26.08.2012. Earl Klugh performing at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Joburg 2012 held in Newtonw Johannesburg Picture: Sizwe Ndingane

By Don Albert

During this Olympic year, SA scored another gold with the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.

This year’s event was the best yet – and it was sold out.

While Cape Town is cutting back on jazz artists and opting for a more World Music festival, Joy of Jazz offered one of the most exciting line-ups yet. As a matter of fact there were too many, so much so even I couldn’t attend all the concerts.

Hearing the ghost band of Duke Ellington kicking off with Take The ‘A’ Train was goosebump time. Their set was pure Ellingtonia with all the soloists providing new and fresh ideas.

Hearing the clarinets on The Mooche, or alto saxophonist Charlie Young take on I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore a la Johnny Hodges and drummer Dave Gibson stoking the orchestra and soloing on Caravan was nostalgic without being a tired version of the original.

Sax Summit played the music of Kippie Moeketsi. The assembling of five women sax players could have descended into a mere gimmick, but not with these players. Ideas came gushing out of Tineke Postma’s soprano, while Grace Kelly provided some bop-inspired alto.

I was impressed how unfazed Nthabiseng Mokoena was in this fast company. She just stuck to her task and blew like the wind.

It was only tenor player Rosemary Quaye who seemed lost and overawed by the brilliant playing of her sax sisters. On the other side of the coin was Shannon Mowday who stole the show with mind-boggling baritone supremacy.

The local rhythm section was outstanding, as was the arranging skill of Khaya Mahlangu, especially on I Remember Billy.

Excitement was the name of the game with the Cuban modal compositions of Eddie Palmieri who, on a ballad, displayed his Latin Monk chops. Congas, bongos and timbales laid down a solid foundation over which the trumpet of Brian Lynch soared.

At one stage he played a call and response solo with himself, “calling” in the hi-note range and answering in a lower range.

Kurt Elling’s vocals provided a magical experience. It takes a brave person to attempt Come Fly With Me after the iconic version by Sinatra, but Elling’s highly original stunning version reached an altitude reserved purely for space-craft. He’s a master artist, be it scatting and using other sounds and foot-stomping in a duet with drummer Kendrick Scott, dropping in some vocalese or being a wonderful balladeer on Skylark.

Although Wycliffe Gordon’s tribute to Louis Armstrong was greeted with much applause, I was disappointed that he played too much trumpet instead of treating the audience to his award-winning trombone playing.

I believe he would have brought the house down with his plunger mute playing which never saw the light of day. Adrian Cunningham’s clarinet playing saved the day for me.

Afrika Mkhize, the 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz winner, once again proved he is world-class. Kesivan Naidoo’s hard bop drumming reminded me of Art Blakey, sans the crush-rolls, while Shane Cooper’s bass work was at it’s best.

Bassist Bakithi Kumalo was almost upstaged by his wife, singer Robbi Hall, when she sang Take The ‘A’ Train and coupled it with Igqira Lendlela.

Manu Katché’s set was innocuous, as were the few songs I heard from Jane Monheit, who I’m so glad revived the gorgeous Mel Torme ballad Born To Be Blue.

Earl Klugh was obviously happy with his guitar sound and played superbly, while his saxman Nelson Rangell was in sparkling form.

My biggest surprise was the tribute to Miles Davis played by trombonist Wayne Henderson, tenorman Everette Harpe, drummer Ndugu Chancellor, bassist Edwin Livingstone, trumpeter Tom Browne and pianist Bobby Lyle.

I thought it would be aimed at the Miles fusion period, but, no ways, these musicians came to display their jazz chops and grooved on Milestones, Walkin’, All Blues, Seven Steps To Heaven and Summertime. They all played with energy and conviction. An excellent set.

Monty Alexander fused the music of Jamaica with some swinging jazz. Imagine a lilting reggae rhythm suddenly switching to a raving 4/4 beat. When his two drummers, one utilised for jazz and the other for Jamaican sound, combined it was a tour de force.

Obviously Banana Boat Song had everyone singing and Alexander wrapped up with No Woman No Cry and One Love with the audience on their feet and raising the roof.

I know because I was sitting next to the high commissioner for Jamaica who was singing and shouting “Hey mon” . She was so proud when Alexander brought out the Jamaican flag.

My biggest regret was missing some artists I would love to have heard, but thanks for a great jazzfest.