by Stamish Malcuss
It is always uplifting when a musician truly pays homage to the authenticity of history, and in keeping with a languages origin, while also uniquely making it their own. Appropriately titled, the opening track “King of Xhosa,” is a hand drum invocation and an introduction in the Xhosa language of South Africa, as that is exactly where the origins and influences of this music came from. Drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel and his quartet are joined on this recording by South African native, Feya Faku on trumpet and flugelhorn, who is a key element in the appeal of the music.
Faku’s background is filled with playing with legends such as Bheki Mseleku, and Abdullah Ibrahim. The relationship began when Siegel was introduced to Faku’s inimitable sound at a Woodstock engagement, it was his later trip to South Africa where he encouraged Faku to come back to record an album.
Siegel’s quartet is grounded by bassist Rich Syracuse, also with Erica Lindsay on tenor saxophone, pianist Francesca Tanksley, and veteran percussionist Fred Berryhill who I might add is a long-time associate of Siegel’s and certainly fits the bill of executing complex rhythms of Africa with straight ahead jazz, which listeners can delight in on King of Xhosa.
Each player is connected and engaged in the moment especially signified in the meditative “Prayer,” from pianist Tanksley, a tribute to the power of compassionate love. A tune influenced by the wisdom found in the style of Abdullah Ibrahim, an extended delve into the comforting effects of spirituality. I might add, Tanksley also penned “Life On The Rock,” a hard-bop cut where the muscularity of the group is in full shine. A theme of senseless violence and its victims are deeply given a respectful treatment on Siegel’s “Ballad Of The Innocent,” a poignant requiem conveyed in an introspective and somber mood, the colors and textures created by the ensemble are a befitting reverence.
A Faku contribution is found in “Courage,” it is immediately apparent this tune is chalk full of homage to his mentors and elders. He further demonstrates his jazz lineage on “Unsung,” and softer side on “Inner Passion,” played in tandem with saxophonist Lindsey, who rises to the task with eloquence. Lindsey also a contributor writes with a leaning from the Coltrane, with a more cerebral inspired “Gotta Get To It;” another high point tune “Call To Spirits,” features an effective call and response effect. Whereas “Get Real,” employs a funky groove, presenting her lighter side with expressiveness. A well placed “Umngqungqo,” takes us back to where we began, a fitting closure of the set.
It is not unusual today to have an African leaning on any jazz recording, in fact it is quite documented, but what this offering brings to the table is a deeper delve and a respectful homage all played with authenticity and truthfully dripping with love, it is each note this message rings true, the talent is a plenty and with the additive of Faku the sound is a resounding joy to experience. The true meaning of music – to experience the feeling of being uplifted.