Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For the third instalment in a row, we’re looking at a new release from the UK’s excellent archival label Matsuli Music. This time we’re checking out their first-time reissue of the debut album by Dudu Phukwana And The “Spears”.
UK-based reissue label Matsuli Music are an entity which, for the full extent of its decade-long existence, has dealt exclusively in South African music. That inevitably means they’ve released a lot of jazz music over the years, simply by virtue of the country’s long and rich history in that style. Matsuli have dabbled in other styles as well – the groove-heavy beat music/rocksteady crossover of Zorro Five’s ‘Jump Uptight’, which we recently wrote about, being a case in point – but with their reissue of the eponymous 1969 debut album by Dudu Phukwana And The “Spears”, they return to jazz once again. This is quintessential Cape Jazz – a subgenre which articulates all that was (and, indeed, is) unique to the country’s collective interpretation of jazz music. Anglophiles may note with some interest that this outing features input from a number of key UK players of the time, including production from Joe Boyd and musical contributions from members of Fairport Convention. This is unmistakably South African music, though, and Matsuli’s new reissue will come as a treat to those with a longstanding interest in the country’s musical history. As with so many Cape Jazz albums, original pressings of this title are almost absurdly rare; despite our best efforts to find some documentation of the album’s 1969 original release appearing for sale, all we could find was one example which traded hands for some seven hundred dollars a decade ago. If that isn’t rare, then we don’t know what is. Not only does this Matsuli reissue provide the first ever rerelease of the fifty one year old album in any format, it also expands it with a second LP of previously unreleased bonus tracks fashioned after the one-off Atlantic acetate from which they were taken.
Certain reissues of albums which are this rare suffer from compromised sound; rather than being a sign of laziness on the part of the label rereleasing such albums, it’s often simply an unavoidable consequence of degradation from decades of disuse upon the master tapes. We’ve yet to hear a rerelease from Matsuli Music which is less than great from a sonic perspective and, impressively, their reissue of the debut album by Dudu Phukwana And The “Spears” does nothing to buck this trend. Few albums both as rare and old as this are reissued with sound so impressive; the recording sessions were naturally bound by the technology of the time but this certainly sounds as good as it realistically can. Even the bonus tracks boast impressive fidelity and crisply remastered sonics, which once again come courtesy of The Carvery, who also handled the mastering of Matsuli’s other recent releases. Both LPs are sturdy heavyweight slabs of black wax, manufactured at the Czech Republic’s ever-popular GZ Media pressing plant. As with the few other global vinyl producers equivalent to them in terms of demand, GZ are not above some disappointing pressings which display the dividends of a lax quality control. They are, however, also very much capable of producing high quality, affordable output and the quality of any given pressing run from them seems to be largely dependent on how exacting the standards are of the record label with which they’re working. Fortunately, it’s evident that Matsuli care greatly about the quality of their releases as both LPs boast very clean surfaces with nothing more than the slightest modicum of surface noise at a few rare points. Both of the LPs which came with our copy sit flat on the platter during playback and also impress under visual inspection, boasting glossy surface free of surface marking.
It’s evident from both the quality of the records themselves and the presence of a whole LP of bonus material that much care was put into this Masuli reissue of the debut album by Dudu Phukwana And The “Spears” but the packaging and presentation is no less impressive. The original artwork is reproduced on the front cover but the sleeve itself is reconfigured into a very high-quality, bulky wide-spine gatefold configuration with new rear artwork. From a manufacturing perspective, the sleeve is nothing less than highly impressive; the subtle texturing of the cardstock lends a pleasing sensory element to the presentation and the weight of the cardstock is also impressive. The spine is broad and for that alone this will never be a difficult album to pick out on a busy shelf, the presence of bold text only ensuring this fact. A well-written and highly informative essay is included across the inner gatefold spread, as well as a pair of images of the artist. For that alone, this is one of the most impressively presented reissues we’ve written about in quite some time here on Vinyl Corner; the absence of a barcode and the admirable quality of the generic inner sleeves, meanwhile, serves as stylish accents on what is already a high-grade package.
The 1969 eponymous album by Dudu Phukwana And The “Spears” is something of a holy artefact for those intent on hearing all Cape Jazz has to offer and this expanded Matsuli Music reissue not only offers the first chance any – bar the super-rich and super-patient – will have to hear this album on vinyl, it also throws an excellent visual element and a generous clutch of bonus tracks into the mix. Highly recommended as one of the best reissues we’ve written about on Vinyl Corner for quite some time.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!