Operating from the fringes of the South African jazz scene, the enigmatic yet charismatic trombonist and pianist Malcolm Jiyane delivers a major contribution to the canon -- one shaped around dedications to key figures in his personal and professional life. Several years ago, Jiyane was dealing with the death of a band member, the birth of a daughter and the passing of his beloved mentor Johnny Mekoa, founder of the Music Academy of Gauteng, which Jiyane attended from a young age. These life-altering events give shape to the music’s emotional register and its thematic concerns.
In Black Music, his book of essays and critiques, Amiri Baraka makes the point that jazz musicians, be it in the construction of solos or in other aspects of composition, always draw on the works of their contemporaries or elders. How much outsiders pick up on that is really dependent on how au fait they are with the music. In this album, Jiyane finds comfort in this well-trodden path. Two songs make for great examples. Umkhumbi kaMa, a jazzfunk track celebrating the creative force as inhabited by women, the motif to Herbie Hancock’s Ostinato (Suite for Angela) is a clear reference, connecting in one swift move, not only the musical traditions of the Black Atlantic but also the struggles and triumphs of women across space and time. On the same note, the free-form Solomon, Tsietsi & Khotso, conjured in the same jam session that yielded SPAZA’s UPRIZE!, appears here in a more fleshed out form as Senzo seNkosi; a tender dedication to Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O bass player Senzo Nxumalo.
Jiyane’s path to the realisation of his debut album as frontman is more than merely one individual’s breakthrough. Workshopped and recorded within two days in Johannesburg, UMDALI, not unlike Miles Davis’ landmark Kind of Blue, stretches our idea of what it means to improvise within the context of jazz.