There are strong links between London's alternative jazz scene and the parallel and burgeoning one in South Africa. A case in point is the connection between South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini and British tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings.
Makhathini and Hutchings' similar ages and overlapping, cosmologically informed takes on jazz meant they were almost certain to meet on the international stage at some point, and having met, would take things further. Indeed, that happened, and serendipity brought it about sooner rather than later. In the mid 2010s, Hutchings had a South African girlfriend and he spent several months each year in the country. On one of his visits, he and Makhathini met, bonded and began collaborating. In 2016, Hutchings played on Makhathini's Icilongo: The African Peace Suite (Gundu). The same year, Makhathini played on Shabaka & the Ancestors ' Wisdom Of Elders (Brownswood), and did so again on the band's 2020 album We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse).
Hutchings does not play on Ntu. Another striking tenor saxophonist, Makhathini's longtime colleague Linda Sikhakhane, does. Admirers of Shabaka & The Ancestors will recognise a similarly incantatory vibe. And if that listener is also familiar, as is likely, with Pharoah Sanders and Azar Lawrence (with whom Makhathini has played), they will hear those resonances, too.
But Ntuthe launch album on Blue Note's new imprint, Blue Note Africais about more than great saxophones. In fact, most of the time, Sikhakhane, though he gets his turns in the spotlight, plays a supporting role, as does his band mate and fellow emerging name-to-watch, trumpeter Robin Fassie Kock. Ntu is, above all, about the lyrical and transporting playing and composing of Makhathini, in which traditions, particularly of South African folk and ritual music, play a major part. African America is also in the mix, through Randy Weston and Don Pullen.
It all adds up to the most exciting South African spiritual jazz since 2020 and that year's Shabaka & The Ancestors' We Are Sent Here By History and Makhathini's Blue Note debut, Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds. Check the YouTube clip below to get a taste.
P.S. What's in a name? In this case, plenty. Ntu is an ancient African philosophy from which the idea of ubuntu stems. Ubuntu says: "I am because you are."
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