REVIEW: Dedication Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

Dedication Orchestra. 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival
Photo Credit: Paul Wood

Dedication Orchestra
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 15th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mark McKergow)

The Dedication Orchestra made a very rare and welcome reappearance following reports of their demise in 2012 (see link below).

The Orchestra formed as a charitable venture at the start of the 1990s to honour the memories and the music of the Blue Notes (Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana and Johnny Dyani) and also Harry Miller, South Africans exiled in London in the 1960s who injected so much life into the jazz scene. Led by the surviving Blue Note Louis Moholo-Moholo, this show saw the premiere of a new commission from LJF – a trio of arrangements by Alexander Hawkins.

Many of the musicians have been with the Orchestra since the outset, and themselves performed with and were inspired by the Blue Notes. Some have careers well away from mainstream popularity - where else can one catch Keith Tippett elegantly comping to a 12 bar these days, or see Evan Parker producing pyrotechnics over a township beat? Kenny Wheeler dropped in via his fine arrangement of Dudu Pukwana’s B My Dear. The vocal line-up of Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nicols, David Serame and debutant Cleveland Watkiss, used as always as an extra instrumental section rather than as ‘singers’, added texture through shouts, screams and clicks as well as gorgeous harmonies and occasional hand jiving in the back row.

Louis Moholo-Moholo in the Dedication Orchestra
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Surrounded by the other 23 musicians was Louis Moholo-Moholo. Sitting behind a minimal and mismatched drumkit that would surely have a sixth-former complaining of inadequacy, ‘Bra Tebs’ gave a masterclass in creating a lot with a very little. Much of this repertoire is harmonically simple, and the juice comes from feel and energy. Moholo seemed like the ur-source, magicking spark and fire from a cymbal, snare and hi-hat. Under director Steve Beresford interlinking horn lines bobbed and surged, free sections spurted, chaos and tumult resolved into lush richness (with some of the solos lost unforgivably in the tumult – sound people take note). John Edwards’ bass provided the necessary counterweight – he was surely the connoiseur’s man-of-the-match.

Arranger Alexander Hawkins took the podium for the newly commissioned section, an arrangement of three Moholo-Moholo pieces; For The Blue Notes, Amampondo with Zulu Fists, and Woza. The Orchestra responded to the challenge of moving on from their 20-year-old arrangements with the most focused and sharp playing of the afternoon. Jason Yarde took a memorable solo turn on alto sax. This quality carried over into the majestic modulations of Mongezi Feza’s You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cause You Think You Know Me arranged by Eddie Parker. Cheered to the rafters, the Orchestra returned for Sondela, also in an arrangement by Eddie Parker, and that was that.

What does the future hold for the Dedication Orchestra? The group is older than the London Jazz Festival itself and none of the original members is getting any younger - crutches were sadly in evidence. Money raised by CD sales and concert appearances has now accumulated so that a bursary is given for a student to study jazz at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town. The venture might have been thought to have run its course. However, passing on the torch to a new generation would continue to celebrate the Blue Notes and keep their wonderful music alive. The Re-Dedication Orchestra? In the meantime it’s well worth tracking down the Spirits Rejoice and Ixesha CDs on Ogun (you may have to dig a little to find them at sensible prices), enjoy the music and put something in the hat for South African jazz.

The Dedication Orchestra

Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums), Keith Tippett (piano), John Edwards (double bass)
Evan Parker (tenor saxophone), Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone), Ray Warleigh (alto saxophone), Jason Yarde (alto saxophone), Julian Arguelles (soprano saxophone), Chris Biscoe (baritone saxophone), Neil Metcalfe (flute)
Henry Lowther (trumpet), Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Jim Dvorak (trumpet), George Hogg (trumpet), Marc Charig (cornet, tenor horn)
Dave Amis (trombone), Annie Whitehead (trombone), Paul Taylor (trombone), Alan Tomlinson (trombone), Dave Powell (tuba)
Julie Tippetts (vocals), Maggie Nicols (vocals), Cleveland Watkiss (vocals), David Serame (vocals)
Steve Beresford (director).

LINK: Evan Parker writes about the Final Celebration Gathering in 2012

3 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for this review of this great concert as no personnel details were revealed at the time so some of us in the audience were left wondering about some of the musicians performing (especially those of us in the back who couldn't see the stage as clearly). This was possibly the gig of the year.

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  2. Thanks to Alexander Hawkins and an anonymous commenter for sorting out a couple of points of detail in the personnel listing.

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  3. A tremendous gig, and what a line-up! I could see the stage and couldn't believe my eyes. Seems churlish to mention, but I did think that there were a couple of iffy intros, otherwise utterly memorable.

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