HUGH MASEKELA at the Comfort Zone, April 25. Tickets: $28.50. Attendance: 150. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
things did not look good for
Hugh Masekela moments before the set time of his first show at the Comfort Zone Wednesday.
With just a handful of people in the crowd -- suggesting that booking two back-to-back shows was a tad ambitious -- and a sound system that squealed every time someone went near a microphone, the lion of South African jazz had a decidedly puzzled look as he stepped onto the cramped stage. The fall from prestigious concert-hall gigs to a 7 pm set in a low-ceilinged club was all too obvious.
Masekela himself didn't help matters at first, launching into a spectacularly bland soft jazz number that served more as a sound check than a warm-up, with his band playing stiffly and the cornetist sounding unsure on his horn. Then the showman arrived.
Shouting out a countdown, the burly bandleader dropped his horn and led his band into a seething mix of afrobeat, soukous and township jazz. The creased-pants formality of his four-piece backing band disappeared almost instantly, and when Masekela did pick up his horn, his solos were sharp and concise.
Hard playing was interspersed with Masekela's odd stand-up comedy routine, with the trumpeter singing more than he played. Even when they locked into a deep double-time groove, though, the inconsistency was baffling.
After winding the crowd up with a lengthy talk about Fela Kuti, Masekela paid tribute with another anemic bit of adult contemporary schlock, then inexplicably returned with a scorching stomp through Fela's Lady, complete with showgirl pantomimes.
No wonder audience members from the first show were lining up to shell out again for round two.