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Mhondoro means “the lion spirit” in Shona, a language of Zimbabwe. This jazz ensemble formed spontaneously in reaction to the pandemic and aims to carry listeners through to a new day with power. Together, they are global and hyper-local—truly American, in the best sense of the word, representing unity and providing an artistic escape from modern headlines and exposing exciting possibilities for the future. 

Their first album released in March 2021, Heat Wave, is joyous, powerful, and brimming with life-force. The voices that welcome 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.

Their second album, Ngatibatanei / Let Us Unite! Will release April 2024 on OA2.

“…an excellent group of players jamming, meshing together fluidly, and the energy is consistently high…Schner’s solos can twinkle and extend like Coltrane or honk and squawk like Big Jay McNeely…”



John Mambira (vocalist and percussionist) hails from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and currently resides in Eugene, Oregon; he toured Europe with his band Bongo Love and has international experience in percussion, singing, traditional dance, and marimba band. He is a member of the legendary Zim musician Thomas Mapfumo. 


Idit Shner (saxophonist) is from Yahud, Israel. She is a diverse performer equally at ease in jazz and classical settings. She is currently a professor of saxophone and jazz studies at The University of Oregon.  


Torrey Newhart (keyboardist, pianist, composer) is originally from Bend, Oregon, and now lives in Eugene. He is a consummate performer with several releases under his name and works on the ongoing project, Obsidian Animals, and performs often with Inner Limits Trio. 


Garrett Baxter (bassist) is quickly gaining reputation on the national jazz scene and has become a staple on Portland’s jazz stages. He is originally from Ashland, Oregon.


Ken Mastrogiovanni (drummer) is based in Oregon and brings a unique sensibility and modern voice to the drums and the music, making him a rising musician of his generation. In additional to drumming, he is a producer, composer, and educator.


In Summer 2019, Idit Shner listened from her side of the backyard fence to her neighbor, John Mambira, jamming with Ratie Dangarembwa and Gilbert Zvamaida. She knew them from the local music scene in Eugene, Oregon, but had never played music with them.  She gathered the courage to remove the fence between neighbors and invited herself over for a jam session one day. Eventually, she asked, “Next time, is it okay if I bring my saxophone over?” And they both burst out laughing, “Finally! We thought you’d never ask!” 



Six months later with the global pandemic, John and Idit came together in a “parent pod” as their children attended online school together, rotating houses. Torrey Newhart, who lived within walking distance from their home, also joined the pod. Idit asked Garrett Baxter and Ken Mastrogiovanni to join their backyard jam sessions. Thus, what started as a meeting of expedience grew into an artistic group, writing and playing music (and drinking lots of beer). 


When the Montavilla Jazz Festival commissioned Idit to compose an original piece for Call + Response, a pandemic-influenced project, she turned to the pod to create a piece (“Fingerprints” became track 7 on Heat Wave and the impetus for a full-length album). They gathered in Torrey’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.”


From that one song, created from the isolation of the pandemic and countless summer hours in the backyard, something was set in motion.


The quintet decided they could not stop with just one composition and MHONDORO’s first full-length album, Heat Wave was created. The album melds Zimbabwean traditional music and American jazz with an unmistakable Pacific Northwest vibe.


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