Louis Moholo

Spirits Rejoice!

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In 1978, South African expatriate drummer Louis Moholo convened an octet including two countrymen and five Europeans and produced one of the great under-recognized recordings in modern jazz, arguably the single most successful melding of township music and the avant-garde. Using the gorgeous themes composed by himself and other South African musicians as launching pads for unfettered solos, Moholo struck a perfect balance, neither "side" overly deferential to the other, both proudly proclaiming their ability to co-exist and prosper. Loading the deep range of the band with two bassists and two trombonists, there's a full-bodied warmth and richness to each piece; rejoicing indeed. The pieces seesaw between up-tempo, wickedly dancing burners and heartbreakingly beautiful anthems. The former include Johnny Dyani's "Ithi-gqi," a jauntily striding affair featuring scorching tenor work from Evan Parker, and the bulk of "Amaxesha Osizi," the closest thing to a "regular" jazz number wherein Keith Tippett has some very fine moments. But the real killers are the slow, surging anthems. Mongezi Feza, a South African trumpeter who died too young several years before this session, is remembered in his "You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos You Think You Know Me," whose achingly lovely line, replete with obbligato sighs from the trombones, is repeated and repeated, each iteration generating new and stronger intensity. It's a sublime performance, transcending genre. One can hear a source of some of the melodic areas later investigated by Barry Guy with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra (which included several members of this ensemble) in pieces like this. And if the Feza work wasn't enough, the closing "Wedding Hymn" shakes the foundations. Beginning with bird songs and a horn-played chorale (showing the African origins of gospel hymns), it leads into marvelous flights by Kenny Wheeler and Tippett before, with a hush, the hymn's theme is whispered again. Although Ogun had, as of 2002, released several of their '70s catalog onto disc, Spirits Rejoice! still languished as a very rare vinyl treasure. Until this near-criminal situation is rectified, grab this gem if you can. A great, great recording.

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