Kusangala in concert

"Where the years have gone where the years have flown
Where the rainbow shone
We vanish, and we make no moan."

– Allen Ginsberg

Attended a concert by this local jazz ensemble called Kusangala (which means 'rejoice' I'm told) – which turned out to be way more brilliant than I'd expected.

The great thing about the ensemble is that it brings together a range of very disparate talents. For starters there's Tyrone Brown – a hypnotic bass player and the composer of much of the group's music. His bass solo was easily the highlight of the concert for me – a dark, driven piece, magically overlaying the most delicate of melodies on a full-throated and proud rhythm beat, the sheer throb of the music in the small auditorium making the cymbals rattle as if the ghosts of the ancients were keeping time on the drums.

The other highlight for me was Gloria Galante who plays (hold your breath) the harp. I must confess I've never thought of the harp as a jazz instrument (though apparently it's not that uncommon), even though it's an instrument I really love (remember Mozart's incredible flute and harp concerto). Now that I come to think of it though, it's a really good sound for jazz – part piano, part guitar – a marvellously clean, glistening sound, and a beautiful instrument to meditate and improvise on. The combination of Brown's bass rhythm and Galante's crystal clear melodies was perfection itself. Galante also played a couple of pieces with tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and again the combination was impressive, if only for being such an unusual sound – elegaic, almost classical (one of the pieces they were doing was originally scored for piano and cello). Pope (who I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard before – I really must get more into the Philly jazz scene) has a nice throaty sound and his slow movements have that dreamy midnight quality that one (or at least I) associates with classic jazz.

The rest of the ensemble brought their own talents to bear on the music as well. Duke Wilson's percussion had this earthy, almost tribal feel, and some of the effects he pulled off were truly mind-blowing. You could just shut your eyes and swing along to the music. And Rosella Washington sang very movingly. Overall, I thought the combination worked very nicely, producing a sound that was refreshing and authentic, if not excessively brilliant. One of my favourite pieces – this thing called the Somewhere over the Rainbow Samba – exemplifies this perfectly. It's a rendition of Somewhere over the rainbow played with superb delicacy on the harp, accompanied by a rich bass line and a catchy samba beat.

Not all was sweetness and light at the concert. There was also this annoying woman (I didn't get her name) who was brought onto stage to read her 'poetry' along with the music. This would have been an interesting improvisation if the woman could write, but as it was her clunky uninspired verses left me cringing in my chair and wishing she would shut up so I could listen to the music (she was the sort of poet who believes the fact that 'soaring' rhymes with 'roaring' is so important a discovery that she simply must include it in her poem at least four times. Aarrghh!).

Trashy doggerel aside, this was a really beautiful concert.

P.S. Plus, with my usual look, I ended up sitting next to this really dumb woman whose idea of enjoying the music was to take photographs of it. So every time one of the artists would branch off into an intense solo or improvisation, she would eagerly pull out her camera, spend two minutes squirming about in her chair trying to find the perfect angle and then take a picture (which meant that there would be a bright flash exploding in your face and blinding you). Someone should have explained to her that you can't actually hear the music in the photographs. And this was inspite of clear announcements at the start of the program informing us that photography was not permitted. How annoying can people be? Sometimes you wonder whether it wouldn't be a better world if you could go around slapping people.