Jazzing up the Great Hall with Carlo Mombelli

Africa and Europe met at the Great Hall last night. Bassist, composer and Wits lecturer, Carlo Mombelli reunited with his European touring band, the Stories Ensemble, joined by Capetonian pianist Kyle Shepherd. They played music from Mombelli’s latest album, Stories.


PLAYER AND TEACHER: Carlo Mombelli tells ‘Stories’ through music  Photo: Michael Hoefner/WikiCommons

Groove met classical and traditional at the Wits Great Hall last night. Composer, bassist and Wits music lecturer Carlo Mombelli and his band, the Stories Ensemble, took jazz music and stretched it. They played music that not only entertained, but pulled at the heartstrings – places indescribable by words.

“I love teaching, and I am very anti the ‘jazz police”

Mombelli brought his European band, the Stories Ensemble, for a South African tour that had them performing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, at the University of KwaZulu Natal, in Maputo, Mozambique and ending off at the Wits Great Hall. They mainly performed music from Mombelli’s latest album, Stories (Instinct Africaine), recorded in Switzerland.

Born in Pretoria, Mombelli taught himself how to play the bass at age 16, and later went on to start his own band called Abstractions in 1985. He has performed with South African jazz greats like Marcus Wyatt, Zim Ngqawana and Miriam Makeba. He has, and continues to, perform all over the world.

Last night, the bassist was joined by Zulu ‘traditional’ vocalist Mbuso Khoza, whose clean yet strong and passionate voice effortlessly blended in with the ensemble. Adrian Mears’ warm trombone transitioned from powerful to delicate melodies in an instant. Drummer Dejan Terzic created a full, rounded powerful sound. Cape Town pianist Kyle Shepherd, who was not part of Mombelli’s original recording in Switzerland, merged his Cape jazz style with the eclectic sound of the band. His playing was intimate, compelling and strong, as usual. The classical element was brought by cellist Daniel Pezzotti, bringing elegance and originality to the group.

Mombelli began the set with a composition titled Requiem, originally performed with his band The Prisoners of Strange in 1996. The Hunter had the crowd grooving to its infectious bouncy melody. Shepherd took it to Cape Town, Khoza brought in a dynamic traditional component, resulting in a trance-like element to the music. A poetic tribute to Mombelli’s first piano teacher titled, For Mrs Loveday, then followed. Experimentation, creativity and improvisation. All elements piercing through the music.

On stage, Mombelli was tiny and short, and his bass guitars seemed almost too big for him. But, he connected with his band members like a choir master would to a 60 voice choir. Making eye contact, hand signals and head nods that indicated when to start, stop or pause. A seamless form of communication.

At times, Mombelli played with his back turned to the audience. Not as an act of alienation, but to rather unite – the audience, the band members, and those only among us in spirit.

“I love teaching, and I am very anti the ‘jazz police’” Mombelli told The Cape Argus last year. This shows in the Ensemble’s style of playing – going beyond rigid boundaries. Their music moves. It drives itself, creating new possibilities for the art of making music.

Carlo Mombelli and the Stories Ensemble delivered a solid performance, but what else can we expect from some of the world’s most creative and sought after musicians?

Music staff practice what they teach

The deep dramatic melodies of the piano reverberated around the room and I felt this uncomfortable feeling in my chest as if my heart was fluttering. My eyes began to water and I felt as if I had a giant marble in my throat as I looked into her eyes and saw, glistening in the light, what looked like the glaze of tears.

I always tell people to listen to all kinds of music as I do but this was my first experience at a classical music concert. WitsMusic hosted a classical music concert in the Atrium on Tuesday night showcasing the talent of classical musicians from around the country.

It was an hour long event that took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and imagery in my mind. I always imagined that my first live encounter with classical music would involve a big theatre and an orchestra numbering near the hundreds, but this concert was exactly the opposite.

The Atrium is a small cosy venue, with a lowered stage no more than 10 feet away allowing the audience of 102 to look straight at the performers. The soft, warm glow of the orange lighting against the wood of the stage added to the intimate feel of the evening as if we were in a room lit with hundreds of candles.

It was the second act of the evening with Michele Corbin, a Soprano, and, pianist from Tri Hemany, Malcolm Nay that almost brought me to tears last night. Corbin evoked emotion around the room with the powerful range of her voice and expressions on her face as she bellowed out a song or, “chanson” as it’s called in the opera world that recalled past memories of love.

As I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice the small audience had very few young people who weren’t arts and music students there to support their teachers and family members. It got me thinking about why more young people aren’t open to the experience of classical music.

Deejaying and creating beats on computer programmes with synthesizers and other music creating gadgets is more the choice of the younger generation today, and perhaps taking things back to basics with real instruments is the best place to start on the path to rue musical appreciation. Even my partner who doesn’t consider himself much of a classical music kind of guy was visibly moved to a point where he declared the evening “cool”.

It’s one thing to listen to classical music on the radio or a CD but to have a live classical experience is quite different, with nothing but instruments classical artists paint pictures in your mind, and if you surrender to the melodies and allow the music to engulf you, you may just discover a deeply emotional or creative part of you, you never knew existed.

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