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The latest album releases on vinyl and news from the world of Jazz and beyond.

7 December 2021

Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O - Umdali

A generous sideman and bandleader, multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Jiyane stands at the vanguard of his prodigious generation of jazz musicians. Operating from the centre and the fringes of the South African jazz scene, the trombonist (and pianist) is an enigmatic yet charismatic galvaniser of his contemporaries, able to put them through their paces in his own compositions, while giving them enough room to interpret them anew. 


In UMDALI, his debut album as frontman, Jiyane delivers not only a major contribution to the canon -- one shaped around dedications to key figures in his personal and professional life -- but an honest snapshot of his personal circumstances at the time of recording. In that period 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. Positioned at the edge of this precipice, Jiyane turned to a core of talented musicians mostly based around Soweto's jamming scene, as well as to key figures in his own creative trajectory. 

The coterie of bassist Ayanda Zalekile, drummer Lungile Kunene, percussionist Gontse Makhene, pianist Nkosinathi Mathunjwa, saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu and trumpeters Brandon Ruiters and Tebogo Seitei shrouded him in his time of need, providing intuitive musicianship through which to execute his ideas, and, more importantly, life-affirming comradeship. 

Jiyane is nothing if not the product of astute mentorship from elders and peers alike. Given the late Mekoa's stature in South African jazz, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa (also late) would have been among regular visitors to the academy, imprinting on the young Jiyane not only the breadth of South African music traditions but also the science of how to lead musical ensembles without stifling individual contribution. 

In Gwen Ansell's memorable Mail and Guardian obituary of Gwangwa, she quotes saxophonist Steve Dyer on the elder trombonist's approach to music making as such. "For him it was not about the notes. It's not about the theory. It is about the feeling and emotion behind the notes." This valorising of comradeship and warmth over technical wizardry is noticeable throughout UMDALI. It can be felt, in particular, in the swaggering gait of Ntate Gwangwa's Stroll, in which Jiyane channels the elder, and can be heard shouting encouragement to Nkosinathi Mathunjwa as he carefully feels his way into a keyboard solo towards the song's end. 

That Jiyane is informed by a frame of reference that extends beyond the trombone, goes without saying. Moshe courses with late pianist Moses Molelekwa's harmonic, melodic and rhythmic idiosyncrasies. "I found myself thinking about how he would approach certain songs," said Jiyane. "It's like being in someone's shoes kind of a thing, looking into what they have achieved musically. He'd play piano the way he feels it. He gave me the motivation to pursue what I'm feeling." 

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 especially, Jiyane finds comfort in this well-trodden path. Two songs make for great examples. Umkhumbi kaMa, a jazz-funk 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 own path to the realisation of UMDALI is nothing if not fraught with tests along the way. But his generosity of spirit means that the offering 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. 

With this debut, the Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O has created a work that is not only keenly aware of what came before it, but blazing a trail to the future.

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6 December 2021

SPAZA feat. Ariel Zamonsky, Gontse Makhene, Malcolm Jiyane, Nonku Phiri - UPRIZE! (Music from the Original Motion Picture)

In South Africa, 16 June 1976 is unanimously recognised as the definitive turning point in the tenor and intensity of the fight against apartheid. It comes as the internal capacity of the major liberation movements such as the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress is nearly depleted; with many of its leaders in jail or in exile. Black Consciousness (BC) arises from these ashes and the apartheid regime scrambles to contain it in the form of assassinations, banning orders and trials. High school youths in Soweto, having already imbibed BC from their teachers (a group of newly-recruited university radicals), begin planning protests that would attain an incredible kinetic thrust. These demonstrations were supposedly to rally against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, but as student leader Tsietsi Mashinini says in the documentary film UPRIZE!, the situation in South Africa had been explosive for a long time and any issue could have delivered the shift in momentum that June 16 would symbolise. 

This new SPAZA release is the original motion picture soundtrack of the film UPRIZE!, but it serves a parallel function. Recorded in Yeoville, Johannesburg, during a three-day improvised scoring workshop in 2016, the recording is almost the underside of the film, which strikes a defiant pose both in the selection of speakers and in the tone of much of the archival footage. 

The June 16 protests stretched over several weeks in a countrywide blaze that turned out to be a sustained show of solidarity among students and an unbridled display of brutality by the state. The recording process mirrors that protraction, working out a new language with which to commemorate the death, darkness and defiance of those days. 

The sessions for the second SPAZA release -- which comes off the back of 2019’s critically acclaimed eponymous debut -- featured bassist Ariel Zamonsky, percussionist Gontse Makhene, pianist, trombone player and singer Malcolm Jiyane, as well as vocalist Nonku Phiri. Besides Zamonsky and Makhene, who return to their stations at the rhythm section, Phiri and Jiyane are new inductees into the open-ended SPAZA philosophy. As in the initial release, the idea of SPAZA is to jam around a concept rather than to coalesce into a fully-fledged band. For this outing, Jiyane, a singular -- and solitary -- talent and leader of the Malcolm Jiyane Tree-o, brings an intuitive compositional maturity that threads the improvised sessions together. Phiri brings a vulnerability that turns out to be her superpower, confidently reshaping her voice to each emotional turn as suggested by the footage. 

The adventure of scoring, even more so, scoring a film that is still being put together -- meaning only snatches of footage and audio were available to the musicians via a projection on the wall of the living room in which they were recording, to which they would respond with improvised performances -- had a direct bearing on the outcome of the recording. Adding further contours was the clear preconception of what the music ought to conjure. By playing vinyl in between sessions, musical directors Nhlanhla Mngadi and Andrew Curnow decidedly steered the session towards the intensely improvisational and avant-gardist aesthetic of groups such as the Arts Ensemble of Chicago. If Zamonksy’s bass seems to be providing more than mere fundaments and Makhene’s percussion a little more prosaic, put it down to the references but also an intent to represent the stories of those who lost their lives during ’76’s tumult. 

Similar to SPAZA’s previous release, there is a veil of heaviness permeating the air, this time thickened even further by the heavy mesh of the interpolation of the film footage. The sonic palette here consists of interview clips and other sounds from the film, interweaving with the mournful sounds from the recording process. The sprawl of the three-day vigil is turned into a concise testament thanks to the interventionist approach to the album by the producers and recording/mixing engineer Dion Monti’s ability to circumvent the complications of an indoor “field recording”. 

Much like how 16 June 1976 signalled a change in momentum for South Africa’s struggle, so too has the recording of this original motion picture soundtrack been transformative to the lives of all involved. The musicians, each with serious catalogues and/or pedigree in their respective scenes, put their individual talents towards a collectivism that is analogous to the music and the moment being honoured here. 

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5 December 2021

JP's Myspace Beats

Jeff Parker's a man with many talents – not just a fantastic jazz guitarist, but a musician who's had his hands in many pies over the years – as you'll hear with this very enigmatic set! The music is dated a bit by the Myspace reference in the title – and it's definitely full of the beats that are promised too – as the work is from a period when Parker was experimenting a lot with his talents as a DJ, as most of these tracks mix older samples from jazz and soul music with more contemporary rhythms – tunes that echo the sounds that were moving across Parker's turntable at the time, with plenty of vintage sounds that you'll recognize throughout the double-length set"

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4 December 2021

Turntables on the Hudson - Lost & Found in the Frying Pan

Nickodemus:

Ever been to a Turntables on the Hudson party at the Frying Pan? I feel like I've gained & lost many things there. Grateful forever for all the things we've gained, including the friendships, inspiration, love, music etc... Definitely lost some records, CD's, people in the crowd that were meant to meet only in that shared joyous occasion. One time we lost & found a man who swam to New Jersey! I even got lost myself one time while packing up locked in overnight until the next day. The party was there on & off for almost 15 years & this compilation & time capsule vinyl, CD, flyer, photo, documentary package includes some of these great moments in music & vibes, pulled out the bottom of the Hudson in 2021. We hope you enjoy the memories & discover new music that was either never released or only available on vinyl/ CD. You have the complete Bandcamp only version right here. Only 10 limited time capsule physical packages. 

Get it here. Only 10 vinyl copies!
3 December 2021

El Búho - Cenotes (Deluxe Edition)

Arriving 6 years after the release of his breakout EP, El Búho returns to Wonderwheel with a very special Deluxe Version of said Cenotes EP including 3 previously unreleased tracks: “Manana Tepotzlan (feat. Gotopo) [Vocal Version],” “Tecolotin (Chancha Via Circuito Remix),” and “Tecolotin (Dub Version).” The EP is also set to be pressed to vinyl for the first time with a special splatter 12” invoking the cover art. “Cenotes” was originally released in 2015 to widespread fan acclaim, firmly planting El Búho in the upper echelons of the Latin Electronic pantheon. Recorded in Mexico City after relocating from Amsterdam, “Cenotes” marries his influence of Dub, IDM and Electronic vibes with the rhythms, traditions and melodies of Latin American & Andean folk and the organic sound of waterfalls, birdsongs and crackling leaves, resulting in a dreamy, deep, melodic journey that entrances as much through headphones as it does on the dancefloor. Having studied Latin American Studies in Glasgow, El Búho (aka Robin Perkins) spent time living, studying and working in Argentina and travelling throughout the continent. Alongside his music, El Búho is also an environmental activist, having worked for over eight years at Greenpeace, being a member of DJs For Climate Action and coordinating the non-profit project “A Guide to the Birdsong” a series of albums that raise funds and awareness for endangered bird species through electronic music. “Cenotes (Deluxe Version)” hits all digital streaming services December 3rd, with the vinyl 12” to follow shortly after. 

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2 December 2021

Al Doum & the Faryds - Freaky People

Al Doum & the Faryds is an open ensemble. The new spiritual exotic jazz celebrate a new collective soul, a dancing cathartic ritual with birds, plants and all the animals, together in the circle of devotion. A journey in the total pranic breath.

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1 December 2021

United Disco Organisation - Send The Rain / Funky Thing

2 Slices of Deep Underground Disco. Tip!

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30 November 2021

Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air

'Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air' is a spirited celebration of jazz virtuosity and Motor City house music, showcasing Alston’s roots in jazz, gospel, soul and dance music. Alston’s story is one that is intrinsically aligned with the story of Detroit itself. Having hosted one of the first Slum Village concerts, and teaching vocal lessons to many members of the Detroit music community, plus production and writing collaborations with Alton Miller, Amp Fiddler, Roy Davis Jr. and Javonntte who released his Virtual Dreams EP with The Jazz Diaries earlier this year. 

Many of Malik's records have been released via his own Truth Manifest Records so it is a joy to share his music with the world via The Jazz Diaries. 

Presenting a collection of long lost tracks created by Malik and his band Painted Pictures, Alston expresses strong emotions for the LP’s title track ‘Air’. As he explains, “When I think of ‘Air’... for me, it exists to express a combination of freedom, self awareness, and doing something different and new. In ‘Air’ you get to really hear the band as a whole, no one stands out individually. It was all a matter of showing that we brought the music to life together as a unit. ‘Air’ is definitely a true reflection of what Painted Pictures was: free musicians who play good music.” 

The immaculate and vivacious qualities of the LP convey a message steeped in the spirit. The production elements perfectly marry the instruments, vocals and scatting to offer a cheerful, soulful and expressive work of music and emotion. 

In the words of Badriyahh, vocalist in Painted Pictures and Alston's wife, this record is a "great reflection of the healing power and the force of music to unite people". 

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29 November 2021

Timo Lassy - Trio

Tenor saxophonist Timo Lassy, one of Finland's leading jazz artists, is back with a new album release "Trio" on We Jazz Records. The album, to be released on 27 August, introduces Lassy's new combo with bassist Ville Herrala and drummer Jaska Lukkarinen – both We Jazz Records roster artists on their own right. 

The new Lassy sound is tight, swinging and funky, led by the strong and riff-ready sax of the tenorman. That being said, the album's sound is not limited to that of the swinging trio. Lassy's new vision also brings in some subtle electronics (played by Lassy, Dalindèo frontman Valtteri Laurell Pöyhönen and Ilmiliekki Quartet pianist Tuomo Prättälä) and lush strings performed by Budapest Art Orchestra as arranged by Finnish artist Marzi Nyman. It's a new sound for Lassy, but one which keeps true to his no-nonsense cookin' on the tenor. 

This combination proves to be a winning one on the album, ranging from the more solemn moments on tracks such as "Sunday 20" and "Sointu" to the all out groovers like "Pumping C" and "Subtropical". The basic three sylinders of the band tenor sax, bass and drums, are strong throughout and the strings add air beneath the wings to really lift things off. Electronics are used as a tasty condiment, not taking over the main course but adding to it just right. 

"We began the process with the bare bones trio but along the way, the sound started evolving into something else" Lassy explains. "That's how I like to work, anyway, while the trio can take this music to great lengths live, on the album I like to paint a fuller, more colourful picture sonically." 

Speaking of painting, the sleeve of the album features the original artwork "Subtropic" by Finnish artist Ilari Hautamäki. "Trio" by Timo Lassy will be released by We Jazz Records as blue and black vinyl editions complete with a heavy duty tip-on sleeve, on CD and digitally.

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29 November 2021

Tete Mbambisa – Tete's Big Sound

The album Tete’s Big Sound emerged during a golden age for local South African jazz recordings in the 1970s. Issued by the independent As-Shams/The Sun label in 1976, it was the first album attributed to pianist Tete Mbambisa as a solo artist. Yet, Mbambisa was already a seasoned composer, arranger, bandleader and performer by the mid-1970s - an artist at the peak of his powers who had patiently cultivated his craft to create his enduring debut. 

Born in 1942 and raised in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, Mbambisa’s childhood home also served as the family’s small business - an informal tavern where social gatherings orbited around his mother’s carefully curated music collection and live performances by a local pianist. His musical roots are thus deeply embedded in marabi - the syncopated piano sound of urban black South African culture in the 1950s that took cues from American jazz, blues and ragtime while fostering the sensibilities that would shape modern South African jazz. 
A self-taught musician, it was as the leader of the vocal group The Four Yanks that Tete Mbambisa’s music career began in earnest in the early 1960s. Mbambisa humbly recalls to this period as his education in harmonic structure but his special talent for musical arrangement was quickly recognised and widely admired. With encouragement from Abdullah Ibrahim, he dedicated himself to the piano and was a member of the award-winning Swinging City Six ensemble in 1963 (with the added distinction of receiving the Cold Castle Festival’s piano prize). Mbambisa went on to assemble and record with The Soul Jazzmen in the late 1960s and the group’s sole release Inhlupeko (1969) joined Winston Mankunku’s Yakhal' Inkomo (1968) and Chris Schilder’s Spring (1969) to create a wave of aspirational modern South African jazz albums that expanded the ambitions of artists and labels in the 1970s. 
As a record store owner with a direct relationship to the jazz scene, producer Rashid Vally led the charge for the independent labels with early 1970s releases by Gideon Nxumalo and Abdullah Ibrahim on Soultown Records. Rebranding as As-Shams/The Sun for the release of Ibrahim’s Mannenberg - ‘Is Where It’s Happening’ in 1974, Vally’s breakout success found himself at the 
helm of an autonomous production enterprise with access to mainstream studios, manufacturing and distribution. As-Shams/The Sun quickly earned a reputation as the home of the vanguard of local South African jazz, offering an unmatched platform for artists to create without compromise and attracting a host of South African jazz luminaries, including Mbambisa, as a consequence. 
Leading on piano, Mbambisa enlisted the support of a five-piece brass section with guitar, bass and drums for the January 1976 recording session at Gallo Studios in Johannesburg that yielded 
Tete’s Big Sound. The arrangements were meticulously prepared and confidently executed but there was more at stake than personal reputation for Mbambisa as a jazz creator in 1970s South Africa as Vusi Khumalo, writer of the album’s original liner notes, passionately extolls. Tete’s Big Sound was an affirmation of black excellence in modern arts and culture that calmly dismantled the doctrine of a regime that denied equality to black citizens on the basis of race. And while much of Mbambisa’s early work was guided by black heroes from the United States, Tete’s Big Sound articulated a voice that was both proudly South African and unmistakably his own. Reissued in collaboration with Tete Mbambisa and As-Sham/The Sun, Mad About Records’ 2021 edition of Tete’s Big Sound marks the album’s very first international release. 
Using a quartet format, Mbambisa recorded a second album for As-Shams/The Sun entitled Did You Tell Your Mother in 1978 and unreleased sessions from this period have yet to be fully issued. 
In recent years, Mbambisa has released a pair of live recordings in partnership with the Music Research Centre at the University of York. Turning 80 in 2022, Tete Mbambisa lives in Cape Town and continues to enchant audiences with ad hoc special appearances. 
Text by Calum MacNaughton 

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