Sean Bergin


I was talking to a friend, just a few days ago, the topic of our discussion at some point being "the state of jazz". I really don't remember the reason why, but I happened to mention The Brotherhood Of Breath. Here my friend said something like "Who are those people?". If I tell you this little episode is only because my friend happens to be a good guitar player with a nice CV, a not too bad piano player and a fan of jazz (even if his interest in jazz doesn't date as back as his interest for groups like The Beatles and The Byrds). And since he spends many hours in places where jazz records are sold...

It's true that for ages many English musicians were not really known in their own country. This is truer still for a group of musicians who fled South Africa in the 60s to repair to the UK: pianist Chris McGregor, saxophone player Dudu Pukwana, drummer Louis Moholo, double bass player Johnny Dyani, trumpet player Mongezi Feza (a name well-known at least to those familiar with the Robert Wyatt masterpiece titled Rock Bottom). First as The Blue Notes, then in many other line-ups - the most famous (never a word being less appropriate) of which being The Brotherhood Of Breath - they brought a breath of fresh air with their on the surface so simple jazz. Theirs was a tragic life, really too brief, for health reasons etc. And I hope I'm wrong, but I really think that the beautiful Live In Willisau (badly) recorded in 1974, and a couple of (good) doubles which US Cuneiform released not too long ago, are the only albums currently in print.

I think that I met the name Sean Bergin for the first time about twenty years ago, on a CD by the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra dedicated to new arrangements of pieces by Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. Later Bergin was part of a few line-ups which paid homage to that strand of South African music (I wonder what happened to those CDs by the Dedication Orchestra - are they still in print?). Bergin recorded Nansika live, in Switzerland (a very good recorded sound, by the way, warm and clear, quite appropriate to the material). Bergin is on tenor sax, on piano we have Curtis Clark. I have to confess I have never heard the names of guitar player Franky Douglas (whose playing is quite appropriate and tasty, but not too present on the album), drummer Victor De Boo and double bass player Jacko Schoonderwoerd (an excellent rhythm section, as propulsive or delicate as the music requires).

The aim of the album is to pay homage to music written by some South African composers. Besides pieces written by Pukwana, Feza e Dyani we find one by Winston Ingozi, a traditional, and two compositions by Abdullah Ibrahim, a pianist (very well) known also under the name Dollar Brand. The first thing one really notices is a certain "family air" that's present in all pieces. Bergin sports a very melodic, "fat" sound totally appropriate to the material, with a nice contribution by the others. The first three tracks seem to move in a precise direction, from the medium tempo Woza Mtwana by Ibrahim to the fast Ezilalini by Pukwana. Then we have You Ain't Gonna Know Me, a sensitive ballad written by Feza, and the piece by Ingozi, which is the one here that most resembles a jazz standard. The beautiful The Wedding by Ibrahim is for this writer the best performance of the album, with a very nice bass solo; but the following tracks, Ubagele by Pukwana, and the closing Wish You Sunshine by Dyani, are also very good.

An hour that passes as a flash, a CD that I think many will like. Just a few more steps will be needed to find it (I suspect).

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Jan. 25, 2006