132

Sydney Ace Mnisi: 20 Year Celebration

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
Sydney Ace Mnisi: 20 Year Celebration Since giving up the day job as a fitter in a metals company in 1988 to dedicate himself to jazz; saxophonist Sydney Ace Mnisi has made a name for himself in South Africa, playing with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and trumpeter Hugh Masekela. That he remains little known beyond African shores is not entirely surprising, given that 20 Years Celebration is not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, a greatest hits compilation, but his very first outing as leader. On the strength of this recording, Mnisi's relative anonymity abroad may well soon change.

The opener "It's about Time" boasts a catchy melody and is a vehicle for Mnisi's soprano sax. After a brief piano break from pianist Andile Yenana, Mnisi launches into a searching solo, which owes much to John Coltrane, or then again perhaps Branford Marsalis.

Mnisi cites saxophonist Sonny Rollins as one of his main influences, and on the melodic "Courtyard," the eternal influence of Rollins is clear, as Mnisi switches to tenor. His warm, slightly rasping tenor sound and inventive playing is supported by drummer Clement Benny's skipping brushes.

A meditative mood colors the beginning of "Kwela Gontsana," dedicated to guitarist Allen Kwela and drummer/percussionist Lulu Gontsana, pivotal figures in African jazz, who passed away in 2006 and 2005 respectively. Pianist Yenana takes an unhurried solo, pronouncing each note and adding a short run here and there. The simmering rhythm section seems on the verge of taking off on several occasions, and this expectation creates a tension in the music. In the end, it is Mnisi who cuts loose on soprano and pushes his sax to the limit, although he is clearly more comfortable in the middle range of this instrument.

Mnisi pens a good tune, and it is refreshing to hear a debut of all original music. A simple but swinging bass groove kicks off "Grooving in Hell," and Mnisi and pianist Yenana take turns to solo at length. Mnisi returns to court the upbeat melody briefly and the song ends with a two-note exclamation.

The story-telling style of Mnisi, so redolent of Rollins, is heard in his playing on "Lost a few Times." Again, piano and sax trade solos, but in truth, Yenana's meandering solo never really finds its way and lacks momentum. Mnisi in turn, builds a solo which rips and snarls before tapering out gently.

Mnisi's stretches out on "Afro" and his spacey attack is most Coltrane-like in its wild abandon. On "Skuka," reverting to tenor, his voice displays itself more clearly and there is plenty of fire here too. "Blues Tembisa" rounds off the set in a blissful walking groove, with nice playing from all.

At 28, Mnisi jacked in his job to learn to play the sax, taking his savings and enrolling in Fuba Music Academy. That's almost the stuff of legend, and every reason to celebrate. Let's hope he doesn't follow the same fate as Allen Kwela, who recorded only one album as leader in a forty-year career.


Track Listing: It'About Time; Global Village; Courtyard; Kwela Gontsana; Grooving in Hell; Lost a Few Times; Afro; Skuka; Blues Tembisa.

Personnel: Sydney Ace Mnisi: saxophones; Andile Yenana: piano; Clement Benny: drums; Jimmy Mgwandi: bass; Basi Mahlasela: percussion.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Samco | Style: African Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Road to Forever CD/LP/Track Review Road to Forever
by Jack Bowers
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Goat Man & The House of the Dead CD/LP/Track Review Goat Man & The House of the Dead
by Dave Wayne
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Avenida Graham CD/LP/Track Review Avenida Graham
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 27, 2017
Read TAI Fest #1 (Vol.1&2) CD/LP/Track Review TAI Fest #1 (Vol.1&2)
by Nicola Negri
Published: February 27, 2017
Read Acceptance CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Wild CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 26, 2017
Read "Goodbye to Language" CD/LP/Track Review Goodbye to Language
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: August 14, 2016
Read "Fierce Silence" CD/LP/Track Review Fierce Silence
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 4, 2016
Read "Istanbul Underground" CD/LP/Track Review Istanbul Underground
by James Nadal
Published: June 22, 2016
Read "In The Corner Of The Eye" CD/LP/Track Review In The Corner Of The Eye
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 10, 2016
Read "Father Figure" CD/LP/Track Review Father Figure
by David A. Orthmann
Published: May 8, 2016
Read "Piano Song" CD/LP/Track Review Piano Song
by Matthew Aquiline
Published: January 19, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!