Andy Narell – Live in South Africa

Live in South Africa
Andy Narell
by John Barrett

Andy Narell was amazed he had a huge following in South Africa, a country where he had never set foot. (In Soweto, there’s even a jazz club named in his honor.) When he had the chance to tour there, he assembled a group of African musicians, and played before crowds who sang along as he played. You expect that with rock stars, not steel drummers. Then again, this is far from your typical fare.

Andy doesn’t “clobber” his instrument – the notes come softly, with the ring of a vibraphone. On many tunes he sits back, allowing the guitars and keyboards to speak up. Andile Yenana has a strong piano, driving firm notes on “Play One for Keith” – Andy glimmers behind, in a charming effect. The slightly Brazilian theme of “Kalinda” is stated calmly, while guitars comment from each speaker. (Louis Mhlanga is joyous, with a good springy tone.) “Jenny’s Room” is furnished with a big bass (Danny Lalouette) and a tiny bit of steel; “Hannibal’s Revenge” is more aggressive, descending with a strength that grows on you. After three minutes Andy drops out, and the other drummers converse – it’s earthy, and the heat keeps rising. If you need a vacation, this is it.

The crowd here is large, reacting loudly to every solo, clearly familiar with Andy’s music. (If only we had such crowds in America!) Narell sounds like an organ as he purrs through “Sugar Street”; Mhlanga is especially sweet on his solo. Catch the lengthy quote of “The Peanut Vendor” near the end. “Chakalaka” (from Andy’s last album Fire in the Engine Room) features Yenana on the Fender Rhodes, and a nice stretch of calypso. The crowd eats it up … and they sit still for “Heads or Tails”, a nervy theme unlike what we’ve heard so far. With a 6/4 meter, Narell states a skeletal theme, and Mhlanga does the rest. The encore, “Oxamu”, finds Andy bopping between two notes (even chording in places) and a guitar swinging behind him. It slowly fades like the coals from a fire – but the heat remains, and it’s infectious.

Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.