A cool ocean breeze, the pleasant, almost cozy atmosphere of Santa Monica College's outdoor Amphitheatre and the high-life jazz of Hugh Masekela. Sounds like a prescription for a pleasant summer evening, and, on Saturday night, that's exactly what it was.
Masekela's presentation has had a kind of easy predictability for the last few years, and this program was no exception. Once again, he opened with a stretched-out vamp rhythm that allowed warm-up time for his fluegelhorn and Morris Goldberg's alto saxophone. Masekela then launched into his familiar, but always fascinating, rap-like list of musical influences, from Duke Ellington to Lightnin' Hopkins, from Jimi Hendrix to a long list of African township composers.
It was not, however, a particularly good outing for Masekela's soloing. Relying on brief bursts of sound and short, rapid-fire runs, he sounded somewhat detached from the music's flow. Most of the serious solo space, in fact, was allocated to Goldberg, whose improvisations stretched across the range of his horn, especially in Masekela's trademark "Grazing in the Grass."
Masekela sounded far better on his vocal numbers, which have grown in strength and intensity over the years. Songs like "Puffin' Down the Track" simmered with energy and purpose that reached beyond the music to become powerful statements of social outrage. Always a vigorous and vocal opponent of South African apartheid, Masekela was as declamatory as ever, but his calls for freedom finally resonated with a real sense of optimism. His call to "Bring Back Nelson Mandela" was brightened by the happy knowledge that Mandela had, in fact, come back.
By the time the program wound to a close, the lower levels of the Amphitheatre were overflowing with happy dancers. It was an appropriate conclusion for a summer concert that kept the feet moving while it touched the heart.