by Gwen Ansell
WHILE many names on the Standard Bank Jazz Festival programme in Grahamstown (July 3-13) this year are familiar — either because they have world stature, or because they are return visitors — some are not.
Among the relatively unknowns is the group Rainmakers — named for a poem by Ghanaian Darko Antwi, and not to be confused with the Kansas rockers of the same name — who perform on Friday July 4 at the DSG Hall and Saturday July 5 at the Jazz and Blues Café at St Aidan’s.
It is only the band’s name, however, that is unfamiliar. Led by Swiss bassist Bänz Oester, who first played Grahamstown in 2011, it further comprises Swiss reedman Ganesh Geymeier and two South Africans, pianist Afrika Mkhize and drummer Ayanda Sikade.
The Rainmakers have toured Switzerland and has just released their first album, Live at the Bird’s Eye (Unit Records).
A professor in the jazz department of the Basel Music Academy, Oester has, over a 20-year career, worked in multiple projects with European musicians such as Paolo Fresu and Nils-Petter Molvaer, and with American names as diverse as Dewey Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jacky Terasson and Joe Lovano.
The album has six tracks: two Oester originals; two of his arrangements of traditional melodies; and two by Mkhize, including the title track.
We still await Mkhize’s own album as leader, but this fills the waiting time very nicely, with Oester’s generous arrangements allowing the pianist ample space to stretch out. His own compositions demonstrate his facility with complex rhythms and his fondness for stylistic blends; Oester’s Ambiguous reveals an edgier, modernist keyboard.
Fellow Swiss Geymeier has a big, warm, adventurous horn sound reminiscent of Arthur Blythe or, to South African ears, Zim Ngqawana.
Sikade offers his customary intelligent fireworks, especially on Dür das Oberland Uf. As for Oester, he is equally impressive holding a solid walking line behind improvisation, emulating some village folk instrument, or soloing on the fractured Caribbean rhythms of Eucalypso.
The album is a compelling one; the live shows should be worth catching.