Recently, South African jazz has moved towards a more maximal approach. Spaza, Tumi Mogorosi, and Asher Gamedze have all released albums that utilize free jazz to create a unified blend of sound. This serves not only as a musical expression, but also as a commentary on social issues and an attempt to connect with Black community consciousness through the emotional freedom of improvisation.
Pianist and vocalist Thandi Ntuli has been forging her own quiet path. Since her 2014 debut album The Offering and the 2018 follow-up Exiled, Ntuli’s music has found its strength in soft melodies and delicate arrangements, conveying a joyful message through a whisper rather than a shout.
Her latest release, Rainbow Revisited, is her most minimal effort yet, comprising 10 tracks of piano and voice, with light touches of additional percussion and production from LA multi-instrumentalist Carlos Niño. It is a remarkably exposing record that showcases Ntuli’s mastery of her instruments. Opener Sunrise (In California) sets the tone, shifting through Robert Glasper-style chord progressions, while its counterpart Sunset (In California) taps into the plaintive phrasing crafted by the father of South African piano jazz, Abdullah Ibrahim.
The influence of Niño is evident in the percussive tracks Breath and Synth Experiment, as well as the stark Voice and Tongo Experiment. However, these sparse soundscapes do not quite align with the rest of the record’s lush acoustic sound. Instead, Ntuli truly shines when given free rein on the keys and microphone, effortlessly maneuvering through complex changes on the two-part standout track, The One. Through wordless vocalizations, Ntuli conveys a range of emotions, from longing to ecstasy, with the perfect cadence of her voice and her melodic piano choices. This is a prime example of the expressive potential of a solo performance, a quiet but powerful display of Ntuli’s skill in the realm of South African jazz.
Additionally released this month.
Pakistani singer Ali Sethi has developed an intriguing idea for his new album, Intiha (Other People), by incorporating loops from producer Nicolás Jaar’s 2020 record Telas. Jaar’s ambient background provides a perfect base for Sethi’s delicate ghazal poetry, resulting in a captivating electro-acoustic fusion. Indian producer Sandunes’ most recent album, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Tru Thoughts), offers a unique and innovative combination of Indian classical instruments, operatic vocals, and electronic elements. The album seamlessly blends melodic dancefloor beats reminiscent of Bonobo with introspective songwriting. On her debut album, Marjaa: The Battle of the Hotels (Six of Swords), Lebanese singer Mayssa Jallad showcases her remarkable vocals, particularly on the standout track “Mudun,” where her breathy intimacy creates a melancholic Arabic blues atmosphere.