Siya does it again

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Siya Makuzeni, winner of the Standard Bank artist of the year, in Grahamstown on 1 July 2016, at the National Arts Festival. Siya Makuzeni and the majority of her band are originally from the Eastern Cape. (CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala)

If you thought Siya Makuzeni 2 was going to be pretty much the same as Siya Makuzeni 1, you’d have been proved wrong. Yes, she did begin her set with the same song – the one with
the looping device – she used to kick off the first gig and she ended the set with her song about living your vision, etc. 

In between these bookmarks, however, the performance was very, very different. It wasn’t as polite, for a start. John Scofield could teach this band nothing about funk. On the fourth tune, the whole mood changed. Makeson Browne, a.k.a. Mark Fransman, provided dirty keyboard sounds, while guitarist Keenan Ahrends flew.

1970s Herbie Hancock came to Africa. On this gig Makuzeni also played compositions by others: bassist Benjamin Jephta’s Requiem for a Dream saw Makuzeni switching to trombone, and providing space for an exciting solo from the composer; there were also compositions by the pianist on Makuzeni’s first gig, Thandi Ntuli (from her album The Offering), and Bokani Dyer (from World Music).

 Siya Makuzeni, winner of the Standard Bank artist of the year, in Grahamstown on 1 July 2016, at the National Arts Festival. Siya Makuzeni and the majority of her band are originally from the Eastern Cape. (CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala)
Siya Makuzeni, winner of the Standard Bank artist of the year, in Grahamstown on 1 July 2016, at the National Arts Festival. Siya Makuzeni and the majority of her band are originally from the Eastern Cape. (CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala)

Makuzeni herself used the opportunity to play works she wrote some years ago. One of these, a slow labyrinthine piece, called – if I heard correctly – Sabre Dance, seemed to have a touch of Carlo Mombelli about it. (She was part of one of his Prisoners of Strange configurations.) Her scatting is simply superb, especially when it digs deep down into her roots;
occasionally an Ella phrase crops up – the great jazz singer was an early influence.

Aside from the different instrumentation last night (her first gig featured two sax players and no guitarist), the rhythm section of Ahrends, Jephta and drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko is particularly tight, probably because they form part of Jephta’s regular quintet. And what a joy it is to see – and hear –
Fransman play piano. This versatile musician is such a good sax player that we often don’t see him at the keyboard.

Was Siya Makuzeni 2 a better gig than Siya Makuzeni 1? Marginally. If only because it was somehow freer. But it’s all a matter of taste. What isn’t up for debate is that Siya Makuzeni was a fine choice as the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. Now, about that album…

By Nigel Vermaas

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