Alright, so another music post but at least this time I focus on one project…Right!? Guys?? Please don’t leave!
Well, last night I had an epiphany. I’m picky about my jazz. The problem is that I really can’t afford to be. Jazz is a well established genre complete with sub-genres and strange offshoots but it is probably the least popular form of music in the world (idk this is conjecture). These artists need our support though; they deserve all the recognition and attention that pop garners. The problem is that when your favorite pop artist makes a song with a little jazz influence, it is heralded while true jazz musicians starve. For example, look at the acclaim To Pimp A Butterfly received or how popular La La Land was upon release. Jazz can work if properly presented to the public but only in small doses because the attention span just isn’t there. I got way off topic. My point was that I’m picky because like EDM, there is so much jazz and so much of it can be similar. For me it takes something special; some innovation, a new approach to rhythm/melody or extreme skill to keep me engaged and win me over. This isn’t the birth of jazz, you don’t get brownie points for knowing how to play your instrument and presenting a solid solo.
That brings me to Thandi Ntuli and her album The Offering released in 2014. I had never heard of this South African pianist until yesterday when I was told to check her out. She hails from Capetown where she studied jazz in college there as well. My initial reaction to the album was that Ntuli has a strong grasp of the things that make great jazz as well as a formidable command of her instrument. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the project. The players execute things very well and Thandi makes commendable songwriting decisions that hold my interest. There is a wealth of solos by everyone and, I will contradict this later, a lot of them are very non-masturbatory. This sentiment actually bleeds out to the whole album and I appreciate the restraint. There is no “Look at me! I can blaze over these chord changes!” My favorite solos occur in the tracks “201 Aa”(the first piano solo) and “Uz’ubuye(Intro)”, the latter of which is just a five minute piano solo. I was told that which makes Ntuli so great is that she has great command of the the alto region and after listening I can understand that statement. She stays in her bag and does so much in that space.
But…but…I…I just want more. I set super high expectations with this album for two main reasons. I have recently listened to Mark Guiliana’s Jersey and Christian Scott’s Emancipation Procrastination and those projects blew me away. I thought I was hitting a hot streak. The second reason was all I knew about this project was it is South African jazz. I was strapped in and ready for new rhythms, possibly a wealth of auxiliary percussion and other musings that represented the artist’s home. Sure we get track listings and the DOPE cover art but outside of that, it is just a jazz album.
The other issue is that the lack of risk/innovation. Now, I’m very aware that this could be a personal opinion but I stand by it at the risk of sounding stupid. This lack of risk taking is mostly felt through structure and in the solos. I applauded this safeness earlier because its ideas are executed well but I will contradict myself here. At no point did I feel like any of the players were just going for it. I wanted blood. I wanted to imagine that after a solo people were exhausted, someone’s mom was crying, wigs tossed. Obviously that doesn’t belong on every project but The Offering definitely had some room for it. There is a trumpet solo on “H.T.” where I feel like dude was heating up a little bit but then the guitar solo afterwards does in fact cook. Outside of that and half of “Uz’ubuye”…*shrugs* tasteful and controlled solos. There is one exception. On the second track “Contemplation” and the last song, “In Between Spaces” we get pretty lackluster drum solos which is a shame because the space given is so perfect.
Overall, The Offering is really good. I can always appreciate well made music that is recorded well. Highlights for me include the aforementioned “201 Aa” and both “Uz’ubuye” tracks. Thandi Ntuli is now on my radar and she has an album coming out this year. Hopefully she continues to grow and comes with fresh ideas. I appreciate this recommendation and this album.
Check it out here: