July 15, 2013

On sort O.K.

In this second commemorative post I am going back to the start of Franco's O.K. Jazz. The three EP's I would like to share were released in the early 1960s, but the songs on these were recorded between late November 1956 and August 1957.

All of these songs have been - at some time - released on CD, so you may wonder why I am posting them. The answer is actually quite simple: I think the sound on these EP's is better. And I don't mean that these EP's are flawless. On the contrary, I would described the state of the vinyl as mediocre*. There is a steady crackle on all these three Extended Play records. Nevertheless, the definition of the music, of the instruments and the singers, is - in my opinion - better than on the CD's.

Essous & Rossignol in 1957
This 'definition' is immediately noticeable in the first song of the EP with the title "O.K. Jazz No.2". This song, "La Fiesta" (here "La Fiesta-Tcha-Tcha-Tcha", probably copied from the labelling on the HMV shellac), features singer Vicky Longomba backed by Philippe Landot a.k.a. "Rossignol". Just on the voices there is clearly more definition: Rossignol's voice can be distinguished far better and is positioned behind Vicky's in the sound image. But an even greater difference can be heard in the sound of the maracas. This instrument no longer sounds muffled. Also that wonderful clarinet, played by Jean-Serge Essous (see this post), is more more '3-D' than on the CD, which even further enhances the part of this song after 1'24 which I see as one of the climaxes in the Essous' work with the O.K. Jazz.
Unfortunately there are very few of those. And this is not so much due to the lack of talent on the part of Essous, but entirely to the fact that on January 1, 1957 he (and Rossignol, plus drummer Saturnin 'Ben' Pandi and Paul Ebengo better known as Dewayon) left the O.K. Jazz and Editions Loningisa for the new created Esengo label. So this was exactly 5 weeks after recording "La Fiesta" and the A-side of this 78 (Loningisa 160), "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O.", which by many - and in my opinion erroneously - is considered to be the first track by the O.K. Jazz. My guess is that this has to do with the HMV catalogue, in which "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O."/"La Fiesta" is the first record (HMV 1001). The tracks recorded at the Loningisa studio were sold on to His Master's Voice. There are even a few tracks which were only released on HMV.
Going by the recording dates the first record by the O.K. Jazz (founded June 6, 1956) is Loningisa 154 "Makambo Mayiza Mazono" (recorded June 20, 1956), with the tell-tale B-side "La Rumba O.K." (recorded on June 21, 1956). Both these songs, composed by Franco, are on Crammed Disc CRAW 7, which also contains Loningisa 157: "Tika Kondima Na Zolo"/"Meya Te, Kaka Elamba". And, in case you are still convinced that Loningisa 160 was the first release by the O.K. Jazz: Loningisa 158, recorded in July 1956, features another Franco song entitled "Bana O.K. Jazz".

To me the best tracks of Essous with the O.K. Jazz must be the two on the A-side of the second EP, which carries the rather anonymous title of "Congo Rhythm". These two tracks, "Alliance Mode Succès" and "Tongo Se Elangisa" (both composed by Dewayon), were recorded just days before Essous and Rossignol departed, on December 24 and 27. The interplay between Franco and Essous in these songs is just brilliant, and makes me wish the cooperation between these two Greats would have continued for much longer. It is clear that this interplay was the basis for the - almost hallmark - interaction between Franco and Isaac Musekiwa, the sax player who in the early part of 1957 came over from Kabasellé's African Jazz to fill the gap Essous had left.
I assume the song "Alliance Mode Succès" is one of many paying tribute to a female association (and I suppose this must have been "La Mode"**). Rossignol encourages the members of the association to show their dancing skills, calling them one by one.
"Tongo Se Elangisa" is my favourite song of Vicky singing with Rossignol. Rossignol is singing lead, with a touch of the dramatic (it is a bolero); and Vicky shows great control in backing him in an understated manner.

More songs from 1956 can be found on the third of these EP's. Something appears to have gone terribly wrong with the title of this EP, as the trademark slogan "On entre O.K., on sort K.O." has been 'corrected' into "On Entre O.K., On Sort O.K.". It is unlikely that the correction was intentional, as even the opening track of this EP, the A-side of "La Fiesta" (see above), has been changed.
The two songs on the B-side of this EP were composed by Essous. As with the songs on the other EP's, both "Lina" and "Se Pamba" sound more open than the CD-versions, which also makes it easier to distinguish Franco's antics in the background.

After the departure of Essous, Rossignol and Pandi new members were recruited. Vocalists Edo Nganga and Célestin Kouka joined the young orchestra, and Nicolas Bosuma a.k.a "Dessoin" was attracted to replace Pandi. No doubt provoked by the serious competition from the new orchestras and temporary groupings on the Esengo label, the O.K. Jazz progressed at an incredible rate.
Also new with the O.K. Jazz was Antoine 'Brazzos' Armando. He had played with Vicky at Editions CEFA in the mid-1950s. There he worked with Belgian (jazz-)guitarist Bill Alexandre, who in 1955 introduced the electric guitar into Congolese music. Bill Alexandre named Brazzos, in an interview in 1992, as the best guitarist of the era. I am not sure what the precise grounds were for this qualification, or if this was in any way influenced by the fact that they cooperated at the CEFA label. Nor do I have any idea if Mr. Alexandre was aware of the full extent of the competition. Fact is, however, that Brazzos played a crucial role in the evolution of the O.K. Jazz, - if only for his compositions.
For, to be honest, Brazzos' role as an instrumentalist within the O.K. Jazz is still a bit of a mystery to me. As I mentioned, he joined the O.K. Jazz in 1957 as a rhythm guitarist, left the orchestra at the end of 1959 to join Kabasellé (and Vicky) as a bass player at the Table Ronde. And when he returned a few years later (again with Vicky), his place as an accompagnateur was taken by Lutumba Simarro and Franco was well on his way to establish himself as the undisputed star of the orchestra.

In the time between his arrival at the O.K. Jazz and his departure for African Jazz Brazzos composed 20 songs for the orchestra, and all of these are veritable gems. His first record was "Na Banzaki Angelu"/"Nde Okobanza" (Loningisa 181 / HMV 1027) and his second was "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor"/"Yaka Nakoki Te" (Loningisa 189 / HMV 1045). These last two songs can be found on these EP's. "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor" is the first in a line of killer cha-cha-cha's, which with the O.K. Jazz were usually not very far from a boléro. Franco is at it and restless like a caged animal, while the rest of the orchestra remains relatively sedate and seemingly undisturbed. In "Yaka Nakoki Te" Franco seems more controlled, but this control is deceptive.
I am sure I'll get back to Brazzos and his contribution to the early O.K. Jazz at a later date.

I leave you to evaluate the remaining four tracks from these three EP's by yourself. The two most 'recent' of these, "Nakolela Mama Azonga" and "Ah Bolingo Pasi", were composed by Vicky and were recorded on August 21, 1957 and released as Loningisa 198 (HMV 1054). Edo Nganga's "Taxi Avalon" was released on Loningisa 192 (HMV 1048). And I am sure you recognise "Aya La Mode" (Loningisa 194 / HMV 1050) from the compilations in which this compositon by Franco has been included, - unfortunately in most cases out of context and seriously compressed and/or otherwise mangled. In the version on the EP you can still hear Brazzos' understated rhythm guitar, which Franco uses as a line to set his exclamation marks.

Pathé 7 EMF 218 - 7 EMF 291 - 7 EMF 302 (or in one file)

*this the equivalent of what those online sellers of vinyl label "NM", - which I, naively, believed to mean "near mint", but should be interpreted as either "slightly worse than anything in your own collection" or "exposed to a pre-school playgroup"....
** and that reminds me: I am still waiting, with considerable anticipation, for the documentary which Vincent Kenis, Césarine Sinatu Bolya and others have made about the 1950s Congolese music scene, in which these associations play an important role.


jan duinkerken said...

Thanks again for the music and the info. Great!

Anonymous said...

Another incredible post. Can't wait to hear these songs. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Worldservice! Thanks as always for the new posts on your blog. Although, it's been a while since we've heard some "Okukuseku International Band of Ghana". We do hope to here them again very soon.



Anonymous said...

Thank you again for more great OK Jazz! I'm reading Graeme Ewens' book on the Grand Maitre and really enjoying your posts as I make my way through the book.

Anonymous said...

your posts are always real gems! Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thx for all of the greatness
Doin' the Jah's will!!