Words: Dominic Valvona

The Perusal is a chance to catch up, taking a quick shifty at the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload the Monolith Cocktail’s inboxes each month. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, this week’s roundup includes Bedd, Nduduzo Makhathini, Super Inuit, Senji Niban and Jacqueline Tucci.

Nduduzo Makhathini   ‘Indawu’
(Blue Note Records)   Single/Now

Ahead of the impressive South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini’s traversing roots debut album, Modes of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds, for the iconic Blue Note label next month the spiritually ancestral homage ‘Indawu’. Communing with the water spirits of the Nguni people of (predominantly) South Africa, Makhathini creates a splashed and rippled, choral celestial jazz offering to these mystical influences, who are known for their fondness towards music and dance; occupying as they do the riverbank, which has become a central ritual space visited to appease the ancestors. And this is the enchantment with which to use.

The third such suite to precede that debut long-player, Indawu follows on from ‘Beneath the Earth’, which featured the lead vocals of Msaki, and ‘Yehlisan uMoya’ (Spirit Come Down) which featured the vocals of Omagugu. The roll call of guests on this watery swell features the American alto saxophonist Logan Richardson along with a South African band that includes Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, Ndabo Zulu on trumpet, Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere on bass, Ayanda Sikade on drums, and Makhathini’s wife Omagugu and daughter Nailah on background vocals.

Nduduzo Makhathini grew up in the lush and rugged hillscapes of umGungundlovu in South Africa, a peri-urban landscape in which music and ritual practices were symbiotically linked. The area is significant historically as the site of the Zulu king Dingane’s kingdom between 1828 and 1840. It’s important to note that the Zulu is deeply reliant on music for motivation and healing. This embedded symbiosis is key to understanding Makhathini’s vision.

The church also played a role in Makhathini’s musical understanding, as he hopped from church to church in his younger days in search of only the music. The legends of South African jazz have always heavily influenced Makhathini, including Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa and Abdullah Ibrahim. “The earlier musicians put a lot of emotions in the music they played,” he says. “I think it may also be linked to the political climate of those days. I also feel there is a uniqueness about South African jazz that created an interest all around the world and we are slowly losing that too in our music today. I personally feel that our generation has to be very conscious about retaining these nuances in the music we play today.”

Through his mentor Bheki Mseleku, Makhathini was also introduced to the music of John Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner. “I came to understand my voice as a pianist through John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,” he says. “As someone who started playing jazz very late, I had always been looking for a kind of playing that could mirror or evoke the way my people danced, sung, and spoke. Tyner provided that and still does in meaningful ways.” Makhathini also cites American jazz pianists including Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, and Don Pullen as significant influences.

Makhathini has released eight albums of his own since 2014 when he founded the label Gundu Entertainment in partnership with his wife and vocalist Omagugu Makhathini. His 2017 album Ikhambi was the first to be released on Universal Music South Africa and won Best Jazz Album at the South African Music Awards (SAMA) in 2018.

On the strength of this single alone, Modes of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds sounds certain to make headway internationally, and maybe win that award again.

Jacqueline Tucci  ‘Fear’
Single/Available Now

Jacqueline Tucci was probably looking for more than just a glib, off-the-cuff review from me, but with some records, less is more. And with that in mind, and unintentionally arriving at probably the most anxious and uncertain of times, the gorgeous new single ‘Fear’ is a melodious controlled tumult of indie pop, grunge, C86, punk and a grinding jangle of the Throwing Muses.

In Tucci’s own words: ‘“Fear” is about a time in my life when I felt like I was really searching for something but I didn’t know what it was. The song was born out of those feelings of restlessness and frustration.

 Sometimes we search for ourselves in various places, people, and things and end up ignoring what’s right in front of us.

I hope you enjoy this song and if you’ve ever shared these feelings, maybe you’ll find some comfort in it.’

The Toronto artist worked with producer Nops Whileway, who, ‘allowed the song to take shape organically, resulting in what I feel is its most honest realization.’

Pure brilliance; guitar anxiety for our times.

Bedd   ‘Auto Harp’
Single/20th March 2020

Like an understated breath of fresh air from cosmic suburbia, the diaphanous slow anthem from the newly conceived Oxford band Bedd reimagines a small English town Mercury Rev in aria ascendance. Like a lost celestial Britpop anthem, ‘Auto Harp’ tenderly rises from its subtly spindly music box mechanisms and hushed deadpan vocal delivery to reach the saw-quivered heights of the celestial heavens.

You could suggest this touching sentiment of majestic indie had a certain cinematic, expansive quality, and you’d be right, as Auto Harp was originally composed by the band’s de facto leader, songwriter, singer and producer Jamie Hyatt for a film project that never came to fruition. Jamie: “I wanted to compose a track that leaves the listener feeling simultaneously melancholy and up-lifted. Auto Harp is both intimate and expansive at the same time and is perhaps a perfect encapsulation of our band’s intent, to both draw the listener into a quiet conversation and then take them out into the splendor of the universe”.

The band moniker of Bedd is an interesting one, as Jamie explains: “the word bedd is Welsh for grave and I liked the idea of drawing a connection between the bed and the grave as the grave is the ultimate resting place”.

Jamie is an Oxford music scene stalwart, known for his previous bands The Family Machine, The Daisies and Medal as well as his score for the film Elstree 1976. The single Auto Harp is accompanied by a beautifully atmospheric video by filmmaker Liam Martin, shot on location at Port Talbot beach in South Wales.

Jamie as main songwriter and vocalist he is ably supported by a range of fellow local Oxford musical talents. These talented individuals include bandmates from his previous project The Family Machine, in the shape of bass player Darren Fellerdale and guitarist Neil Durbridge. Also, in the mix are guitarist Tom Sharp, electronic musician and producer Tim Midlen, also known as The Manacles of Acid, and drummer Sam Spacsman. Auto Harp was recorded and produced by Jamie with the band at Glasshouse studios in rural Oxfordshire and mixed and mastered by Robert Stevenson. Auto Harp follows the debut Bedd single ‘I Whoo Yeah’, which was released on a compilation via local Oxford tape label Beanie Tapes.

This latest slow-burning dreamy anthem look sets to propel the band from their Oxford base to a more universal audience.

Senji Niban   ‘Where The Birds Fly Now?’
(Pure Spark Records)   Single/3rd April 2020

The last time the Monolith Cocktail featured the Tokyo electronica composer and remixer Koichiro Shigeno, he was sharing a Bearsuit Records split EP showcase with The Moths Poets, back in 2016. Recording under his Senji Niban appellation, the experimental wiz produces the kind of busy accompaniment you might find sound tracking a speeded-up film collage of Russian constructivism; melding the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Sky Records’ Dadaist fringe. Other explorations take in the strange aural fragrance of liquid bossa nova and a neo-classical Roedelius, and the minimal kinetic techno kookiness of early Kreidler.

It’s no wonder that Shigeno’s sound and style is so open and eclectic; growing up, as he did, introduced to Classical and Modern Jazz by his music lover parents, but shocked by listening to Haruomi Hosono/Tadanori Yokoo‘s ‘Cochin Moon’ – borrowed from a junior high school friend. It changed his life.

Those influences were gradually expanded over the years to include Krautrock, Mondo Music, Ambient and Acid. Shigeno has released music on a number of imprints, including his very own private label, Yorozu: a long-established Japanese Techno-Pop label.

Shigeno joined fellow Tokyo traveler Ippu Mitsui’s burgeoning Pure Spark Records label rooster in 2019, joining the label boss on the limbering tropical electronic co-production ‘Melting Pot’. His inaugural solo release for the label, is the trance-y chorus of bird calls, barracking drum rolls, metallic whiplashes and cybernetic nature, Where The Birds Fly Now? This eight-minute odyssey is a minor opus of avant-garde electro, deep bass and evolving tropical atmospherics. Enjoy the preview ahead of its release on Friday 3rd April.

Super Inuit  ‘Mothering Tongue’
Single/13th March 2020

Electronic fused wanton suffering has seldom floated on such a suffused pulse of shoegaze and the leftfield. Yet the Edinburgh duo of Fern Morris and Brian Pokora have managed to simultaneously evoke both The Cocteau Twins and Four Tet on their melodious air-y new single ‘Mothering Tongue’ (great title by the way).

More effortlessly cooed than plaintively sorrowful, Morris makes it all sound so peaceable and entrancing as she subtly wafts over a bed of enervated glitch-y and raspy deep and downbeat cast electronica – even when singing the lamentable anguished line, “You’re not the only one suffering”.

It’s nothing short of a gorgeously understated electronic pop mini opus for our times.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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