SUMMER RE-UP: The Voodoo of Dudu; or Cape Town Rock City

Originally posted 7 December 2006

Dudu Pukwana & Spear
In the Townships
Atlantic : 1974

DP, alto sax, piano; Mongezi Feza, trumpet; Harry Miller, bass; Louis Moholo, drums.

Dig it: The indestructible beat of Soweto. Jazz stylee.

Dudu Pukwana. Alto sax prodigy who won first prize in Johannesburg Jazz Festival to launch his career. Joined Chris McGregor’s interracial Blue Notes ensemble. Went into exile in the mid 1960s and made the swinging London scene with the monumental Brotherhood of Breath. And also played with everyone from fearless improvisers Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink to the dusted folk of The Incredible String Band.

Here he leads his Spear band at the pinnacle of their powers, featuring the indefatigable Mongezi Feza. It’s a terrific mix of unbridled (let’s not say free) jazz and African sensibilities. The group churns out massive riffs, chock full of buoyant rhythms and joyful shouts. It’s tumultuous in the way of the best rock or funk.

You can hear its glorious and uproarious echoes in the South African Mbaqanga music championed by Paul Simon and many, many others in the 1980s. There are also hints of township Jive and Highlife. But those are just reference points because the sound of In the Townships maps its own territory – somwhere east of Motown, south of your hips, and around the corner from the best party you’ve ever been to.

Dudu unleashes a massive tone, laying down wide swathes of buzzing sound instead of worrying about subtlety. The nuance here is found in the players’ interactions and abandon, not in the individual notes or phrases. For more details and better musicology, check out Brian Olewnick‘s excellent review on the All Music site.

Even though this comes from well-loved vinyl (anyone out there care to share a better version?), the sheer joy and lasting rhythmic pleasure of the music comes through loud and clear. Enjoy.

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