Steve Dyer – ‘Revision’ (new album out September 16) – London Jazz News

‘It’s about the interrelationships between patterns’: South African saxophonist and bandleader Steve Dyer’s new album, ‘Revision’, is out September 16th. Interview with South African jazz writer Gwen Ansell.

Ghana’s sankofa bird – looking back to look forward – flies in the title of Steve Dyer’s new release, Revision. “I am happy that the title of the album can be read in two ways,” says the South African saxophonist, flautist and composer, “because it is both a revision of past ideas and a re-vision of the future”.

Revision is Pietermaritzburg-born Dyer’s thirteenth album as a bandleader. Although he performed concerts while still a student, his stage career really began as a founding member of the late trombonist Jonas Gwangwa’s band Shakawe in the mid-1980s. conscription into the apartheid army and left South Africa for its northern neighbour, Botswana. There, Gwangwa was a key figure in the Medu Arts Ensemble, a cultural collective focused on the liberation of exiled South Africans and Batswana. Subsequently, Dyer spent time in London and Zimbabwe, as well as working again with Gwangwa at the ANC’s Amandla Cultural Ensemble. He returned to South Africa in 1993.

These experiences and travels have influenced his writing, playing and arrangements. “Music in the 80s was an agent of change; there was idealism, we lived in a sort of mental utopia. But I don’t think the change we envisioned has happened to our satisfaction. Review therefore involves identifying the messages of change that are appropriate for today. “Modes of struggle that have been largely imported need to be reconsidered,” suggests Dyer, citing the influence of philosopher Mogobe B. Ramose and his book African philosophy through Ubuntu.

“What is fundamental is our relationship with others. Yes [Pan-Africanist Congress leader] Robert Sobukwe could say in 1959 “Africanists consider that there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race”, why do we still fail today to tackle inequalities underlying issues and dealing with biases if an obstacle to progress?

But what he calls this “new frontier of struggle” is what drives Dyer’s music, not his lyrics: “I’m not going into the studio asking how I can put social imbalance in the notes! »

Ubuntu certainly influenced Dyer’s studio process on Revision. The ethos is community-centric, “so it’s not so much about specific instrumental solos, but more about playing together and listening to each other. I wanted that kind of interaction between different textures is part of the structure. That’s why I brought the [Resonance] string quartet and marimba player Dylan Tabisher.

“It’s about the interrelationships between the models.”

This concept, made visible in African textiles such as the Congolese Shoowa cloth and the Ghanaian Adinkra print, comes up repeatedly in Dyer’s discussion of his music. Musical lessons from Africa are woven into the text. The album opens and closes on a Heartbeat“All living things have a heartbeat, and it speaks to their interconnectedness. This totality of life – and beyond – is ubuntu.

“As South Africans,” says Dyer, “we need to be much more integrated into our continent, not see it as somewhere remote. When I came back from Zimbabwe – where mbira because both melodic and percussive instruments have shaped the music – it was hard to find many drummers here playing beats and cross beats like I had heard there. This is no longer true: young cats definitely identify their roots as part of this continent, and the question of identity is more prominent.

Steve Dyer. Photo Joanne Olivier

Dyer first encountered a deliberate and explicitly theorized African approach to music-making from a South African: Gwangwa in Botswana. “He was one of the older statesmen who worked on this more than many others. I watched him build a song from the bass drum: then the snare, then the bass, then the guitar as a really important voice. This way of laying out a musical framework has greatly enlightened my thinking.

A track on Review, no more; Not less, is a tribute to another former African brass statesman, Manu Dibangu. The title comes from words exchanged when Dyer’s Mahube ensemble shared a 2002 Johannesburg concert poster with the Cameroonian. “In his career, he has always pushed the limits. We had the locker room next door,” Dyer recalled. “He would play little lines on his sax, then chat with the musicians. It was like a different way to connect with his instrument and his band. I tried to invoke this with a Manu-like cross-rhythm in the second horn section.

There is a more urgent rhythmic feeling on Birthright, which looks less like a relaxed Dibangu in Douala than a Fela campaigning at the Sanctuary. “Yeah, it’s definitely a protest song. He was inspired by the movement of people around Black Lives Matter, saying we are not ready to accept anything less than our full status. But in the melody, the agitation for change is not location-specific, although it is certainly Afro-specific.

Alongside Gwangwa and Dibangu, another musical hero remembered the Revision is Miles Davis in Take now (words from some studio comments recorded in the trumpeter’s biography). This is the second time Dyer has greeted Miles, there was also Selim Sivad (on video here) on the 2019 album Genesis of a different world. “Because he never looked at structure as just a head and then a few solos. There’s always been a strong focus on texture, and that’s my approach here, all the way to the end with an allusion to Pedi pipe music,” says Dyer.

The intersection of much more fluid patterns shapes the flute function of the album: Water colors (video below). “I found a flute effect where the notes I play are transported into a much more abstract harmony: like the bleeding between colors in watercolor paint. But what interests me is what happens between the tones. Each phrase blends into the next, suggesting the shape of the spaces between us and how they blend into the personal.

The personal, the intuitive and the emotional are not neglected Revisionwith lyrical and melancholic titles such as bittersweet, Lost love and Langazelela (Desire). But perhaps the most allusive composition of Dyer’s current life is Parallel streams. “There is groove, free play, lots of atmospheres. It’s the plurality of life: the way we’re all involved in different things simultaneously – and as time goes by, maybe they’re just parallel or sometimes they intersect,” says Dyer.

A key intersection in the saxophonist’s current life is between his activities as a musician and the recording space he runs, Dyertribe Studios, attached to his home in the countryside outside Johannesburg. He knows about the “young cats” in part because many of them record at the studio, including one of his children, pianist Bokani Dyer, who also helps run the studio. Gender defying collective The brother moves onfor example, have recorded their next album Tolika Mtoliki at Dyertribe. London-based Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings made it the location for the label’s recent South African compilation, Indaba is. “There are always people from all genres of music there, and during breaks we talk about these relevant and substantive issues and the music.”

The face turned towards the future of Revision definitely points to that role too. “I would like it to become even more of a welcoming creative hub,” says Dyer. “I’ve never been interested in running the kind of clinical studio where you’re afraid to hit a wrong note.”

Revision comes out September 16 2021

LINK: Steve Dyer’s website

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