It's an odd thing about the recorded legacy of the Blue Notes, the seminal South African modern jazz band that left its native country in 1964 to become a central group on the British scene of the 60s and 70s: the recordings under the names of the individual members tend to be far stronger than those of the Blue Notes as such. Dudu Pukwana's "In the Townships" stands as a masterpiece of the time and style, Johnny Dyani's small group work for the Danish Steeplechase label in the early 80s is incredible (as are his two duets with fellow ex-pat Abdullah Ibrahim), Louis Moholo's "Spirits Rejoice!" is extraordinary and the McGregor-led Brotherhood of Breath, while inconsistent, produced much fine music. One can only wonder what trumpeter Mongezi Feza might have accomplished had he not died, far too young, in 1975. Indeed, along with Feza, Pukwana and Dyani also perished at a relatively young age, arguably the three most talented Blue Notes.
This recording is from 1979, post-Feza, and includes several pieces that will be familiar to long time listeners. It's lengthy, almost 80 minutes, and the length works a bit against it as, if there was ever a band that could always benefit from concision, it was this group. The music is fine, just quite loose, very much conveying the feeling of a jam which, in truth, is keeping with the South African tradition of concerts that could go on, literally, for days. The contemporary listener must make that aural/intellectual adjustment and be less concerned with moments of condensed genius and more with a sense of community, of the music serving a kind of social function. Typically, the quartet will begin with the theme and take things into outside territory with the solos, moving to free time and loose improvisation before returning to restate the theme. Which is to say, it's quite standard, structurally, a bit surprising given the ways the individuals would experiment with structure to a greater extent on their own, Pukwana with repetitive forms on his releases, Dyani with more Mingusian ones.
Still, going with the flow, there's much to enjoy here, a special kick coming from Dyani's vocals as well as when Pukwana really catches fire. Perhaps oddly, in view of the above, they're at their best on the longest track here, "Funk Dem Dudu" (and funk dem he does). Maybe they really needed to stretch out, anything less than 10 minutes being uncomfortably constrictive. An automatic purchase, at any rate, for fans of the band.
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