I'd never heard the original LP on ICP (Instant Composers Pool, 1979) and being a huge fan of Pukwana when he was the context of fellow South African musicians, I was a little dubious going in about this venture, especially as it was recorded after (arguably) the strongest period of European free improv, say 1965-75. Often enough, in collaboration with "free" European improvisers, I've found many a South African ex-pat playing against what I thought was their great strength, of over-accommodating to a form wherein their own great virtues were, to a greater or lesser extent, submerged. And first time through, that was the impression I had. But subsequent listens have revealed a more nuanced take, one in which a reasonably equal balance is attained by the three fine players.
One noticeable thing right off the bat is that the three pieces are compositions, one per musician. Pukwana's 'Yi Yole' begins with a mad scramble between Mengelberg and Bennink, the latter initially on viola before switching to clarinet (in addition to his regular drum kit, he's also heavily featured here on trombone). It's not until Pukwana, on alto, enters a couple of minutes in that a sense of soul, of blues starts to appear, a vague hint at a melody easing its way in between the rapid-fire, gestural work of his companions. Mengelberg slows things down, paving the way to what theme there is, he and Bennink playing delicate march rhythms behind strong work from Pukwana. It almost goes without saying, considering the combined oeuvres of Bennink and Mengelberg, but a strong sense of that particularly Dutch sense of humor pervades this affair. Indeed, there are a number of moments that are quite reminiscent of some of Willem Breuker's less constrained music from around the same period. I'd add that it's very clear from Mengelberg's work here how much of an influence he was on Breuker's pianist of the time, Leo Cuypers. Bennink's superbly titled, 'The King of Weasle is Called Easle', starts as another kind of gallumphing romp, Mengelberg all over the keyboard, before a ballad-like theme that recalls 'I'll Be Seeing You' emerges. It's rollicking fun, Bennink largely on trombone, the trio sputtering and lurching on through.
'Silopobock', by Mengelberg, took up Side B of the original album. It quickly builds a substantial head of steam, the composer's blocky piano atop Bennink's flailing cymbal work forming a fine mesh for Pukwana to stream through, liquid and pulsating. The music unwinds into a spacious free section, each musician happily in their own space, an effective whole appearing as if by chance — very nice. A bit over halfway through, whether scheduled or by inspiration, Pukwana plays a bit of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' which ends up serving as thematic material for the remainder of the piece, dissected in Ayler-like fashion with a smidgen of 'Now's the Time' added as spice. The whole thing is a great deal of fun and this writer's favorite slice of Pukwana outside his township-oriented music.
Comments and Feedback: