Classic is ok; but let’s be original? (It beats being adult about it)
So it’s been a while. And while winter suggests the onset of a dry season in all but the weather, it’s actually the time of year that music gets slightly more attention out and about.
The trance parties are (almost) done leeching people of their spare cash and spare energy, and the only other competition for the evening’s attention, really, seems to be DVD Nouveau. And we like them, so we’re not going to say anything untoward about holing yourself up in a room with a fire and blanket and loved ones and watching the world through a 2D screen.
Tis the season to be brolly, so I went to Speedway the other day, despite every inch of me yearning to dive under the duvet and not go into that dark night till hunger forced me to. I’d heard there was jazz from Facebook, and also from the co-owner (who makes dainty, well cut men’s shirts on the side). But it was bumping into a pair of my favourite Lips at my favourite cupcake outlet that got me to go. Seductive as my bedspread is, spending days and days in the house with vestibular neuritis (Not neurosis. It was diagnosed by a professional) had fattened my chances of going out instead of going to bed early like a good little office rat should. But then, I was never good.
And this gathering is not good, either. It’s gorgeous. It happens because of love. And by god, in the cosy den you will feel the love, even if you (think you) don’t like jazz. and to be honst, jazz is a diverse enough discipline for me to think that, sometimes.
It's a community effort. The musicians are part of it for the love, currently barely outnumbering the crowd. Lucky us, they’re good at it. Speedway hosts it because it loves music. The people there, come to listen to love live. And on top of it, it’s original.
A diary extract :
We’re quite a way into it when I realise that the slow shifts and anthropomorphic shapes are not the nuance and form of songs I’ve heard before, and neither are they a crash course in consumable jazz, standard to any set. They are original compositions, and it is at gatherings like this that you truly feel the spirit of Cape Town breathing through its creativity and skill. I sound like a fucking nationalist. I’m not. Not least because it’s pointless if you are even half awake in a country rudely ripped from its innocence a very long time ago, and constantly abused with its misguided attempts at expression and misinterpreted ideas of liberation. The spirit of this land entire is a sick and long suffering one, if spirits can be captured long enough to be personified. It is also a persistent and faithful one. And in jazz, we sometimes feel the full impact of those ravages, in its poignant lulls, and sustained manic crescendos. But we also feel the full weight of hope and effort, the insistence of growth, of expansion despite restriction, of progress despite oppression. We’d do well to write more of our own souls into song, and it’s good to see small clutches of consummate musicians being Led Better.
The standing event’s namesake, Ledbetter is a fluid front man, a public speaker who whose body expresses as much as his fingers do.
While they take solo sections like pros, they meld together and make it rather hard to feel who's forging and who's following. In grateful response, the audience is what a decent jazz audience is - rapt because the musos are what decent musos are - tight.
Ledbetter's better judgement takes a tickle at the fickle with absurd song names like ‘Waltz for a yam’ that prompts equally absurd retorts from the wannabe back row. (There are no rows here, just as there are no lyrics)
“That’s like sweet potato time.” One lady quipped. what on earth do you say to that kind of statement? better nothing. can i carry on about the music?
On the whole, the compositions have the essence of classic hits, with some forays into the Far East and fiddles of other disciplines in-between, but nothing so derivative that makes you think, 'oh, professional session musos trying to compose sigh.' Of course while many accomplished jazzos ARE session players in the strictest sense (can play, if you pay) these are, themselves, individuals known for pushing boundaries in local sound. Lee Thomson is a member of various indigent acts, including the genre splicing Closet Snare. Shane Cooper hangs out with Indian classical jazz fusion act, Babu. Kesivan is in Babu, Closet Snare and he has his own Lights. Lots of love there.
It’s hard to pigeonhole their sound, perhaps because it’s fresh, and perhaps because it’s balanced. It’s certainly not as frenetic or exigent as some Monday nights get at Swingers, which, while it's a mainstay, does often oversubscribe to clichéd covers in the first part of the evening.
Anyway, that’s the thing about Speedway. It’s a charming collision of clichés. I like the apparent incongruence in this weekly gathering – smooth or frenetic jazz from juicy jazzos against a tattooed wall with vintage licence holders and racing colours. Musicians immersed in the music as they are committed to making music work for them. It reflects in the array of colours, cultures and birth charts present.
The audience is mixed, and it is all ages. Speedway is not a teen scene; it’s slightly more grown up than most places where the sound seeps through the walls. Is it the table cloths? Could table cloths be the mark of an adult? I shudder. Must I now get table cloths?