Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Louis Moholo-Moholo with Pino Minafra and the Minafric Orchestra: "Viva la Black" live at Jazz Grenoble, France, Friday 28th March 2008NOTE: this was written in response to the 2008 Grenoble bootleg that has recently appeared through online sources, but as the set is virtually identical to that from Ruvo 2004 these notes mostly fit with the official CD release as well.Keith Tippett, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Julie Tippetts and Pino Minafra
Keith Tippett: piano & direction
Julie Tippetts: vocals
Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums
+ Pino Minafra’s Minafric Orchestra
Pino Minafra & Luca Calabrese: trumpets
Roberto Ottaviano: saxophone (alto & soprano)
Carlo Actis Dato: saxophone (tenor)
Rossano Emili: saxophone (baritone)
Lauro Rossi & Gianpiero Malfatto: trombone
Livio Minafra: piano
Giovanni Maier: bass
Vincenzo Mazzone: drums/percussion
Valentina Casula, Sylvie Ah Moye & Hélène Bonan: vocals
So, you think this is a performance by the band Viva la Black? Close, but no cigar.
Louis Moholo-Moholo has been flying the Viva la Black banner since at least the mid 80s when Moholo first formed a group with Sean Bergin, Thebe Lipere, Claude Deppa, Robert Bellatalla & Steve Williamson, releasing the debut eponymous Viva la Black
album in 1988 (Ogun OG533 LP, now out of print and sadly never reissued on CD). The core group of Moholo/Bergin/Lipere/Deppa continued on in this form until the mid 1990s with the likes of Frank Douglas, Paul Rogers, Toby Delius, Jason Yarde and Pule Pheto also passing through the ranks at various times. One other studio album Exile
(Ogun OGCD 003) was released in 1991 before the group saw Louis make his triumphant return tour to South Africa in 1993; almost 30 years after his self-imposed exile began. This tour was later documented on the superb Freedom Tour
album (Ogun OGCD 006) a collage of cleverly crossfaded best takes from a variety of performances mixed together to give the impression of one continuous joyous riot of sound. Another studio album was laid down in 1995 with Francine Luce also joining the group, however for reasons never made clear this album was shelved, only finally seeing release as Bra Louis, Bra Tebs
in 2006 (Ogun OGCD 017/018, packaged as a two CD set with the long overdue reissue of Moholo’s exceptional pre-VlB 1978 album Spirits Rejoice!
). Additionally, for this release the VlB name was retired in favour of the simpler Louis Moholo-Moholo Septet.
Due to the up-front presence of Lipere’s percussion and vocals Viva la Black was always a very African sounding jazz group, fusing Xhosa music forms with exuberant jazz orchestrations and a healthy dose of unbridled spontaneity. A further Africanised Brotherhood of Breath if you will.
Material-wise, a great deal of the original VlB songbook was made up of original Moholo material, traditional folk forms arranged by Moholo and songs written by his compatriots in exile. The band would also occasionally mix in standards such as What a Wonderful World
and Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery
with their usual set, though the VlB signature would always ensure these standards never sounded tired, and often sounded totally original in themselves.
When Moholo relaunched the Viva la Black banner in 2004 it was as a very different beast. Gone were all
of the musicians involved in the original era, as was the bulk of the material. Instead it would be a new collaborative venture with Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts, drawing most of the material from Keith’s back catalogue, along with a handful of adapted arrangements carried over from each musician’s time with the Dedication Orchestra. The only remnants from the original VlB era are an adaptation of the South African National Anthem
, and a few of the “compatriot” tunes that were common to both Dedication Orchestra and the original VlB group. Sadly, none of Moholo’s own original compositions, nor his arrangements of traditional tunes made the cut.
Keith Tippett’s chosen material for this project is a virtual greatest hits package, mixing material from across his broad career. As is usual with Tippett, themes are likely to pop up in unexpected places, and in the wrong order. I’ve long been under the impression that Keith considers his entire catalogue as studies for his next projects. Never is any piece of Tippett music totally finished and done with.
Instead of recruiting a new band to join the trio, a decision was made to hire an existing one to play under the VlB banner; enter Pino Minafra and his group Canto General (along with the Farualla Singers), and later (as on this recording) the smaller Minafric Orchestra. As Minafra was running the Ruvo festival in 2004 he missed out on playing with the band at that event, something he had the opportunity to rectify with encore performances this year at two festivals in France. Last year’s release of the Live at Ruvo
CD (Ogun OGCD 020), the only official document of the group in action, is sadly lacking this key member’s musical contributions. It is fortunate then that this new recording exists (albeit only as a bootleg at this point) to give us the opportunity to hear Minafra take his place on the stage beside the group he was instrumental in forming.
In the Italian trumpeter’s ensembles Moholo and the Tippetts have found the perfect complement to the spirited music presented here. Both Minafra-led groups are capable of embracing the type of rambunctious expressionism essential to make this music work, and which is so often lacking in many recordings/performances.
So, it’s a different Viva la Black at Grenoble for sure, but by no means is it a lesser Viva la Black.
Now, on to the music…
A joyous, rambling locomotive momentum and sparkling trumpet solo immediately sets the mood as the group open with this monstrous tune by Dudu Pukwana. MRA was first recorded by Gwigwi's Band on the very rare album Kwela
- later reissued as Gwigwi Mrwebi: Mbaqanga Songs
(Honest John’s HJRcd103) - then later rerecorded for the debut album of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath
(Fledg’ling FLED 3062) and it is through the Brotherhood’s live performances that it became Pukwana's signature piece. Both the original VlB band and the Dedication Orchestra had also recorded MRA. For my money the 21st century VlB versions are some of the best takes out there.
2. introduction (MC) (2:03)
Talk; it’s only talk. In French what’s more.
3. Thoughts to Geoff
A Keith Tippett Group classic first released on their second album, 1971’s Dedicated To You... But You Weren't Listening
(Vertigo 6360024), although an earlier version was recorded for the Keith’s unreleased 1969 debut platter (Revolution label acetate only). The arrangement here takes its cue from the Mujician and the Georgian Ensemble’s Bristol Concert
performance from 1991 (Whatdisc 7), following a more rigid bassline and occasional handclap enhanced groove far off into the sunset.
4a. “introduction to Dedicated to Mingus”
(proper title unknown) (0:00-2:34)
Another thing of Keith’s, first released in this form on the Ruvo CD (though not credited there as a separate track), this vocal harmony improvised layering technique was also used as part of Tapestry's First Weaving, and can also be heard in development stage on The Bristol Concert. The concept is simple, each singer chooses a note that harmonises with the notes around them and holds it for as long as possible. On drawing breath a new note is picked based on the audible polyphony at that point in time. The effect is a glorious ever morphing complex chord.
4b. Dedicated to Mingus
Charles Mingus was a huge influence on Tippett, with both musicians taking jazz composition to an almost art/classical music level with extended complex works. Tippett first recorded this track with his short lived Septet for their sole album, 1986’s A Loose Kite In A Gentle Wind Floating With Only My Will For An Anchor
(Ogun OGD007/008). Yes, it’s very Mingusy, almost to the point of caricature, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Another one also found on The Bristol Concert.
4c. Mongezi Feza
This is a Tippett vocal study in a count of 10 based on building the great trumpeter's name starting with just whispering “Zi!” and then “Zi!, Za!” This track, and the following Four Whispers counterpart are unique to the 21st century Viva la Black venture as far as I know.
4d. Four Whispers for Archie's Chair
Another Tippett tune first recorded for the Ruvo CD, this piece in 5/4 time uses the vocal bed laid down in 4c for the backing. And it’s very nicely done if you ask me.
5a. Traumatic Experience
A Harry Miller tune first recorded for his Quintet’s In Conference
album (Ogun HMCD 2). The arrangement here is basically the Dedication Orchestra’s, with the added choir section.
5b. Cider Dance
More Tippettisms, first recorded for The Bristol Concert, though the version here is the later Ruvo arrangement which also at one point integrates the B theme section from the title track on A Loose Kite... (cuepoint 10:32). Many parts of Cider Dance can also be found in different arrangements within Tippett’s 90s major work Tapestry’s First Weaving as found on the 2007 CD Live at Le Mans
(RedEye 008), where the vocalists also take on a unique Tippetts libretto.
5c. A Song
This is Tippett’s epic 1978 work Ark: Frames – Music for an Imaginary Film
(Ogun OGCD 010/011) in micro. It includes (in order) the third piece (from part/side four of the original 2LP) "Burning, Fire is Coming" and second piece (from part/side three) "Our Hearts are Heavy". The text is Julie’s. This arrangement was first recorded for the Ruvo CD, though the main sections are obviously from much earlier.
6. Dancing Damon
Another Harry Miller tune from the In Conference album. An uptempo retake on the Dedication Orchestra arrangement, emphasising the percussion section with a well fitting solo/duo break, and definitely one of my favourite versions of this song. Pure joy!
7. Septober Energy
The finale "Unite for Every Nation" section. Again Julie Tippetts provides the text. First recorded by Centipede in 1971 for the Septober Energy
album of course (BGO 485), but this arrangement is closer to the Keith Tippett Group instrumental interpretation retitled Green and Orange Night Park
, from the Dedicated to You… album.
8. You Ain't Gonna Know Me, 'cos You Think You Know Me
Mongezi Feza’s glorious anthem, first recorded by Louis Moholo (Octet) for the album Spirits Rejoice! Oft covered, yet a version of this song featuring the composer has never been released.
9. South African National Anthem
Written by Enoch Sentonga and adopted by the African National Congress in their struggle against apartheid… Jazz jam style. (includes band member introductions)
10. You Ain't Gonna Know Me (reprise)
Because you can never have too much of this song! (including more band member introductions)
In short, if you like this, you will love the Ruvo CD. Basically, this is "Ruvo light", the same set (bar the swapping of tracks 8 and 9 above), the same leaders, but a smaller, slightly less exuberant band. My advice is as it has always been, buy Ruvo ASAP.