SINGER Melanie Scholtz describes a chance meeting on Cape Town’s St George’s Mall as seeding the collaboration with legendary poet James Matthews that forms her new album, Freedom’s Child (www.melaniescholtz.com).
There is nothing chancy about the result. Scholtz has crafted melodies that enact, not merely accompany, the poetry: a Civil Rights hymn for the title track; a sinister, Hannes Eisler-like soundtrack for The Face of My Mother Takes Shape; a personal, reflective tone on I’m Slowly Becoming Accustomed to the Changing Patterns of My Face — not only the poet’s song now, but hers too — a mystical meditation on Flesh of The Earth. Matthews has always been a poet of musicality and physicality alongside protest; now those aspects of his words are realised.
It’s a joy to hear Mark Fransman’s sensitive piano and reeds; we haven’t heard him in this kind of context for a while. Several other pedigreed players include saxophonist Soweto Kinch and drummer Kevin Gibson, plus the poet’s own voice. Not only Scholtz’s writing and interpretation, but also her perfect diction of powerful words make this an album of the year. Now, it just needs better distribution.
Scholtz’s sensitivity is not only applied to other people’s lyrics. Her other current new release, Our Time, contains more laid-back dance and lounge-style music, but refuses to be confined within those labels. Scholtz grows, album by album, as a songwriter. These tracks feature infectious tunes, sharply perceptive, often witty, lyrics, some solid playing (from Bokani Dyer, Shane Cooper, Gorm Helfjord and Justin Bellairs among others) and subtle, dynamically complex arrangements.
In Just to See You Once Again, Scholtz has crafted a classic ballad, enhanced by gently moving Afrikaans rhyming from MC Jitsvinger. Scholtz can’t escape Cape Town lyrically, I lost count of the number of watery, oceanic metaphors in these songs. But physically she has just moved to Johannesburg and will soon be launching live shows here.
Although some venues are saving their most spectacular acts for the Easter holiday weekend, the live music temperature is rising, and this week in Johannesburg the focus is firmly on reeds, with two visiting saxophone quartets in town. On Thursday at 8pm, the UK-based Apollo Saxophone Quartet performs at The Edge, St Mary’s School, 55 Atholl St, in Waverley.
The award-winning Apollos have been around for more than a quarter of a century, and have played a major role in extending the contemporary saxophone repertoire, working across genres with composers from Michael Nyman to Django Bates. Bookings for their performance can be made via Computicket. The quartet will also present masterclasses on Friday morning. Information can be sourced from Matthew Lombard on 082-538-0092 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Friday evening at the Orbit jazz club, on De Korte Street, Dutch saxophone quartet Artvark perform. Improvisers and composers with, again, little regard for genre boundaries, Artvark offer a distinctive approach to staging saxophone music: choreographing moves as they play. The group includes tenorman Mete Erker, a former regular visitor to South Africa with jazzmen such as bassist Eric van der Westen.
A full line-up for gigs at the Orbit is available at email@example.com and bookings are on 011-339-6645; this week’s highlights also include a Blues Night this evening, bassist Mlungisi Gegana on Thursday, and a showcase for young Durban sextet H3 on Sunday.
In Cape Town, the Crypt jazz club (079-683-4658) presents its usual full programme, including vocalists Babalwa Meintjies on Thursday and Nomfundo Xaluva on Tuesday, April 15, and the Dixie Swingers featuring Mike Rossi on clarinet and Darryl Andrews on banjo on Wednesday night. This being Cape Town, there will be at least as much goema as dixie in the mix.
In Port Elizabeth, the Composers Association of South Africa presents their workshop on Earning Income from Composing at the South Campus Auditorium of the Nelson Mandela Municipal University from 11am on Thursday. Entry is free, but registration (full name and surname) is mandatory, to firstname.lastname@example.org or via SMS to 076-026-4379.