CARLO MOMBELLI / “Mombelli Mixtape”
I stared into my head. And what I saw there. Was. Was strange. I mean, not much of what I could see looked like the mirror of me. Was the backwards reflection in the looking glass what I looked like or were all those contradictory and confusions visions I saw as through that proverbial glass darkly.
This is new music from the new South Africa. Some call it chamber jazz. The leader is bass player Carlo Mombelli. They improvise even though there is a strong emphasis on composition, on fitting all the parts together to make a total impression. The album is I Stared Into My Head.
To see yourself eating and defecating, loving and stomping off in a rage or just sitting and saying nothing. To see silence. To see serious talk. To see the tongue move but nothing be said. To see the eyes speak. It is strange to see inside the self, especially since most of us have never really seen the outsides of our selves. What our ass looks like walking down the street. The gestures that everyone recognizes as our particular habitual movements but which we never know we do. To look at the self can be disconcerting because most of us wouldn’t recognize ourselves in the middle of the street at noon, especially if we were naked and telling the truth about our feelings and all the thoughts streaming nonstop through our noggins.
I’m not much into cool jazz, and third stream attempts at mixing classical and jazz generally bore me, especially if the soloists play with ice cubes rather than fire. But what Carlo Mombelli and his band, The Prisoners of Strange, have put together is truly a revelatory recording. This is the best stuff I’ve heard in the Art Ensemble of Chicago bag. Avant jazz that draws on everything happening at the moment, everything that has happened in the past of which the players are aware, and visionary flights into future worlds.
We can scare ourselves if we dare utter the truths of our lives. This is the music of meditation. The music of self-examination.
Carlo has written for strings on this recording while at the same time counting on the band voices to carry the light of these dark musings.
I dare you to listen to this stuff in the dark. Alone. With nothing to distract you from listening to the music. And listening to yourself.
The band is:
Siya Makuzeni – voice. She is also a very, very fierce trombone player. Her voicings float. Her sound is a firm navel orange, with the pungency of citrus, slightly tart. It is not easy to establish the human voice in this kind of context, to be experimental, and tonally flexible but yet to retain human warmth. Her delicate phrasing is based on a strong self-awareness, knowing what she can do and when she should do it. Giving the feeling of someone who knows where they are going. Yes, that’s it. Her voice is a guide. Stick with her sound and you can make your way through the density of this music. She doesn’t have a solo recording yet but there is movie soundtrack for which she was the main composer.
Marcus Wyatt – trumpet. I said the Art Ensemble earlier, this guy is out of the Lester Bowie school of trumpet smears rather than crisp, straight ahead notes. Not as exaggerated as Bowie but a trickster nonetheless. He has a number of albums, well worth tracking down if you can find them. I wish more of his music were available here. He is one of the most interesting trumpeters on the contemporary scene. Although I referenced Lester Bowie, I think Mongezi Feza might have been a more immediate influence. Feza was a trumpeter from the original South African Blue Notes band led by Chris McGregor.
Sydney Mnisi – tenor & soprano saxophones. For me, he is the most compelling soloist in this context. I would reference Wayne Shorter when he was with Miles about two years after joining Miles. There is this intoxicating mix of passion and sonic intelligence. You can tell that this guy is a thinker. When he plays he is sharing stuff he has thought about and not just random reactions to what is going on around him. What is interesting is that while he is bringing this intelligence, he also brings fire, brings a rough edginess to the music that keeps it from sounding sterile. He has a new record that is mainly hard bop oriented, nothing like he is playing here. The difference between what he does on his own record and what he does here is what convinces me that this is a total musician.
Lloyd Martin – prepared drums & bottle udu. I’d have to hear more before I could comment on his competence as a bringer of beats. As an improviser bringing percussive colors to the music, he does a good job and I don’t mean that as faint praise. This kind of music requires great sensitivity on the part of the percussionist because the band has no intention of being a funk outfit. This is not both feet on the ground music, not dancing music. But rather floating, freeform gliding through the atmosphere, the inner atmosphere at that. The percussion has to be light to keep from rupturing the flexible skein that is constantly changing its shape like a huge flock of sparrows going through various permutations as they negotiate the skyways.
Jessica Bailey – cello along with string players from Johannesburg Music Initiative Orchestra. I can not comment much on how adept the strings are or aren’t. I don’t know enough about string music. Plus, the strings are used sparingly throughout the recording.
Carlo Mombelli – bass, acoustic & manipulated springs, nylon string guitar, trance loops using the Waldorf micro Q, & percussion sound design. All the music was composed and conducted by Carlo Mombelli. If you have read this far surely you are clear that I am very impressed by this recording. I think the music is fresh in the sense of bringing a unique flavor to the banquet of sounds known as music. Moreover, I think Mombelli has successfully tackled the thorny question of individual composition co-existing with collective improvisation. These are not just themes with harmonic and/or melodic individual solos. Carlo has clearly thought through what he is doing.
Carlo Mombelli has foraged in the intimate forest of his feelings and offers us the sonic fruit he found there with the help of fellow travelers. This is a vibrational manifestation, an outpouring of inner reflection.
Many will not recognize this as African music. These musicians are African born and African reared. These musicians are sounding their lives. Yes, this is a combination of jazz and classical; no, there is not a lot of traditional music of any sort African or European to hear in here. But, in the immortal words of Miles, “so what”? Dig it for what it is rather than be disappointed because it is not what you want it to be.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Carlo Mombelli Mixtape Playlist
All tracks are from Carlo’s last album I Stared Into My Head (2005).
This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2009 at 5:33 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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