always a pleasure to hear Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza. The horn charts for Devashe’s Dream are very Duke. Feza’s solo is hilariously Don Cherry/Lester Bowie/Donald Ayler, yet somehow pure Feza also. MacGregor is great, and I’m hearing him for the first time thanks to your “every nook and cranny” thoroughness (represented too by those amazing Joe Harriott uploads!).

    Quick reminder: Ornette’s _Sound Grammar_ comes out tomorrow! Khofi Annan declares World Holiday! George Bush resigns in awe! Osama Bin Laden forms Front for Harmolodic Jihad!

    Also a tip for your readers: go to YouTube, enter name of favorite well-known creative musician in search window (last night: Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra) and watch some strange and sometimes rare footage (including a ripping version of Trane’s Impressions by Professor Braxton, and a bizarre Mahavishnu Noonward Race with Jan Hammer so obviously petulant and frustrated that it’s comical).


    Peter Breslin

  5. Yeah, a fine ensemble, though beware of “Country Cooking”.

    But if at all possible, get ahold of Pukwana’s “In the Townships”. Originally on Caroline (1974 or so), re-released on Earthworks in the mid 90s but OOP now, I think. Fantastic record, including some great Feza. “Diamond Express”, which appeared on Arista (available elsewhere?) is pretty fine too.

  6. Nice one. “MRA” is my favourite Brotherhood of Breath track; I never want that riff to end.

  7. Sweet-haven’t heard this one in years. I’ll never forget how knocked out I was when I picked this up in the cut out bin when it first came out. So much exuberance and joy in the music. Ditto on Brian’s comment about the “In the Townships.”

    Interesting comments by PB.

  8. nice! all the BoB live stuff on Cuneiform is worth tracking down too, but i’m sure that’s old news to most. and the wondrous Isipingo too. And Brian is right – ‘Country Cooking’ sucks.

  9. Third one chiming in on “In the Townships,” although it’s an altogether different sound than one might expect from a group of (mostly) BoB alumni–kwela inspired, minimal bop or post-bop content, mildly redolent of afropop, but always rock steady, effervescent, and free. Check out the version of Feza’s immortal “Sonia” on the Pukwana album, then the Brotherhood version on Bremen to Bridgwater–biiig difference. I’ll take the Pukwana version, tho–grooves like a motha…

  10. Excellent album by an oft-overlooked group. I remember finding this in a used LP bin at a little local store in the early 1970s for, I think, 99 cents. I bought it because it looked interesting, and I was not disappointed when I got the record home and listened. In fact, over the years I’ve worn out my vinyl copy, and thus am delighted to see these two tracks appear in EZ-to-use digital form.

    Somehow, Pukwana’s solo on “Davashe’s Dream” reminds me of a funhouse-mirror version of Johnny Hodges.

    Anyway, you’re doing a great job with this site. Keep up the good work!

  11. » SUMMER RE-UP: The Voodoo of Dudu; or Cape Town Rock City destination: OUT