Originally released in July 1968 and recently reissued by Matsuli Music, Spring is the brilliant debut album from South African jazz pianist and composer Ibrahim Khalil Shibab and his quintet. Recorded over a single take in just two hours, the album is in essence a live recording minus the audience. Featuring a stellar backing band composed of Phillip (Philly) Schilder on bass, Gilbert Matthews on drums, Garry Kriel on guitar and the incomparable Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi on saxophone, the album is full of gorgeous melodies and marked by themes of rebirth and rejuvenation.
If you haven’t heard Mankunku before, you’d be forgiven for mistaking him for John Coltrane, such is the depth of his range and magnificence of his tone. Spring was released just four months after the release of his debut album, Yakhal’ Inkomo, and credit for the recording is often mistakenly given to Mankunku rather than Shihab. Mankunku is indeed a towering presence on the album, with his warm tone and virtuosic chops as a tenor player taking center stage on numerous tracks, perhaps none more prominently than on the opening title track.
But while Mankunku certainly takes top billing, it’s Shihab’s inviting compositions that deserve full credit for the album’s underlying beauty. Oscillating between blues, waltz and ballads, the quartet is as tight as any assembled in jazz history. The fact that all the musicians were only in their early 20s at the time it was recorded only adds to its mystique and grandeur.
Despite its sunny feel, the album was released at a dark time in South Africa’s history, a time in which many Black musicians were forced to record in exile. Such was the case with the Shihab quartet and led to not only the quick recording time and improvisatory nature of Spring, but also to the album being suppressed and not getting the wide distribution and credit it clearly deserved. In the decades following its release, Spring languished in obscurity before being released in 1996 at the tail end of a CD reissue of Yakhal’ Inkomo, with false songwriting credit again given to Mankunku (you can find it on Spotify under this title).
Righting a historic wrong, Matsuli has finally given Spring the reissue it deserves, bringing one of the most under appreciated jazz recordings in history into the limelight.