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Music

Spring Renewal in Take Five: Nduduzo Makhathini, Kalia Vandever, Tord Gustavsen, Cameron Graves, Daniel Rotem

Nduduzo Makhathini, "Senze'Nina"

A welcome piece of news arrived late last week: the formation of Blue Note Africa, a new imprint under the banner of Universal Music Group, with the mission of signing jazz artists from the African continent. Its first release, on May 27, will be In the Spirit of Ntu, by Nduduzo Makhathini — the pianist, composer, bandleader and healer who has been an eloquent ambassador for the South African jazz scene, and for the human family. "Senze'Nina" features the rippling modal intrigue that Makhathini has made a calling card, with powerful running commentary by Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone.

"'Senze'Nina' is a meditation on renewal," Makhathini says in a press statement. "While a similar phrase 'Senzenina?' (what have we done?) had been invoked to question the brutalities of apartheid South Africa — 'Senze'Nina' could be read as a plea. The theme was born inside of the recent incidents of gender-based violence and witnessing our sisters, daughters, and mothers asking themselves the question: 'senzenina?' As I meditated on this question, I realized a different meaning. I read the word as a kind of hyphenated word with the first part 'senze' (make/recreate us) and the second part 'nina' (referring to mothers, the makers and carriers). In this sense, I'm putting forward an argument that it is us (men) that need to be recreated, there is a part of us that has died for us to cause so much harm. Thus, we need to go back to our essence (Ntu), the womb of a mother and be recreated."

Kalia Vandever, "Pick It Up (And Drop It Again)"

Three years ago around this time, we featured a track from trombonist Kalia Vandever's auspicious debut, In Bloom, here in Take Five. Since then, despite the roil of some world-historical disruptions, Vandever has only sharpened the angle of her ascent, both as a solo artist and in the role of support. (A couple of weeks ago I saw her at the Big Ears Festival as part of the ace band behind Moses Sumney.)

Vandever's forthcoming album fittingly titled Regrowth, and due out on New Amsterdam Records on May 6 — confirms her strengths as a composer and bandleader with a distinctly contemporary point of view. Consider the lead single, "Pick It Up (And Drop It Again)," which begins with electric guitar ostinato in a strobing 10/8 time, before bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Connor Parks join the fray. (The guitarist is Lee Meadvin, who produced the album.) The groove shifts to triple meter as Vandever enters to state the melody before the minute-and-a-half mark, first in a sturdy midrange and then an octave higher. Her solo nods at times toward hard-bop precursors like Curtis Fuller, but with a billowing urgency rooted in the present tense.

Tord Gustavsen Trio, "Stream"

Serenity and stillness are never far from the center of the frame for Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen. His new album, Openingintroduces a new edition of his trio, with Steinar Raknes on bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums — imbuing his music with fresh perspective even as it exudes his customary composure. On "Stream," listen for the way the music opens up around Raknes' centerpiece solo, which demonstrates an absolute comfort within the ensemble flow.

Cameron Graves, "Sons of Creation (Live)"

Cameron Graves, the keyboard dynamo who also self-identifies as The Planetary Prince, can always be trusted to bring the fire in performance. So it's worth taking note of his new release, Live from the Seven Spheres, which supports his elevated churn with kindred spirits: guitarist Colin Cook, bassist Max Gerl and drummer Mike Mitchell. This version of "Sons of Creation" delivers as much of a jolt as you'd expect, along with the hyper-articulacy that Graves brings to just about any setting.

Daniel Rotem, "Moment's Notice"

As you may recall, The Blue Whale — a crucial anchor and incubator of the Los Angeles jazz scene — was among the early casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. But its legacy lives on in the music, sometimes literally. The latest manifestation is an album by Israeli saxophonist Daniel Rotem, titled Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane. Recorded live at the Blue Whale, it features a distinguished L.A. rhythm section: pianist Billy Childs, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Christian Euman. The centered glow in their version of "Moment's Notice" should serve as a marker: this isn't an effort to play up the pyrotechnics in Coltrane's music, but rather the spiritual core.