Paxton / Spangler Septet:
Anthem for the New Nation

Percussionist RJ Spangler and trombonist John Tbone Paxton have collaborated for many years in groups of different sizes, from quartets to nonets. Their comfort in a number of jazz, blues and world music idioms was showcased in their concert at Kerrytown Concert House on November 6. The concert was also a CD release party for their recent Anthem for the New Nation, featuring compositions of South African born Abdullah Ibrahim, which was reviewed in our August/September 2021 issue. It was wonderful to hear the group live and appreciate the inspiration they provide all of us in pandemic times, their music lifts all spirits with its lilting melodies and relentless swing.

The concert deviated from the Ibrahim song book three times: Hugh Masakela’s “Home Is Where the Music Is,” Miriam Makeba’s “Ntylio Ntylio,” and a piece by Salim Washington that even RJ could not pronounce.

The latter two pieces had great work on the flute by Kasan Belgrave who otherwise excelled on the alto sax. Belgrave has turned into an accomplished sideman and soloist in the last few years. Most of the woodwind work for the evening was handled by tenorist Dan Bennett who delivered some explosive solos, and he was particularly effective on “Capetown Fringe” where he started out hot and wailing and never cooled down! Paxton gave us a taste of his trombone chops on “Whoza Mtwana” and his co-leader Spangler did some great work on the congas on “Capetown Fringe” as did Phil Hale with some powerful chording on the piano. Bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Sean Perlmutter were a solid team throughout the evening.

I was somewhat surprised that the house was not full for this concert. The pandemic might have kept some people away, the music should not have as this group seldom plays in Ann Arbor. Let’s hope for a repeat performance by these inspiring musicians in the new year.