This selection of duets by veteran South African drummer Louis Moholo, 75, and Italian pianist Livio Minafra, 42 years Moholo’s junior, is simply wonderful.
As the son of L’Italian Instabile Orchestra founder/trombonist Pino Minafra, Livio Minafra has evidently enjoyed a lifelong familial immersion in creative music. He made his solo recorded debut with La Dolcezza Del Grido, released on Leo Records in 2003, and his debut as bandleader with Surprise, a quartet date for Enja in 2011. He cites as influences Cecil Taylor, Russian pianist/film composer Sergey Kuryokhin, and Italian accordionist/pianist Antonello Salis, whose recent Logbook quartet included Afro-American drummer Hamid Drake. Minafro first played with Moholo-Moholo in a quintet led by Minafro’s father.
Moholo-Moholo I hope you know, because his emigration in London from South Africa in 1964, age 25, as a member of The Blue Notes, has had a profound impact on British jazz. The freshness of his synergy with Minafra reminds me of the first time I heard Ornette Coleman’s freewheeling 2006 festival date with German pianist Joachim Kühn, released as Colors on Coleman’s Harmolodic imprint; also of the 76-year-old Italian trumpeter maestro Enrico Rava’s vivifying relationship with dynamic 43-year-old pianist Stefano Bollani, whose ebullience and percipience are qualities that Minafra evidently shares.
A comparison between this duo and Moholo-Moholo’s ongoing duet with British pianist Alexander Hawkins is interesting, since there are many commonalities but a different spirit; the duo with Minafra is looser and more playful. That said, Moholo-Moholo’s drumming on the opening cut, “Canto General” is irrepressibly rhythmic, while Minafra both matches his energy in the main and fashions a beautifully sensitive resolution.
The great joy of this music is it’s unselfconscious. Both players sound relaxed but animated, clearly alive to the moment, buzzing off one another’s vibe. Witness Moholo-Moholo, playing so sensitively behind Minafra’s lyricism on Dudu Pukwana’s “Angel nemali”, then laughing aloud as the pianist starts whistling an accompaniment to his own keyed melody, a moment of of beguiling simplicity, which the audience applauds warmly.
The open-form “Flying Flamingos” is the only cut that stretches beyond five minutes, to 14:15. The intro hints at abstraction, but Minafra plays with dynamism, essaying energetic variations and a play of tensions, setting restraint against irrepressible energies. Moholo-Moholo is fully attuned, comping with delicacy when the pianist enters a lyrical phase – Minafro playing keyboard right-handed while sounding bell chimes with the left, truffling up sparkling harmonics. The drummer then shadows the pianist through a sudden spate of helter-skelter urgency with fast cymbals and driving off beats, then shading into briskness and implying a swing feel. Seems like it’s all in here, and it’s serious fun. Echoes of Han Bennink and the ICP Orchestra. When Minafra get’s playful, Moholo-Moholo teases him: “Yes baby yes baby. … No baby no baby no.”
Minafra honours the South African spiritual vibe of Moholo-Moholo’s lovely “Kanya Apho Ukhona”, but also adds a touch of European liturgical sensitivity. “Foxtrot” then marries a bustling rhythmic tattoo to galumphing ‘southern rag’ figures with cartoonish ebullience, both playing off the connotations with spirited nonchalance. And that just leaves “Canto General (Take Two)”, an initially supercharged recap of the opening number that undergoes a lyrical transformation.
I doubt I’ll ever tire of listening to this album. And the CD is complimented by a 20-page booklet of notes and photographs and a short (22:35) and unusually worthwhile bonus DVD of concert extracts, including music not represented on the CD, an insightful voice-over by Minafro, and just one priceless Moholo-Moholo cameo.
Describing his music as “this magma, this flowing soul”, the pianist muses on the differences between African and European musicians – the former, he thinks, “use too much mind”. As we watch him play—with both hands and both feet sounding the keyboard—he talks of “madness (as) a form of risky freedom”. Of his relationship with Moholo-Moholo, he says: “We have the joy of playing together. The form is not important. The energy of the music is important, if it’s genuine.” Fortunately, the joy and energy of the duo’s playing together is intense and unmistakable on this album
Livio Minafra piano, bells; Louis Moholo-Moholo drums.
Evan Parker Sant’Anna Arresi Quintet – Filu ‘e Ferru.
Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet – 4 Blokes.
Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo – Ancestors + Alexander Hawkins and Louis Moholo-Moholo – Keep Your Heart Straight.
Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath – Procession.
Buy Born Free direct from Incipit Records.