The band has crafted an exceptional album that is lively, inspiring, and rejuvenating.

Origin Arts OA2 22226

Idit Shner (Alto Saxophone), John Mambira (Percussion), Torry Newhart (Piano), Garrett Baxter (Bass), Ken Mastrogiovanni (Drums) Taffie Matiure (Mbira, Vocals)
Recorded on September 21-22, 2023

This quintet is led by musician Idit Shner, who is an alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and a saxophone and jazz studies professor at the University of Oregon. The other band members, Mastrogiovanni, Newhart, and Garrett, are all colleagues from the university.

Mhondoro’s origin story started in 2019, just before the pandemic, when Shner overheard Mambira jamming with friends over her backyard fence. The fence eventually came down, and Shner joined the jam sessions. More band members gradually joined the sessions, and Mhondoro was formed.

The band’s name, Mhondoro, means “lion spirit” in Shona, a language in Zimbabwe. In Shona music, the mbira dzavadzimu (known as the “voice of the ancestors” or “mbira of the ancestral spirits”) is a traditional instrument that has been played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe for thousands of years. The mbira is more commonly known as a thumb piano.

The music features strong percussion elements, a Zimbabwean influence, and a post-bop sensibility. Shner showcases impressive skill in adapting her saxophone to suit each song. At times, the influence of John Coltrane is evident. The songs are well-written pieces, allowing plenty of room for instrumental solos.

The song “Lunar Curve” showcases Taffie Matiure on mbira and vocals. He is recognized as a highly talented musician on the mbira and the marimba. At the song’s start, Shner’s opening refrain builds upon itself, with each variation expanding on the initial motif as the percussion provides a rhythmic foundation. While the mbira plays, Shner’s alto saxophone explores these variations.

“Conestoga,” written by bassist Baxter, opens with a striking series of bass notes leading to Shner’s thoughtful solo, which gives way to pianist Newhart’s well-chosen notes on the piano. This song is taken slower, perhaps mimicking a Conestoga wagon’s long trek westward. The bass and percussion provide the firm basis on which the song sails.

The eponymous song “Ngatibatanei” features almost chant-like group vocals, set over a strong, propulsive beat. Shner’s alto soars into the higher register, drawing attention to the wealth of ideas in her solo. The title of the song translates to a call for unity and kinship among people.

The band has crafted an exceptional album that is lively, inspiring, and rejuvenating. Shner’s eighth album signifies another remarkable stride in her development and merits a wider audience among jazz enthusiasts.