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South African trombonist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Jiyane is best known among American audiences for his graceful piano playing as part of the group SPAZA on UPRIZE!, the stellar soundtrack to the 2017 Soweto student protest documentary of the same name. But he’s a veteran of his home country’s jazz scene, and this experience elevates UMDALI. The album may mark Jiyane’s debut as a frontman, but the recording’s unhurried tempos, subtle arrangements and emotional depth reveal him already as a master of the form.
Although the accessibility of these five tracks owes plenty to Jiyane’s fondness for artists such as Herbie Hancock, he isn’t interested in mimicry. Instead, he personalizes familiar elements in a manner that feels authentic rather than borrowed, which is evident from the first notes of “Senzo seNKosi,” the opening track. Dedicated to the late bassist and bandmate Senzo Nxumalo, the cut begins with elegiac tones from the ensemble, which includes trumpeters Brandon Ruiters and Tebogo Seitei, alto saxophonist Nhlanhla Malangu, drummer Lungile Kunene, percussionist Gontse Makhene, pianist Nkosinathi Mathunjwa, and electric bassist Ayanda Zalekile. From there, the assorted soloists stretch out, ladling gently passionate melodies over a keyboard-and-hand-drums backdrop. The results are quietly heartbreaking.
“Umkhumbi kaMa,” which follows, is a funkier offering, but one that takes its time raising the heat rather than rushing to a clichéd climax. The same approach distinguishes the charmingly deliberate “Ntate Gwangwa’s Stroll,” featuring Jiyane’s loveliest trombone spotlight and vocal exhortations that also distinguish “Life Esidimeni,” which begins as a ballad before a Zalekile bass line sets hips swaying. As for the concluding “Moshe,” it pairs Jiyane with fellow vocalist Tubatsi Mpho Moloi on a highly percussive journey that’s as gorgeous as it is invigorating.
The Zulu word umdali roughly translates to “creator” — and what Jiyane has created is a wonder to behold.
Feature photo by Tseliso Monaheng