There are three distinct sides to the music of Hugh Masekela. The trumpeter is most famous for the pop-jazz of his hit, "Gazing In The Grass." But he is also capable of challenging, progressive jazz. At still other times, he turns to the folk music of his native South Africa. All three aspects were given splendid showcases last night at Blues Alley, where Masekela's sextet is playing through Sunday.
Masekela's deep-rooted African allegiance was evident as he dedicated the evening to "the people of Zimbabwe for their recent hard-won victory." He sang one song in the Sotho language. He added African yodels and gruff accents for effective emphasis. Masekela's fleugelhorn and Rene McLean's reeds punched out the catchy melodies on the more accessible songs like "District Six" and "Grazing In The Grass."
But it was on the more adventurous tunes that the band's talents truly shone through. On flute and three saxophones, McLean leaped through modal solo runs to discover surprising harmony. Ghanaian percussionist Oyerena Asanta contributed rolling African rhythms with everything from conga mallets to whistles to a spray can. Masekela himself played at the edge of the melodic themes with his tough, darting tone.