Nii Noi Nortey, David Panton, Mark Sanders ‎– Sketches of Africa

Label:
Panton Music ‎– PM3116
Format:
CDr
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Tracklist Hide Credits

1 Arriving
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
7:48
2 The Sea
Composed By – Nii Noi Nortey
6:03
3 Exploring
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
8:25
4 The Forest
Composed By – Nii Noi Nortey
6:04
5 The Savannah Calls
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
8:59
6 Desert
Composed By – Nii Noi Nortey
1:26
7 Highland Calls
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
5:33
8 Echoes
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
17:05
9 Desert Dance
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
4:19
10 Savannah Songs
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
7:59
11 Departures
Composed By – Nortey-Panton-Sanders
2:41

Notes

Nii Noi Nortey: ngoni harp/lute, nu water-pipe, atenteben fliute, gonje fiddle, algaita oboe, alto afrifone.

David Panton: soprano saxophone, bagpipes (without drones), piano (keyboard and strings).

Mark Sanders: drums and percussion.

From a live performance at London's Café Oto 3 January 2016

All works by Nortey and Nortey-Panton-Sanders (c) 2016
Published by D & ED Panton Music (p) (c) 2016
Recorded and edited by Panton Music (c) 2016
www.pantonmusic.com

I had not seen Nii Noi for over thirty years when he made an extended visit from Accra to London in October 2015 to catch up with friends and family and to attend a showing of the film he had made with Stephen Feld about Ghanaian puppets, though this showing failed to materialise. On the day he wanted to meet and do some playing in Birmingham I had already booked a short set at the MOPOMOSO Xmas party at the Vortex Jazz Club, and suggested he contact John Russell to also book a set to add an African improvised input to the afternoon, and that is where we finally met up, though doing separate sets with other musicians (videos of which are viewable at www.youtube.com/mopomoso). In the meantime he’d also got a gig at Café Oto for the following January with drummer Mark Sanders, and in the course of chatting he invited me to be part of that gig. He chose Mark, as he explained, because he has played with ‘virtually everyone’ across a range of styles, so has the versatility to cope with whatever happens. It was the first time either of us had played with Mark but, as you will hear, the three of us had an instant musical rapport which developed as the evening went on. However, the evening started with a solo set from Nii Noi which, as he said, was ‘…more traditional than freely improvised but with elements of improvisation’. What this set aimed to do was to create a musical soundscape of Africa, travelling from the coast to the forest, the savannah, and the desert, using traditional instruments or his own adaption of those instruments. Although this disc concentrates mainly on the trio performances, edited from the continuous improvised sets, we have included three of Nii Noi’s solos as interludes in between excerpts from the first set, to echo the sense of a journey of discovery which he initially introduced. A digital download of Café Oto’s recording of the whole evening, including the complete introductory illustrated lecture from Nii Noi, is available as Otokura 47 (DL) Nii Noi Nortey/David Panton/Mark Sanders at https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/shop/category/digital-downloads

Arriving is about both arriving to perform and beginning a new journey, full of a buzzing yet restrained anticipation as to what might unfold. Nii Noi bows and plucks the strings of his own smaller and much quieter version of the ‘ngoni harp/lute’ accompanied by mainly the strings of the piano and percussion. The Sea, is the first of Nii Noi’s solos, played on the ‘nu water- pipe’, consisting of a large glass bottle filled with water into which is inserted a long pipe with a saxophone mouthpiece attached, emitting the sounds of bubbling water as though snorkelling under the surface as well as reedy sounds, both high and low, evoking the sounds of creaking boat timbers and sirens from bigger vessels, or the siren calls of water sprites disporting themselves on the surface to lure us down to the depths. The trio then continues Exploring, with the same instrumentation as track one and in a similarly free improvisatory style, typical of the kind of non-idiomatic free improvisation championed by Derek Bailey and other first generation improvisers in the 1960s. There are though moments when Nii Noi’s use of the bow recalls the style and sound of Ornette Coleman’s violin playing. The Forest is the second of Nii Noi’s solos, this time played on the ‘atenteben flute’ which is a less complex instrument than the western flute, though he still manages to incorporate some of the techniques he has acquired from playing that instrument. Overall it evokes the warbling and fluttering associated with the busy fauna of the forest going about its daily tasks. The third of Nii Noi’s solos was on the ‘gonje fiddle’ to illustrate the grassy plains of the savannah, home and feeding ground to many creatures, but not included here due to its length and because the instrument is well represented on two tracks. The first, The Savannah Calls, also has soprano saxophone and drums/percussion, at times taking centre stage summoning up the spirit of the place, before Nii Noi changes to his ‘alto afrifone’ in a brief coda. Desert was the fourth of Nii Noi’s solos with him now playing the ‘algaita oboe’ to illustrate the large expanse of desert which continues to grow. As he mentioned, the really sad thing is that while the savannah erodes and becomes part of the desert, the process doesn’t work in reverse, once desert it does not recover enough to revert to savannah. The stark sound of this short track is an appropriate lament. The desert, as Nii Noi explained, also includes the mountains, and Highland Calls has the Scottish Highland Bagpipes (without drones) - and not unrelated to the double-reed ‘algaita oboe’ - vying with Nii Noi’s ‘alto afrifone’ for attention, ably supported by Mark’s rhythmically driving drum patterns in a spirited performance enthusiastically greeted by the audience at the end of the first set.

The second set began with Echoes and an extended piano solo before being joined by Mark and eventually Nii Noi on his ‘alto afrifone’ again, with echoes at times of Cecil Taylor and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet; there is also an echo of the opening piano chords towards the end, when the frenetic pace of the piece subsides and it draws to its conclusion in a more thoughtful, even elegiac, mood. Desert Dance features Nii Noi again on the reedy and almost plangent sounding ‘algaita oboe’ now floating lyrically over the appropriately rhythmic accompaniment provided by both drums/percussion and ‘drumming’ on the bass strings of the piano – though the latter is difficult to isolate aurally from the general feel of this accompaniment. The overall feeling though is one of resigned sadness to fate. Savannah Songs is the other track on which Nii Noi plays the ‘gonje fiddle’ more in tandem with the soprano saxophone this time, underpinned and supported by drums/percussion, particularly in the more intense moments. It’s like a whirlwind journey across the plain, glorying in the space and the sumptuousness and the varied wild life it supports, hopefully for a long time to come. All journeys of course come to an end and this short track with soprano saxophone and nu water-pipe supported by percussive effects makes ready for its Departures, with the audience again showing their enthusiastic appreciation at the end of the second set. But this journey of discovery can and will continue just as soon as we three can meet together again.

DP July 2016

Booklet cover image by David Panton (after Bridget Riley)

Photos by Khoisan Mensa (c) 2016

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