may be the debut as leader of South African trombonist and visual artist Malcolm Jiyane (Tree-O is the name of his band), but one listen to the musicsomber and uplifting in turn, gossamer soft and rousing at the polesis sufficient to recognize his singular talent. Recorded in Johannesburg at the tail end of 2018 with some of Soweto's finest young jazz musicians, Jiyane's soulful, richly layered compositions are deeply rooted in African traditions, though with obvious knowledge of, and respect for, American vernacular.
Four horns, electric bass, electric/acoustic piano, drums, vocals and percussion make for a powerful combo, but Jiyane rarely pulls all the strings at once, preferring instead to build from minimalist foundations and weave tapestries of undulating intensity. On the rationed occasions when the ensemble sounds as one, the effect is all the more potent. Such moments can also be quite fleeting, as on the group's dramatic entrance to "Senzo se Nkosi," a surging overture that fades to reveal music spare in architecture, ever so tender in delivery; a tribute to the late bassist Senzo Nxumalo, Jiyane employs a repeated horn refrain like a lament, underpinning a gently keening solo from alto saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu
Bassist Ayanda Zalekile
's grooving motif pays direct homage to Herbie Hancock
's "Ostinato (Angela's Suite)" on "Umkhumbi kaMa." Intermittent waves of horns, snaking saxophone and back-to-back trumpet solos from Brandon Ruiters
and Tebogo Seitei
provide the meat, built upon the bones of electric pianist Nkosinathi Mathunjwa
's painterly touches and the unrelenting grooves of Zalekile, drummer Lungile Kunene
and percussionist Gontse Makhene
. Makhene, perhaps best known for his work with Shabaka & the Ancestors
, leaves a deep imprint on Jiyane's arrangements, purveying dancing rhythms of subtlety and strength.
Jiyane honors the late South African jazz legend Mosa Jonas Gwangwa
on "Ntate Gwangwa's Stroll," a blues-drenched celebration where Mathunjwa stretches out and the leader's chant sounds as one with the trumpets. The leader's trombone steals some rare spotlight on the anthemic "Life Esidimeni," his plaintive tone growing in strength and laying the path for robust solos of sunny countenance from trumpet and saxophone.
A fine set closes with the rhythmically lithe, melodically bright "Moshe, " where Mathunjwa's choppy attack on acoustic piano and Jiyane's more measured, lyrical response underline the inherent improvisational freedoms at play. Soaring vocals from Jiyane and Tubatsi Mpho Moloi carry emotional force, their incantations speaking directly from the soul. Yet once again, throughout the narrative, the infectious rhythms quietly work their seductive charms.Umdali
offers up a wealth of delights, and whilst instantly accessible, this is music that reveals its depths upon successive listens. There is an art in balancing tenderness and passion, form and freedom, in channelling the musical spirits of yore while exhibiting such a highly personal voice, but Jiyane carries it all off in irresistible style.
Senzo seNikosi; Umkhumbi kaMa; Ntate Gwangwa’s Stroll; Life Esidimeni; Moshe.
Brandon Ruiters: trumpet (1-2, 4); Nhlanhla Mahlangu: alto saxophone (1-2, 4); Tebogo Seitei: trumpet (1-2, 4); Tubatsi Mpho Moloi: vocals (5).