The music of Dollar Brand is a unique blend of African and Afro-American elements. Just as it has links with the tribal music of his native South Africa, so too it points towards an important and neglected area of North American jazz. Wilfred Mellers, writing on Brand in that August journal The Musical Times spoke of the "authentic" relationship of jazz to African tradition and commented: "This isn't merely because there is an African fundament to what has become a Western art, but also because jazz and pop, being improvised and performing rather than notated musics, have affinities with an oral rather than literate culture."
Obviously, a detailed analysis of the music of Southern Africa, traditional and contemporary, would require a space many hundred times larger than this record-sleeve. However, for African influences in Dollar Brand's music, I suggest you look no further than the 3/4 improvisation following the tune of Randy Weston's Little Niles, or those on the 6/4 Pye R Squared or the 7/4 Which Way? The intensely rhythmic use of the piano, combined with the amazing independence of the right and left hands, goes some way beyond the usual jazz conception of cross-rhythm, to the extent that on the first hearing it may appear to be "anti-swing." But one has to get past this bewildering complexity to hear the irresistible forward movement of the music and then, in that context, the rhythmic freedom becomes a multi-layered pattern of great beauty.
It is tempting to describe this as survival of the interplay of an African drum-choir, and the suggestion is perhaps not as far-fetched as it may seem. Certainly Brand's approach to sound is not only rhythmic but specifically percussive, and his range of touch enables him to produce everything from rumbly tom-tom beats (as on the bass figure of Take the A Train) to vibrant marimba tones (cf. the ringing minor 2nds in his highly original tailpiece to Little Niles). The late Herbie Nichols wrote, in an essay accompanying his record The Herbie Nichols Trio (Blue Note): "I keep remembering that the overtones of 'fifths' created by any ordinary tuned drum was the first music...The jazz sound is surely a living thing and as a piano player I find it mostly in old uprights. Sometimes these faded pianos with muted strings, strange woodwork, and uneven 'innards' have a way of giving up fast and resonant overtones. Each note shoots back at you like a bass drum." And Herbie Nichols, of course, is representative of the small group of Americans to whom Dollar Brand can be likened and who form not so much a development as a tangent of bop and post-bop piano - Monk, Randy Weston, Andrew Hill, Elmo Hope, Hassan Ibn Ali. The double-time idea and the voicing of the Pye R Squared intro bear an odd resemblance to part of Hassan's Almost Like Me, recorded (about the same time) with Max Roach. Reminiscences of Monk about in the 12-bar blues, Knight's Night, On The Banks of Allen Water, and the ballad Resolution, which is a retitling of one section of Brand's Anatomy of a South African Village. And perhaps most intriguing of all is the shadow of Duke Ellington, the pianistic precursor of this school and incidentally the first producer of Dollar Brand on record - his meditative version of Don't Get Around Much Any More hovers between the keys of G and B-flat rather like Duke's bitonal rhapsody on Solitude (1950 version). That Brand is not merely an amalgam of these performers but has much of his own to say is evident throughout, not least in the startling improvization on the two blues.
Since making this recording, Dollar's peripatetic career has exemplified the way he straddles two world of music. After some months in London, he went to the States, playing at Newport and working with Elvin Jones among others, before returning to Africa. In 1972, he performed in concert in New York for the Jazz Composers' Orchestra Association, and appeared in Copenhagen and Berlin with a quartet co-led by Don Cherry. Dollar eventually settled in New York in the late seventies and since then, he has performed continuously in clubs, concerts and at festivals worldwide. His stature as one of the most important musical expatriates of South Africa has continued to grow. He has never forgotten his roots, as he told Jack Lind of Down Beat: "South Africa itself has been my prime source of influence, all the different concepts of South African music -the carnival music every year in Cape Town, the traditional colour music, the Malayan strains, the rural lament." Small wonder, then, that he continually returns to the source, not only of jazz but of his own very special contribution.
1. Honeysuckle Rose (03:45)
2. Resolution (03:43)
3. Knight's Night (05:38)
4. a. Mood Indigo
b. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
c. Take The "A" Train 08:34
5. Monk's Mood (04:47)
6. You Are Too Beautiful (06:10)
7. Little Niles (05:58)
8. Pye R Squared (02:52)
9. On The Banks Of Allen Waters (05:39)
10. Reflections (04:06)
11. Which Way ? (03:09)
DOLLAR BRAND (Piano)
Recorded At Pye Studios, London 16th March 1965
Recording Engineer: Bob Auger
Piano Courtesty Samuels
Produced By Alan Bates
Sleeve Photograph: Courtesy “Melody Maker"
Sleeve Design: Malcolm Walker
This Compilation _ + (c) 1989 Phonoco International Ltd.
Remastering By: THEIN Studios