Nduduzo Makhathini with Umgidi Trio & One Voice Vocal Ensemble ‘Inner Dimensions’ CD/DIG (Gundu Entertainment) 5/5
Over the past three years Nduduzo Makhathini has quietly been building a quite impeccable catalogue of original music. In this short space of time he has released six albums (including “Inner Dimensions”), demonstrating a fertile, creative mind, clarity of purpose and focus on delivery. For Nduduzo the underlying influence is a spiritual one, using music to express the traditional gift of healing he was endowed with as a teenager. He sees himself less as a composer, more as a conduit, a channel for departed elders.
“Inner Dimensions” was recorded in April this year whilst Nduduzo was working as Artist in Residence at the Centre of African Studies in Basel, Switzerland. Jazz has long been a source of collaboration between South Africa and Switzerland, going back as far as the ‘60s when Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin performed in Zurich. Basel in particular has actively maintained these connections, close ties between the University and the local Bird’s Eye Jazz Club meaning that South African musicians have been regularly invited to stay working with their local counterparts, recording and teaching.
Nduduzo’s collaborators in the Umgidi (Zulu for Event or Ceremony) Trio are Dominic Egli (drums) and Fabien Iannone (bass). Egli is no stranger to playing with the cream of South African Jazz, having worked with the wonderful trumpeter Feya Faku. The Trio is joined by The One Voice Vocal Ensemble, singers brought together by Julie Fahrer specifically for the recording.
For me this is Nduduzo’s most consistent recording to date. Whilst his last album, Icilongo (African Peace Suite) was a bolder statement, more complex and edgier because of it’s openness to improvisation, in contrast “Inner Dimensions” feels much more accessible because of it’s focus on melody and harmony. If you want a point of comparison then McCoy Tyner’s Inner Voices is probably as good as any. Overall the mood is more relaxed, giving you time to get inside the lush piano lines on tracks like “Sobantu” and “When Rivers Meet”. Nduduzo’s playing is as fluid as ever, effortlessly transitioning through different timbres and tones. The raw, impassioned, searching evangelicism of “Icilongo..” is replaced by another spiritual dimension, the angelic, hymn-like harmonies of the Ensemble/choir. Most of the time words are not required, simply vocalising portrays emotions and tones better than a thousand words. As Nduduzo describes it the album “seeks ways to go deep within the inner realms of our souls and find those melodies that will bring about harmony, healing and hope for all people”. This spirit is encapsulated at the end of the album in the mini suite, A New World.
Highlights for me are the opener “At Your Feet Oh Lord”, which has a solemn, almost processional feel to it and reminds me a little of Donald Byrd’s Cristo Redentor, and the rolling, intense “Mama Africa”, but to be honest I could pick any one of the eleven tracks on offer.
Like previous albums it will be difficult to get a physical copy outside of South Africa, but it is available in various downloadable formats from an array of international retailers and to playback on a number of streaming services.
For me “Inner Dimensions” is exactly what music should be all about. It’s unpretentious, sincere, and expressed beautifully. You could do worse than check it out.