Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath
Eclipse At Dawn
The Brotherhood of Breath had one of the great sounds in jazz. Comprised of South African musicians fleeing apartheid and luminaries from the British free jazz scene, this big band concocted a vibrant mix of joyful township jazz, Ellingtonian swing, and avant garde abstraction. The Brotherhood were criminally under-recorded in their prime and initially left behind scant evidence of their bustling genius. Recently, Cuneiform Records has rounded out their discography with a series of previously unreleased and essential live recordings.
Eclipse At Dawn is the latest entry in this remarkable musical excavation. The high-fidelity recording features an 11-piece lineup that includes such formidable talents as saxophonists Dudu Pukwana and Mike Osborne and drummer Louis Moholo. This 1971 German performance captures the band between their first and second studio albums, transitioning from big band charts and African beats into freer and knottier territory. This fruitful tension can be heard in the segue from the buoyant “Nick Tete,” anchored by Pukwana’s sturdy riffing, into the ferociously free “Restless,” which highlights Chris McGregor’s bristling piano. On extended tracks like “The Bride,” infectious rhythms and scalding solos sit side by side, each treated as compositional elements in the greater collective effort.
It’s instructive that as jazz was being
torn apart by various factions, the Brotherhood refused to choose camps. This is a non-hierarchical music where multiple influences are showcased without watering down their specific sonic traits. African and European, utterly abstract and emotionally passionate, danceable and challenging, beautiful and anguished, Eclipse At Dawn is all these things at once. It’s a lesson in how to make vital jazz that all these years later has yet to be fully absorbed.
- Jeff Jackson