South African jazz has shifted to a more extreme direction in the recent past. Musicians like Spaza, Tumi Mogorosi, and Asher Gamedze have all put out music that incorporates elements of free jazz, resulting in a chaotic yet unified sound. This serves as both a commentary on society and an attempt to tap into a shared Black community consciousness through the expressive nature of improvisation.
Thandi Ntuli, a pianist and singer, has been creating her own unique journey. From her first album The Offering in 2014 to her 2018 release Exiled, Ntuli’s music stands out with its gentle melodies and intricate arrangements, spreading a message of joy through subtle means rather than loud declarations.
Her most recent album, Rainbow Revisited, is her most simplistic work to date, featuring 10 tracks of piano and vocals, with subtle additions of percussion and production by multi-instrumentalist Carlos Niño from Los Angeles. It is a vulnerable record that highlights Ntuli’s skill with her instruments. The first track, Sunrise (In California), establishes the mood with its Robert Glasper-inspired chord progressions, while its counterpart, Sunset (In California), draws on the emotional phrasing of South African piano jazz pioneer, Abdullah Ibrahim.
Niño’s unique style is evident in the percussion-heavy tracks Breath and Synth Experiment and Voice and Tongo Experiment, but their minimalistic sound stands out from the lush acoustic sound of the rest of the album. Instead, Ntuli truly shines when given freedom on the keyboard and microphone, effortlessly navigating through rapid changes on the standout track The One. Through wordless vocalizations, Ntuli conveys a range of emotions, from yearning to joy, with her perfectly modulated voice and melodic piano choices. This track showcases Ntuli’s mastery in expressing herself through solo performances, a subtle yet powerful display of her talent in the evolving landscape of South African jazz.
Additionally, released this month.
Ali Sethi, a renowned singer from Pakistan, has come up with a fascinating idea for his new album, Intiha (Other People). He has incorporated loops from Nicolás Jaar’s 2020 record Telas as the foundation for his music. Jaar’s ambient backing serves as the perfect backdrop for Sethi’s beautiful ghazal poetry, resulting in a captivating electro-acoustic fusion. Another notable album is The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Tru Thoughts) by Indian producer Sandunes. This unique and imaginative mix combines Indian classical instrumentation, operatic vocals, and electronic textures, seamlessly blending Bonobo-style melodic dancefloor beats with introspective songwriting. Lebanese singer Mayssa Jallad also makes her debut with her album Marjaa: The Battle of the Hotels (Six of Swords), showcasing her incredible voice. Her breathy and intimate vocals create an atmospheric Arabic blues sound, particularly highlighted in the track Mudun.