Music Review: The Ziza Muftic Quartet – Brilliant Balkan, Or Ziza Teaser

July 21, 2015



The Ziza Muftic Quartet: Silver Moonbeams

The debut release by the Ziza Muftic Quartet is an exquisite and sophisticated new addition to the South African jazz canon. While SA jazz struggles to keep its head above water commercially, with too few recording opportunities and too few live venues for the many incredibly talented players around the country, Ziza Muftic, along with her collaborators, has produced an album that is both multi-layered and eminently listenable, both live and on disc.

It is an intensely personal recording, its tracks mostly dealing with Muftic’s own emotional and musical journeys of the last few years, and culminating in the recording of this debut, which is dominated by her own compositions.   The title track is a notable exception, and gives a clue to the texture of the whole recording – it is a beautifully realised version of a Hungarian folk tune attributed to Béla Bartók, the 20th Century composer noted for fostering Balkan ethnomusicology.

Muftic herself is Croatian, leaving her home country in the 1990s to escape the Balkan conflict. The Bartók song is recognisably a folk tune, though artfully arranged as an atmospheric jazz ballad, and is infused with a gentle melancholy which pervades the whole collection of tunes.  Muftic interjects her own spoken word passage to the track, to great effect.

Other Balkan influences drift through the album. Another traditional composition, Ne Klepeci Nanulama, is a lullaby, eerily reminiscent of similar traditional ballads in Zulu and Xhosa, which is ideally suited to Muftic’s wonderfully resonant low range delivery. Producer Marcus Wyatt adds trademark horn flourishes which embroider this little beauty.

The jazz canon is something Muftic is engaged with on the album as much as her personal odyssey and dealing with the emotional vicissitudes of her life. In a quizzical and idiosyncratic expression of this, Oscar Peterson’s Nigerian Market Place is covered, the solo smoothly handled by pianist Roland Moses. Muftic adds a lyric, sweetly listing a range of her jazz influences and what they have brought to her creative and emotional life. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

While the general tenor and tone of the album is one of compelling and gentle melancholy, tracks such as The Score and the album closer Z-Bop up the tempo to great effect, allowing the sidemen (Moses is accompanied by James Sunney on bass and Peter Auret on drums, who also handled mixing and mastering duties) to swing out satisfyingly.  The latter tune sees Muftic returning to her native tongue once more, even assaying a little bit of Croatian scatting!

Throughout Muftic’s voice is the focal point. Mostly in the lower ranges of alto and contralto, she also shows an impressive range and tonal purity, even – or perhaps especially – in the low notes. Her ability to sustain tone and colour is striking, and will please fans of Diana Krall and Melody Gardot. Muftic’s debut has a little bit more to it than comparisons with star names however.  Silver Moonbeams is melancholy yet quirky, upbeat in places, and promises much from an artist clearly finding her feet as a jazz singer, but showing much bravery and creativity in her compositions, material and vocal delivery.