HOW IT ALL BEGAN
For a month during the summer of 2019, Idit Shner quietly listened from her side of the backyard fence to her neighbor, John Mambira, jamming with Ratie Dangarembwa and Gilbert Zvamaida. Idit knew them from the music scene in Eugene, Oregon, but she hadn’t played with them before.
She gathered the courage to invite herself over. And listen. She’d removed the fence from between them, but she kept herself to the role of audience member.
Then, one day as the jam session broke, she asked: “Next time, is it OK if I bring my saxophone over?” They burst out laughing. “Finally! We thought you’d never ask!”
FROM POD TO BAND
Half a year later, and the pandemic brought John and Idit together in a “parent pod” as their children attended online school together, rotating houses. Torrey Newhart, who lived walking distance up the hill, joined the pod. Idit asked Garrett Baxter and Ken Mastrogiovanni to join the backyard sessions and the group whiled away the lockdown hours writing and playing music (and drinking lots of beer).
When the Montavilla Jazz Festival commissioned Idit to compose an original piece for Call + Response (the festival’s own pandemic-influenced project), she knew who she would turn to to get the piece (track 7 here) done. They got together in Torrey Newhart’s living room to record. “The result was artistically thrilling and so earnest,” Idit said. “Since there is no way to have any separation or editing when everyone is in the same space, there is wonderful honesty in recording this way.”
That one song, this terrible pandemic, that summer in the backyard before anyone knew what changes were coming… This set something in motion, and the quintet decided they could absolutely not stop at that one composition. Heat Wave is the new band MHONDORO’s first full-length creation, melding Zimbabwean traditional music and American jazz with an unmistakable Pacific Northwest vibe thrown in for good measure.
AROUND THE WORLD TO OREGON
John Mambira is a traditional musician from Zimbabwe who toured Europe and the US with his band Bongo Love. Idit Shner, from Israel, performs as both a jazz and a classical saxophonist. Torrey Newhart, from Bend, Oregon, plays piano and keyboards and has experience as a band leader. Garret Baxter is from Ashland, Oregon, but now is an in-demand bassist in Portland. Ken Mastrogiovanni, a drummer from Eugene, Oregon, is at home with modern jazz but also composes music and produces beats. Put together, they are global and hyper-local—truly American, in the best sense of the word, and truly all of us, as this pandemic both brought us closer together across borders and threatened us with isolation.
Its name meaning the lion spirit in Shona, a language of Zimbabwe, MHONDORO formed spontaneously, in reaction to a global trauma, but it aims to carry its members and audience through to a new day with power. Heat Wave’s music is joyous, full of life force. Those voices that welcome us to the album on track 1 -Obsidian Horses- maybe aren’t the destination but a reminder that, even in the loneliest of times, none of us ever travel alone.
Written by Kristin Thiel (November 2021, Portland, Oregon)