Paxton, Spangler’s Abdullah Ibrahim Covers Set Is An Enjoyable Tribute To The South African Jazz Star

Courtesy: Eastlawn Records/C-She-C

Jazz musicians Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler have spent the better part of their professional careers paying tribute to the jazz community of South Africa.  Among the South African jazz stars whose work the duo has taken on are the likes of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.  Early this month, the pair added yet another well-known South African jazz figure to those tanks with its new covers compilation, Anthem for the New Nation.  The record finds Paxton and Spangler (joined by a group of other musicians) taking on the music of Abdullah Ibrahim, a South African pianist who combined his home nation’s influences with Western jazz leanings to make some songs that are themselves well-known.  Ibrahim has released more than 70 (yes, 70) albums as a leader over the course of his more than 65 year-career.  To that end there is no way that one collection could ever fully represent such a rich catalog and career.  That means that while Anthem for the New Nation, which loosely takes its title from Ibrahim’s 1978 album Anthems for the New Nations, could only take on but so much of his material.  Paxton, Spangler and company do well as they take on Ibrahim’s songs in this collection, beginning with the compilation’s opener, ‘African Marketplace.’  The group’s take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is another notable addition to the record.  It will be examined later.  ‘Soweto,’ which closes out the record, is yet another of the most notable of its featured covers.  It will also be examined later.  Each song shows in its own way to be an interesting presentation.  When they are considered along with the record’s four remaining works, the whole makes this record an enjoyable tribute to yet another great South African jazz artist.

Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler’s recently released covers collection, Anthem for the New Nation is an enjoyable tribute to South African jazz stalwart Abdullah Ibrahim.  While it only presents six songs from Ibrahim’s rich catalog, those songs are still interesting takes that will appeal to fans of Paxton and Spangler just as much to those of Ibrahim and to those of South African jazz and jazz in general.  In other words, it is a record that despite being another covers collection, will find appeal among a wide range of audiences.  The record’s opener, ‘African Marketplace’ does its own part to support the noted statements.  Right from the song’s opening bars, the African percussion rhythm used in the original is there, as is the distinct bass line from the original.  That bass line itself is a familiar African sound, too, showing that connection between African and Western jazz.  Saxophonist Daniel Bennett’s work on the saxophone pairs with Jeff Cuny’s work on bass and the duo of Spangler and Sean Perlmutter on percussion and drums respectively to make the whole so rich.  The collective stays mostly true its source material, though the addition of the drums to the mix is new to this shortened version of the original. Even the saxophone solo from the original is present here, though it sounds like it might be in a different key in this take from the original.  The original runs more than seven minutes while this rendition runs more than six minutes (six minutes, 19 seconds to be exact).  So while the two renditions are very closely similar, there are some variances that regardless still leave the new version just as enjoyable as the original.  It is just one of the covers that stands out in this record.  The updated take of ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is another work that stands out in this collection.

Paxton and Spangler’s take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is a near completely different work from its original.  Right from the song’s outset, the piano line is different in each work.  Things get back on track from there, though.  The flute and gentle drums are just as present here as in the original song.  The production in this case though, makes the whole come through even richer.  As with the update on ‘African Marketplace,’ this take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is shorter than the original.  The original runs almost nine-and-a-half minutes while the update runs just shy of the eight minute mark, so yes, there are some variances in terms of the overall arrangement, but for the most part, it still stays true to the source material.  Keeping that in mind, it proves to be just as positive an addition to the record as the collection’s other songs.  It is just one more of the notable of the record’s entries, too.  ‘Soweto’ is also worth examining.

The original take of ‘Soweto’ runs more than 17 minutes while Paxton and Spangler’s version comes in at just under the seven minute mark.  Even with that in mind, this rendition stays largely true to its source material, too.  The saxophone solo from the original is carried over into this version, while there is even an added trumpet solo.  The bass line that forms the song’s foundation is also just as present in the largely redundant composition.  Keeping everything in mind, the song proves just as engaging and entertaining as the other covers examined here and the rest of the record’s featured takes.  All things considered, the whole makes this collection a presentation that serves just as well as an introduction to the work of Abdullah Ibrahim as it is a new presentation for established fans of Paxton and Spangler. 

Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler’s new collection of Abdullah Ibrahim covers is a record that fans of each artist will find interesting.  Even more casual jazz fans will find it interesting.  That is proven through the songs covered in this record.  They are but a small snapshot of Ibrahim’s extensive catalog, but do justice to the works in question.  Each of the songs examined here serve well to support the noted statements.  When they are considered with the collection’s other featured songs, the whole makes Songs for the New Nation a largely appealing new collection of covers.  The record is available now.  More information on this and other records from Eastlawn Records is available at https://www.eastlawnrecords.com.  

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