Hear the Late Hugh Masekela and Living Legend Tony Allen, Among Other Alliances in Take Five

Jan 27, 2020

Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, “We’ve Landed”

Hugh Masekela, the South African trumpeter and freedom fighter, had a long and friendly acquaintance with Tony Allen, the Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat legend: they first met in the 1970s, through a mutual association with Fela Kuti. In fact, Masekela and Allen kicked around the idea of an album for years, taking steps to that effect in 2010, in a session organized by World Circuit producer Nick Gold.

The tapes sat unfinished in the vault for the better part of a decade. Then, after Masekela’s death in 2018, Gold and Allen revisited them with renewed purpose — securing the approval of the late trumpeter’s estate, and working to finish the album in the same London studio. The result is Rejoice, which will be released on World Circuit on March 20.

“We’ve Landed” is the closing track on the album — as well as its first single, released as a video last week. Along with Masekela’s flugelhorn, it’s defined by Allen’s buoyant beat, and his murmured exhortations. “The song is dedicated to today’s youth,” Allen says in a press release. “The lyric addresses people at 17, 18, 19 years old, who are slowly becoming more mature, finding out who they are and realizing that it’s their generation’s turn to wake up!”

Along with its co-headliners, Rejoice features support from some prominent figures on the current London scene: bassists Mutale Chashi and Tom Herbert, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, and saxophonist Steve Williamson. Preorder it here.

Theo Hill, “Mantra”

Pianist-composer Theo Hill continues an upward trajectory with Reality Check, his third album for Posi-Tone Records, and a persuasive snapshot of the current post-bop mainstream. Along with bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., two veteran partners, Hill enlists the crackerjack vibraphonist Joel Ross — not just as a star soloist but also as a partner in counterpoint, and a catalyst.

“Mantra” is a case in point. After a dramatic rubato prelude at the piano, the tune kicks into an Afro-Cuban montuno, setting up Ross and Hill for some hyperkinetic solo exchanges, not only en clave but also over a brisk, swinging 4/4. This is take-no-prisoners stuff that also somehow manages to play it cool.

Benny Benack III with Veronica Swift, “Social Call”

Flirtatious and breezy: such is the prevailing sentiment on this winning version of Gigi Gryce’s classic “Social Call.” The singers are Benny Benack III and Veronica Swift, working with an A-list rhythm team: Takeshi Ohbayashi on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums. Their swinging rapport shines clearly in footage from the session, filmed by Yasunari Rowan.

Benack and Swift bring a youthful buoyancy to their delivery of Jon Hendricks’ lyrics, made famous through recordings by Ernestine Anderson and Betty Carter. For Benack, a smart trumpeter as well as a singer, it’s just one more manifestation of his untroubled bond with jazz history — a bond he explores in vivid detail on a new album, A Whole Lot of Livin’ to Do. Featuring a few more jazz standards, a few originals and some tunes associated with Misters Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s a well-rounded picture of Benack’s polished artistry.

Kirk Knuffke, “The Mob, The Crowd, The Mass”

A cornetist with a dual attraction to swinging clarity and searching abstraction, Kirk Knuffke has the perfect partners in his working trio: bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bill Goodwin, a pair of seasoned hands with the undiminished capacity to surprise. Knuffke featured Goodwin and Helias on a 2015 album called Arms & Hands; they now rejoin him for Brightness: Live in Amsterdam.

The album, due out on the Royal Potato Family label on Feb. 21, was recorded at the BIMHUIS, and carries some of the playful irreverence associated with the Dutch jazz scene. That much is evident on this lead single, “The Mob, The Crowd, The Mass,” which builds a small world out of a single melodic phrase. Each member of the trio turns the phrase over in his hands, and Knuffke eventually gives voice to its title. “Sometimes I cry,” he adds, elaborating no further.

Jay Clayton & Jerry Granelli, “Because It’s Spring”

The ever-exploratory vocalist Jay Clayton and the often-expansive drummer Jerry Granelli have a history of duo collaboration, notably including a touchstone 1986 album, Sound Songs. Their kinship of free-improvising duologue continues and deepens on Alone Together, which will be released on Sunnyside Records this Friday.

The album opens with “Because It’s Spring,” a sculptural sound poem featuring Granelli’s hand bells and assorted other percussion. The spoken word is adapted from an e.e. cummings poem, and Clayton brings a subtle dramatic tension to its delivery. “You and I / Are more than / You and I,” she calmly declares. “Because it’s We.” Point taken.