Township Bop

COMPOSERS: The Blue Notes
LABELS: Proper
ALBUM TITLE: The Blue Notes
PERFORMER: Chris McGregor (p), Dudu Pukwana (as), Nick Moyake (ts), Mongezi Feza (t), Mongezi Velelo, Sammy Maritz, Johnny Dyani (b), Early Mabusa, Louis Moholo (d)
CATALOGUE NO: PRP CD 013 (distr. 0870 444 0800; www.proper.uk.com)

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Township Bop, the first ever recording session of the fledgling Blue Notes, took place early in 1964 and encapsulates an extremely poignant chapter of jazz history. The musicians were all born in South Africa, but Chris McGregor was white and the others were black and, under apartheid, a mixed-race band performing jazz involved a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. Salvation came when they were invited to play at that year’s Antibes Jazz Festival and managed to get the necessary documents enabling them to leave South Africa.

In 1965 they settled in London, leaving a permanent imprint on the scene. The session is a little rough and ready at times and the intonation is sometimes sour, but the swing and drive of the band is compelling. The band’s main inspiration at that time was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but the musicians were also aware of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, which has echoes in some of McGregor’s piano-playing and in his composition ‘Vortex Special’, based on the structure of ‘SoWhat’.

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Trumpeter Feza and bassist Dyani were both only 16 years old at the time, but they equalled the intensity of their colleagues, who were in their twenties. These recordings reveal the enormous potential of this band, which was later realised in Europe and the UK.