A Review of “Oscillations”, a CD by Shane Lee Cooper, www.shaneleecooper.com
Who would ever think that an award-winning young South African jazz bassist, with impressive collaborations in Europe and the USA, and past scholarship opportunities that helped grow his music, would divulge some inner personal turmoil in his first CD album, appropriately entitled “Oscillations”? Shane Lee Cooper, born in 1985, is the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for jazz. This CD contains another five young Capetownians (also award winners) who, collectively, have produced varied soundscapes conveying uncertainties and vacillations about the future, possibly influenced by the wibble-wabbles of the past. Perhaps the album’s producer, the eclectic pedal effects electronic bassist, Carlo Mombelli, has something to do with that.
Shane’s original songs are filled with melodic-cum-discordant phrases, at times with hopeful cadences and resolutions; at other times with intentional imbalance and reluctance. The songs are visual: I see a rubber ducky bobbing about in the bath tub as waves of water undulate erratically. I see a fascination with change, that the contemporary world isn’t steady at all, that we are all vacillating, teetering, confronted with antagonisms, both positive and negative. The album is perfectly titled: we are all oscillating through life!
Along with his 40-year old Czech upright bass, Shane has chosen a strong team of jazz musicians with whom he has worked on other collaborations, such as the Indian-fusion jazz group, BABU. Shane’s visual medium through sound was honed in the Darkroom Collective which sets improvised music to projected slideshows. “Oscillations” contains the energy of drummer, Kesivan Naidoo; the strong voice of pianist Bokani Dyer; the melodic and bebop styles of tenor saxman, Buddy Wells, and alto saxman, Justin Bellairs; and the flare and enigma of guitarist, Reza Khota.
One hears emotion and uncertainty of purpose, sees the heart wandering, out of focus, watches a little bird free in a big sky, feels the spirituality of First People and of oneself. Special effects include a lilting marovany (a box of strings indigenous to Madagascar) with cowbells, or the plucking of piano strings covered with pillows.
All musicians have their influences: Bokani’s piano solo in ‘Destination’ influenced by US Jazz pianist, Robert Glasper. Justin’s alto in “Drop Down” follows sounds of the UK’s jazz sax/rapper, Soweto Kinch. Shane read a Japanese novelist’s “Dead Letters”, which conveys lost letters from loved ones with his upright bass solo holding together a beautiful ending. Producer Carlo Mombelli had an obvious say in “Shadowplay” through Reza’s electric guitar resonances. Kesivan’s drums emulate bebop styles of Wayne Shorter in “Ohriah”. Unlike the emotional confusions conveyed in this CD, the musicians simply know what they’re doing.
A Pendulum swing is predictable and steady. “Oscillations” isn’t. It’s true to life. As Carlo commented: “It’s a CD with one sound, like going to an art gallery to see one exhibit.” This CD is a ride. Watch your rubber ducky.
Album release is scheduled for 22 August 2013 at Cape Town’s Mahogany Room . Shane performs at the upcoming August Standard Bank Joy of Jazz in Johannesburg.