Classical Mkhize makes his mark

Mkhize makes his mark

In the first of his two performances, pianist Afrika Mkhize provided overwhelming evidence that he is a worthy recipient of the Young Artist Award for Jazz in 2012. A powerful player, bandleader and proficient composer and arranger, his concert was characterised by a consistency of burning intent that was, in the words of an old song, too marvelous for words.

Mkhize’s compositions are relatively simple in terms of form, and this is because they are principally intended as templates for improvisation. Generally, the pieces are comprised of a central theme that is contrasted with a bridge section that is cued by the soloist during the improvisation.

His composed melodies are often pentatonic-derived, and to some extent his harmonic accompaniment is governed by this. The majority of the pieces played employ a rhythmic device that juxtaposes compound and simple time. All of these elements contribute to the overall ‘African’ flavour.

There is a rich seam of influence from the local and global jazz pantheon, particularly Bheki Mseleku, McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane. Mkhize credits Mseleku for much of his inspiration and learning, and via this lineage Tyner and Coltrane are also in evidence, not least because Mseleku was similarly influenced by them.

Jazz at its best relies on a variable balance between individuals and the collective; in a sense, it is a democratic music in that everybody’s voice is given the opportunity of being at the forefront. In other words, everyone gets a chance to shine. The stellar ensemble that was assembled by Mkhize certainly did not disappoint in this regard.

In addition to some of the most burning players on the local scene, the audience was treated to top British jazz flautist Eddie Parker, who was renowned for his work with Mseleku. One of the many highlights included Parker’s use of the bass flute, an unusual instrument at the best of times, with an almost otherworldly timbre, and quite sublime when used as a vehicle for the understated lyricism which characterised Parker’s improvisational approach.

Parker was perhaps at his best on the closing piece; understandably, given that this was a work by Bheki Mseleku entitled Closer to the Source.

Impressive performances all-round

Alto saxophonist Chris Engel was similarly impressive, and his solo on Mkhize’s piece Rainmakers was particularly memorable.  His sound was intriguingly nuanced: at times there were hints of an anguished Kippie Moeketsi, perhaps with some inflections via Robbie Jansen.

Certainly there was a contemporary flavour that indicates Engel’s own voice is interwoven with the musicians who influenced him.

Shane Cooper continues to deliver exceptional performances in which he provides not just a solid foundation, the traditional role for a bassist, but also demonstrates a distinctive flair when improvising and an ability to play what is most appropriate at the time. Both he and Ayande Sikade were in perfect unflagging accord, effortlessly driving the music forward, with Sikade maintaining an intelligent balance between propulsive and impulsive.

Ultimately, of course, the night belonged to Mkhize. From start to finish his exuberance was both boundless and contagious; arpeggiated cascades of melodic invention were contrasted with powerful percussive playing that interlocked perfectly with the rhythm section.

Certainly there is substantial evidence of the lessons he has learnt from Mseleku, his mentor, but there is no doubt that Mkhize is intent on carving his own path.

– John Edwards –

<blockquote data-in-reply-to=”219171100670697472″><p>@<a href=””>rushay</a> oraait, het ‘n great performance by <a href=”″>#NAF2010</a> gesien. Afrika Mkhize is an absolute genius.</p>&mdash; Sebastian Jamieson (@sebastiannoah) <a href=”” data-datetime=”2012-06-30T20:54:14+00:00″>June 30, 2012</a></blockquote>
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