When tenor saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane released Two Sides, One Mirror (Skay Music, 2017), it was a statement of arrival, marking his ascendancy within the jazz ranks in his native South Africa, and departure, signaling a move to the United States that would result in studies with tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Charles Tolliver, bassist Reggie Workman and a host of other greats at The New School. This eagerly awaited follow-up, recorded as part of his senior recital at that venerable institution, closes out a chapter surrounding this artist's development while opening a dialogue on sound, culture and the inner truths surrounding "what it means to create work on either side of the Black Atlantic."
Largely rejecting a hemispheric bifurcation while recognizing how history has served as both binder and divider in that contextual realm, Sikhakhane draws on the sonic wisdom of chief influences John Coltrane and Winston Mankunku Ngozi while also speaking to currents represented in artists like pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, his employer and this album's producer. On "Codes of Light," for example, intensity and openness both work together toward the realization of those ideals. Ancestral spirits, shades of blue(s), titular vocalizations, stirring sentiments and a thrilling take on tension and release all play a part as the band roams over a landscape set in seven. The brief "Umkhokheli," with its free floating ruminations, speaks to movement through space. And "Amakhosi," held in place by bassist Zwelakhe Duma Bell Le Pere's simple ballasting, moves at a glacial pace, plays to a dream state, and offers notable solos from the leader, trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane, and flautist Redi Fernandez.
As the album progresses, Sikhakhane proves both flexible and focused on what he has to say. The soloing on "Timelessness" flies over drummer Alon Benjamini's driving swing while the song's explicit message moves beyond style and time. The quickly-passing "Tlhatlha Matjolo (Amenless Prayer)" points toward a ritual and incantation with patient purpose. "Ziyokhala Ziyotheza Sokela" is all about a slow-flow spirituality centered on supple movements. And closer "Saziwa Nguwe," opening with Sikhakhane's direct melodic intentions over exploratory underpinnings, offers a heady brew with chants from the depths, a propulsive rhythm section and some barbed soloing from Ntsane and the leader.
Sikhakhane and his colleagues highlight the very meaning of convergence while journeying through these seven tracks. Everything from Basotho prayer to bop influences, crystalline purity to shadowy descents, percussive strength to melodic fragility, and purely South African suggestions to global references make appearances in some way, shape or form. The music is at once an acknowledgement of a bidirectional flow between Africa and America and a statement of firm purpose and understanding from an artist with an upward trajectory.
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