Mcgregor, Chris – “Brotherhood of Breath ” – [Akarma Records]
Chris McGregor grew up in South Africa and made his first mark on jazz as a member of The Blue Notes, a racially-integrated band that combined traditional African rhythms with the free improvisation of American jazz. Unfortunately, that band was forced into exile, along with other notable South Africans like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, during the tumultuous apartheid regime of the 1960’s. Relocated to London, McGregor began to emulate one of his musical heroes, Duke Ellington, by forming his own big band, a large ensemble that included members of The Blue Notes along with some of the best ‘free jazz? musicians Britain had to offer at the time. This 1971 release is the first recording by McGregor’s large ensemble, dubbed the Brotherhood of Breath, which continued to tour and record throughout the 70’s and 80’s with a revolving cast of characters. Side One of this record features three compositions of medium length, two energetic ensemble pieces bookending a quieter middle section that focuses on a smaller ‘jazz combo? sound. Be sure to check out saxophonist John Surman’s highly impassioned contributions on the third track, ‘The Bride.’ Side Two delves even more deeply into the band’s African roots, starting with a lively foray into township swing, followed by a 20-minute improvisation that sounds like Sun Ra if he’d come from South Africa instead of Saturn. The final track is a quick but sprightly march, driven along at jazz tempo. All in all, an auspicious debut for McGregor’s Brotherhood.