dudu pukwana and spear



The photo of Dudu Pukwana playing the cowbell was taken at a Leeds Jazz concert at Leeds Trades Club on 28 January 1985 with Zila, not at 100 Oxford Street in July 1974 with Spear by Denis Dalby – aka Jazzdenski.

Dudu Pukwana and Spear

PERFORMANCE OF JULY 25, 1974 at 100 Oxford Street, London

Dudu Pukwana / alto saxophone, vocal, percussion, Mongezi Feza / trumpet, African flute, vocal, Victor Williams / piano; Andre Abrahamse / bass, James Mene / drums.


IN THE TOWNSHIPS (Caroline C1504)

Dudu Pukwana and Spear: Dudu Pukwana / alto saxophone, piano, vocal, percussion, Bizo Mngqikana / tenor saxophone, vocal, percussion, Mongezi Feza / trumpet, vocal, percussion, Harry Miller / bass; Louis Moholo / drums.

Tunes: “Baloyi,” “Exilani.” “Zakude” / “Sonia,” “Angel Nemali,” “Nobumvu,” “Sekela Khuluma.” Recorded: August 25 and November 10, 1973, Manor Studio, London.

Spear has been one of the best night’s listening in London for some time now. Originally an all-South African group, a spin-off from the band that came to England under Chris McGregor’s leadership some ten years ago, they are offering the “Township” music of the South African black ghettoes, which mixes jazz influences with indigenous ideas. In a sense it is not too far removed from the bossa nova principle, though it doesn’t have that langourous softness about it. And if all you know of South African music is Hugh Masakela, forget that too! This is a hectic, totally non-romantic music, reflecting the life-style that produced it.

Their first – to date their only – album, demonstrates clearly how the form works. A strong rhythmic base, repetitive yet flexible, loose and essentially danceable, shapes and fuses with the melody lines. The singing doesn’t offer a “words-and-music” element, simply an additional human-voice texture. At least to Western ears. Used as a counterpoint to the horn lines, against the strident alto of “Baloyi” or to take up a previously stated line and develop it, as on “Ezilalini” these vocals are highly effective and contribute much to the individual flavour of this music.

In the horns, there is a noticeable and intriguing “hole-in-the-middle” between the early Jazz Messenger-type flares of “Angel Nemali” or the churchy “Zakude” line, and the violent post-Ayler world effectively outlined by Pukwana’s work on “Nabomvu” or “Baloyi.” I suspect that this – in context a quite inspired eclecticism – stems more from Pukwana’s own ideas than from the basic form, and it is an important part of what makes Spear’s music so fascinating at so many levels.

Some overdubbing has been used on the record, to fill out the performances; but this is not obtrusive. Unfortunately, the effort to get out a completely finished product, virtually a showcase for the music, has meant that the real extent of individual talents possessed by, particularly, Feza and Moholo, and indeed to some extent by Pukwana himself (though he’s better represented here) doesn’t show through.

In the months since the album was made, Spear has changed somewhat. The personnel is different, and that has affected the music. In place of Pukwana’s sparse, rather Monkish piano there is William’s more lavish work, nearer to someone like Horace Parian and developing at times into Tynerish vamps. Mene, though no match technically for Moholo, has continued the tradition of strong rhythmic motivation. The resulting line-up stresses the Messengers idea in the ensembles, while the thinned-out personnel makes for a less dense performance overall and clarifies the various factors acting on the music. Instead of being overlaid, as on the record, they are simply placed side by side, and of course can then be stretched or condensed as necessary.

duduicp.jpgWithin this continuum of development the post-Ayler freer aspects are becoming more dominant, or were at least so on this particular evening. Spear has never been the kind of group that can put up a minimum standard of pre-packaged reliability, so when the solos start the whole structure of the music tends to go unstable. On a poor night nothing much happens, and the whole thing tends to fall apart. But when it’s good, at this point comes an enormous leap into the world of pure improvisational skill; bold shapes that dominate the base-rhythms blast across the path of ensemble constructions, and draw everything along with them. On this occasion, both Pukwana, stabbing violently at the keys of his alto to produce equally violent musical shapes, and Feza, drawing out long bubbling lines from both trumpet and his tiny flute, were on excellent form. At these moments it was simply everything music ought to be, satisfying the intellect with an originality and purity of sound at the same time as it stunned the senses with the sheer physicality of its impact.

People close to Spear are aware of the need to get the stretched-out, intense kind of performance of which they are capable on to record. The first album could be released in the U.S. by Atlantic if they wished, but the need for a follow-up, showing exactly where the group is at, is urgent. Yet this needs the kind of financing that would allow long periods of time in the studio to work up and maintain that pitch of creativity that is genuinely there. Until then Spear look like remaining a local phenomenon, yet their music is universally valid and a wider audience is waiting for them if they can ever break out to reach it.

Jack Cooke, 1974

Dudu Pukwana biography:

Mtutuzel Dudu Pukwana (18 July 1938 – 30 June 1990) was a South African saxophone player, pianist and composer.

Along with Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, he was a member of The Blue Notes, the pioneering mid 1960s South African sextet. As mixed-race groups were illegal under apartheid, The Blue Notes emigrated to Europe in 1964, and eventually settled in London. Although The Blue Notes are often considered McGregor’s group, Pukwana was initially the principle composer and nearly always the leading soloist.

After The Blue Notes split in the late ’60s, Pukwana joined McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath big band, which again featured his compositions and soloing heavily. He also went on to form two groups with Feza and Moholo. The first was Assagai an afro-rock band who recorded for the Vertigo label. The second was Spear, with whom he recorded the seminal afro-jazz album In The Townships in 1973. He later formed the group Zila, releasing albums on his own Label, Jika Records. He also guested on albums with his former Blue Notes colleague, Johnny Dyani and played extensively with the drummer John Stevens.

Dudu Pukwana grew up studying piano in his family but in 1956, he switched to alto sax after meeting tenor sax player Nick Moyake. In 1962, he won first prize at the Johannesburg Jazz Festival with Moyake’s Jazz Giants (1962 Gallo/Teal). Chris McGregor then invited him to join The Blue Notes; the interracial sextet, increasingly harassed by authorities, went into exile in 1964, playing in France, Zurich, and London.

Pukwana’s fiery voice was heard not only in The Blue Notes and in McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, but in many diverse settings ranging from the Incredible String Band to improvising with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink (Yi Yo Le, ICP 1978). As a composer, Pukwana wrote “Mra,” one of the best-loved tunes by the Brotherhood. His own groups, Assagai and Spear, which recorded a few albums in the early ’70s, blended kwela rhythms, rocking guitars, and jazz solos. With Mongezi Feza, Elton Dean, Keith Tippett, and Louis Moholo, Pukwana recorded two masterful acoustic tracks on the mostly electric album Diamond Express (Freedom 1977). His presence was also hugely felt in Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice!, and in Harry Miller’s Isipingo.

Several African leaders invited him into their groups, including Hugh Masekela and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa’s African Explosion (Who, Ngubani 1969). In 1978, Pukwana founded Jika Records and formed his own band, Zila, featuring South Africans Lucky Ranku on guitar and powerful vocalist Miss Pinise Saul. Zila recorded Zila Sounds (1981), Live in Bracknell and Willisau (1983), and Zila (1986), the last with keyboardist Django Bates and Pukwana increasingly using soprano sax. In duo with John Stevens, he recorded the free session They Shoot to Kill (Affinity 1987), dedicated to Johnny Dyani. Dudu Pukwana died of liver failure in June 1990, not long after his longtime friend and colleague McGregor. source…

selected Dudu Pukwana recordings


One Response to “dudu pukwana and spear”

  1. The photo of Dudu Pukwana playing the cowbell was taken by me at a Leeds Jazz concert at Leeds Trades Club on 28 January 1985 with Zila, not at 100 Oxford Street in July 1974 with Spear. Please adjust this caption and credit. Thanks, Denis Dalby – aka Jazzdenski.

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