Eince Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim formed the Jazz Epistles in the 1950s, South African jazz musicians have reworked the American genre. The country sound combines bebop chromaticism with a deeply swayed lope; in his economy of phrasing were anthemic melodies. The multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Jiyane is fully in this tradition. Mentored by trumpeter Johnny Mekoa, whose big band he joined at the age of 13, and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, Jiyane has since made a name for himself as a pianist for the Johannesburg-based collective Spaza.
His expected debut as a conductor, Umdali, is at first glance a minimal affair, spanning five tracks and 45 minutes. Yet he channels the familiar subtle depth of Ibrahim’s music, as if pulling on silk threads to unroll a tapestry. Senzo seNkosi is a tribute to Jiyane’s former collaborator, bassist Senzo Nxumalo, moving from an orchestral fanfare of horns and vamping touches to a downtempo chorus, which lights up for a delicately phrased solo by saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Umkhumbi kaMa continues on the same beat, referencing Herbie Hancock’s jazz-funk in her rippling bass, while drummer Lungile Kunene’s groove becomes more and more frenetic on a horn triplet chorus.
Jiyane’s talent as an arranger and instrumentalist is highlighted in the second half of the record. Channeling Ibrahim’s beloved composition Mannenberg to Ntate Gwangwa’s arrogant Stroll, he rocks between trombone and keys while solo to complement his swing with a spiritual call and response reminiscent of gospel. The closing track, Moshe, sees Jiyane’s own voice take on the fiery melody as percussionist Gontse Makhene and drummer Lungile Kunene mesh together for a thrilling momentum.
The interaction which ensues between the solos, the vocal harmony and the melody of the group is ten minutes perfectly constructed. Like the light of the sun breaking through the clouds, Jiyane’s compositions contain an ineffable and invigorating hope: a sense of deep ancestry that also runs through her breath and her fingers.
Also released this month
Danish / Honduran artist Xenia Xamanek channels DJ Python’s downtempo dancefloor dub on their latest album Delirio Real (Uumphff). An unpredictable mix of synths, drum machines and songwriting on the guitar makes for enigmatic listening. hungarian producer Humiliate mixes West African and Brazilian rhythms with a satisfactory and refined efficiency on Laroyê (Oshu Records). Tunisian artist Houeida Hedfi reconfigures Arabic folk compositions with ambient orchestration on his first film Rivers of the Soul (Phantasy Sound).