Hugh Masekela | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Hugh Masekela 

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South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela's late-60s chart topper "Grazin' in the Grass," based on the laid-back rhythms and high-life lilt of a folk melody from his homeland, gave baby boomers their second big dose of world music--back before the phrase was even a gleam in a record executive's eye. Since then Masekela's expanded, but not abandoned, the approach that first made him famous, incorporating elements from central and west African musics, blasts of Jamaican dancehall, and whiffs of Brazilian tropicalia, in addition to the classic American soul music that provided him with such a hospitable climate when he came to the States in the early 60s. His just-released Black to the Future (Shanachie) argues for a planetary fusion called "Afro-soul-jazz," an apt if uninspiring description of the disc's irresistible musical stew. "JJC/JJD" references the hook from Desmond Dekker's "Israelites"--the first world-music hit of the 60s, if you were wondering--and features Memphis horns, a Johannesburg bass line, and a choir rooted in Rio, all behind Masekela's blustery vocals. And he dresses a new version of "The Boy's Doin' It" (the title track from one of his mid-70s albums, recently reissued on Verve) with funk rhythms and Nigerian accents, updating the lyrics to reflect the last two decades of political changes in Africa, from Rwanda to the Congo. Masekela's first recordings came as the leader of the South African "township bebop" band the Jazz Epistles, and while his bright, round tones echo Louis Armstrong, you can still hear traces of bop's legacy in his half-valved blue notes and the way his short phrases mix chromatic lyricism and rapid-fire riffs. Given the quality of the new album and Masekela's reliable showmanship, this could be the best world-music show all summer. Saturday, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.

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