Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) heard the call of modern jazz in the late 1950s and founded South Africa’s pioneering Jazz Epistles, a hard bop ensemble modeled on Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Ibrahim, the pianist Nelson Mandela called “South Africa’s Mozart” brings back the spirit of this band for these exclusive performances in tribute to Masekela, who passed away recently. He is joined by Ibrahim’s group Ekaya and guest trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, standing in for Masekela.
The first black jazz combo to record in South Africa, the short-lived Jazz Epistles were scattered by the infamous 1960 Sharpeville massacre, which left Ibrahim and Masekela in exile. Over the decades they helped marshal the international fight against the white minority government and developed gorgeous bodies of music combining jazz and South African sounds (including Masekela’s chart-topping 1968 hit “Grazing in the Grass”). Masekela and Ibrahim have continued to thrive since returning to their homeland following the release of Nelson Mandela, and they rejoin forces with a new incarnation of the Jazz Epistles drawing on players from the pianist’s Ekaya ensemble, which he created to evoke the four-part vocal harmony groups heard everywhere during their township childhoods. He introduced the band on the classic mid-1980s albums Ekaya and Water From An Ancient Well, and he’s continued to explore and rearrange the sumptuously lyrical compositions in the ensuing decades.