Chris McGregor & the Brotherhood of Breath

Country Cooking

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Pianist McGregor has tamed his BOB big band for this recording -- it isn't the fire-breathing monster it has been in past years. It's a more refined musical, lyrical beast, less sloppy and raw, with different personnel and approach. The music reflects South African townships beats, swing, Latin underpinnings, and expansive horn charts that represent the best orchestral jazz offerings of the modern era. McGregor also seems more at ease with his role, dishing out more solos and ensemble passages that cue his very able bandmates. Typical highlife music is the focal point on the title track and "You & Me." The former tune is happy, a bouncy rhythm by drummer Gilbert Matthews leading into McGregor's slight melodic notion for the horns respond to, extending the pianist's line, after which Annie Whitehead's trombone solo is backed by the horns in joyous fashion. "You & Me" takes the highlife funky; tiny mezzo-piano horns swell to loud staccato flashes, with piano dominating them all in the middle. 6/8 beats solidify "Dakar" with dancing clarinets and high woodwinds, while various skittering melodies skate across "Bakwetha" in a peaceful framework, McGregor's piano rambling over this terrain. In a more straight-ahead jazz vein, atypical for this group, "Sweet As Honey" is simpler in terms of its Basie-like chart and trading of fours by different band members with Matthews, while "Maxine" is McGregor's famous easy swing ballad, with tangy tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson and trumpeter Harry Beckett's poignant solos, plus an ever-changing multi-melody line a la Ellington's "Come Sunday." There's confusion in the titles of "Thunder in the Mountain" or "Big G." Seven cuts are listed on the disc, eight in the liners and back cover. Likely it's "G" missing and "Thunder" present and accounted for, with an Afro-Cuban rhythm from percussionist Tony Maronie underpinning a swing that sets up a one-note to many-note melody, horns in unison expressing an impessive, kinetic dynamic range. This is McGregor's most accessible Brotherhood lineup, though somewhat less potent, and the only domestically available document of his work. It's a good, easily recommended primer to encourage you to explore the possibility of hearing his import recordings for Ogun, and other groups The Blue Notes and District Six.

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