– Kirsten Adams. Above: Nduduzo Makhathini.

Nduduzo Makhathini, South African jazz pianist, introduces Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds to the real world.

This is the second album of Nduduzo’s released through Universal Music, and the first to be released through the New York City-renowned Blue Note Records

In this self-composed album, Nduduzo Makhathini graces with a colourful gathering of jazz ensemble fluctuating through a palette of moods. The balance of these moods is set by the very first track, “Yehlisan’uMoya”. One moment, Makhathini’s florid piano acrobatics whisks you away into a wildly effervescent space of instrumentals. Another moment his ensemble sympathises to the calm of voices in spiritual lullaby. The overall impression is light jazz, but refrains from diffusing Nduduzo’s frivolous pianistics, and complements it instead.

Before one takes off into this mirage, it might be wise to settle into the spiritual foundations key to this album.

The album cover for Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.

The album cover for Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.

right underneath your feet, we are exiled from beneath
we speak in ancient tongues
Singing songs of love
Healing shallow breathing lungs
–              “Beneath The Earth”, Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds

With a spiritual approach to life Inherited within a childhood saturated with the influence of healers, churches and the traditions of ancestors, one will think of nuances such as charm-like percussion decorating the album as ringing in this spirituality.

“Beneath The Earth” offers words of healing, love, and the honouring of ancestors bestowed on us by Msaki’s velvet alto voice. Inferences of Nduduzo’s vocal chants make way for story telling.  Even in climaxes, the percussion and bass form clouds on which vocals and melodic instruments can walk and float.

But as gentle as this album is, Nduduzo isn’t too shy of the edge. “Emaphusheni”, the last track, may reminisce on hymn-like chords, but drums distort the hymn into busy irregular rhythms, with piano adorning the atmosphere, and the solo sax leading the melody for an anchoring. Interestingly, this last track concludes with a brief fadeout. What a mystery. Was that a statement?

Major hymn-like chord progressions informed by South African mbaqanga chord progressions are another key ingredient to this album and place the South African stamp, with tracks such as “Saziwa Guwe” and “Emaphusheni” into which the former crosses into seamlessly.

“On The Other Side”, brings us another side to ballads as it laments in distorted hymn-like progression on  “pain” and the “[yearning] for peace” and a “new life”. Here we experience the richness of saxophone and trumpet harmony.

Throughout this album, you will find no filter on this jazz, just the quality electronic representation of what you would experience live. Playing this album in your car will make you feel like living vicariously in the pre-pandemic world of intimate jazz club socials – raw and unfiltered, warm and muffled.  You might just find it complementary to your meditation.

Find Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds by Nduduzo Makhathini on all music platforms.