Wessel van Rensburg / McCoy Mrubata: Kulturation (2005)
Pianist Wessel van Rensburg and saxophonist McCoy Mrubata have both established themselves as giants in the world of South African jazz in their respective solo careers, as well as their work together in the Sheer All Stars. Both have demonstrated ample chops, compositional skills, and musical creativity on all of their albums. But on Kulturation, the debut album for van Rensburg's Grasland label, they have created an album of such stark, understated beauty that it will surprise even longtime listeners.
Though they are joined by bassist Mlungisi Gegana, percussionist Godfrey Mgcina, and guest vocalist Jennifer Ferguson, the album focuses mostly on the delicate interplay between Mrubata and van Rensburg. Slow to mid-tempo songs that rarely rise above mezzoforte are the norm, often juxtaposing van Rensburg's dark, rolling piano lines against Mrubata's saxophone, which ranges from gentle, floating lines on "Kinders van die Wind to more raw, crying statements on "Roepstem Oor Landskap.
When the other two instrumentalists join in, the tempo picks up a little more, like on the gospel-flavored "Halala Afrika ; the comparatively forceful "Warrelwind ; and a rather mystical reading of the Manhattan Brothers' classic "Jikela Emaweni.
However, the most striking performance on the disc comes from vocalist Jennifer Ferguson. On "Rest a While, Ferguson brings a metallic and breathy approach to the text that recalls Annette Peacock's singing, while on "Mensesee Ferguson invokes the innovative vocal acrobatics of Meredith Monk, singing the wordless melody and using repeated syllables to create both atmospheric and percussive effects.
Ultimately, the tracks on Kulturation are linked thematically as a musical journey, beginning with the restless saxophone/piano interplay of early tracks, pausing at "Rest a While, but ultimately moving into the brighter, more cadential territory of the later pieces. If there is any remaining doubt that van Rensburg and Mrubata are two of South Africa's most creative new musicians, Kulturation should put all such debate to rest.
Note: This CD is available from One World on the web.
Track Listing: Roepstem Oor Landskap; Bra Gib; Kinders van die Wind; Rest a While; Halala Afrika; Mensesee; Lala Baba; Lisa Se Klavier; Jikela Emaweni; Warrelwind; Papa; Dustwind; Sy's Hier.
Personnel: McCoy Mrubata: saxophone, flute; Wessel van Rensburg: piano, synths; Jennifer Ferguson: vocals; Mlungisi Gegana: bass; Godfrey Mgcina: percussion.
Record Label: Grasland Records
Style: African Jazz