Beneath the Earth
On the Other Side
Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini has gained a following from releases on his own Gundu label as well as sideman work with Shabaka and the Ancestors. But with Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds on Blue Note, he makes a wider international breakthrough. A native of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, he draws from the church and spiritual traditions of his homeland, South African jazz forebears, and also John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and other pillars of jazz modernism to create a whirlwind of sound in a small-group context.
His wife, Omagugu Makhathini, contributes a commanding vocal on the leadoff track, “Yehlisan’uMoya,” framing intense solo flights by Linda Sikhakhane and Logan Richardson on tenor and alto saxes, respectively, over a slowly churning groove. Driven by bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere and drummer Ayanda Sikade, the band is equally authoritative on poetic, out-of-tempo episodes (“Isithunywa,” “Emaphusheni”) and frenetic workouts (“Unyazi,” “Umyalez’oPhuthumayo”). If one track sums up the fiery chemistry at work here, it is “Umlotha,” with its gripping, three-way solo exchanges between Sikhakhane, Richardson, and trumpeter Ndabo Zulu and steady-stream percussion from Gontse Makhene.