Album Review: Spaza – s/t [Mushroom Hour/Half Hour; June 2019]

Cementing Johannesburg as the third point in the triangle of modern jazz, this album transcends the traditional boundaries of genres to create something captivating, original and outstanding.

Released in 2019, this album joins a year of supreme albums that merge genres and eras, taking modern jazz to new heights. In a year when Damon Lock’s Black Monument Ensemble blurred the lines between jazz and everything else, is this the best album of the year so far?

Firstly, thanks to my editor, who sent this over to me. I am not sure if I would have come across it otherwise. Released on the new label, Mushroom Hour / Half Hour, who are looking to demonstrate that Johannesburg is the third point in the triangle of modern jazz, along with London and Chicago, you can definitely hear the influences of each of those cities in the music. However, it is combined with something distinctly South African. The vocals transform into more typical sounds associated with African music; traditional South African burial rites are scattered across the music, as well as the odd flirtation with African percussion.

The name Spaza means a local, informal shop, developed in people’s garages during the apartheid. The coming together of the communities at these local marketplaces has formed the concept behind the album; a spontaneous, improvised series of songs that came together as if by accident to form a community. The group, also named Spaza, are a collective of free-flowing musicians, brought together through locality, background, tradition and music. You may recognise some from other projects, including The Ancestors. But this revolving group of musicians have created something completely new and groundbreaking.

This is an outstanding record that you probably haven’t heard. There’s a long way still to go in 2019, but at the end of the year, don’t be surprised if this album finds itself in your top 10 list.