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Harry Miller's Isipingo - Which Way Now

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Artist: Harry Miller's Isipingo

Album: Which Way Now

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Sep. 10, 2006

Exile can sap your spirit, but it can also fire it. In the case of South Africa's jazz diaspora, it was the latter; the musicians that followed the Blue Notes out of Capetown beginning in the mid-'60s not only kept the flame of their nation's unique take on post-bop lit, they put their heat to the tales of many of Europe's finest improvisers. Bassist Harry Miller, for example, found room for his propulsive rhythms in such disparate settings as Peter Brötzmann's ensembles and early '70s King Crimson.

Isipingo, his own band, was named for a place where he holidayed back in South Africa, which may account for the combination of relaxation and vigor that this album's four lengthy performances exude. This set, recorded live in late 1975 for Bremen radio, precedes the only album that the band released in its lifetime, and captures them at the top of their game. The three-horn front line of Nick Evans (trombone), Mike Osborne (alto sax), and Mongezi Feza (trumpet) takes Miller's composed heads and runs with them, their solos cogent yet free-wheeling. Feza's playing is especially fiery – it's hard to believe that his death from illness and inadequate medical intervention was near at hand. Keith Tippett's piano playing covers a lot of ground, from darkly atmospheric rumbling in the background to fleet, romantic flourishes that take their cues from Miller and drummer Louis Moholo's swinging rhythms.

By Bill Meyer

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