Within the realm of African free jazz, there's never been a performer with charisma and skill that could match South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela. He's been an icon within jazz on a global level since the late 1960s, when he was releasing songs like "Grazing in the Grass" to international acclaim. His career has endured some ups and downs over the years in terms of sales, but his ability to make sure-fire records that jazz and global music lovers can fasten onto has never gone away. So it's not surprising that after 40 years in the business, Masekela can still release a solid album. But that in no way prepares you for the grit and gusto packed into his latest double-disc gem, Live at the Market Theatre. Recorded last year in Johannesburg, South Africa, this record is full of soul not just from Masekela and his band but from the audience as well. The best parts of the album come as Masekela tears into the greatest of his hits, like "Mandela" and "The Boys Doin' It." It's at these points that the notes drifting from his trumpet and flugelhorn feel as if they're swirling around your stomach. His jazz reinterpretation of Fela Kuti's "Lady" is a standout and still full of groove minus the Afrobeat touch. There's also plenty of exploration on this recording, as Masekela's six-piece ensemble lends a South African touch to Nigerian composer O.J. Ekemode's "Ashiko," one of the most powerful moments of the concert. For those tired of buying greatest-hits albums, here's some middle ground.
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