The List: Live and direct selections by Thandi Ntuli

Sibongile Khumalo Live at The Market Theatre (1998)

This is not only one of my favourite live albums, but an album I consider a South African jazz classic. The line-up is somewhat of a supergroup of some of our greats, namely Themba Mkhize, Khaya Mahlangu, Vusi Khumalo, Herbie Tsoaeli and Prince Lengoasa, with arrangements of South African classics that, for me, have never lost their relevance and beauty. Without realising it, this album taught me a lot about performance as an artform in itself and about understanding the interaction between audiences and the musicians on stage. 

Favourite tracks: Umhome and Sekumanxa 

Ambrose Akinmusire A Rift In Decorum (2017)

I have been listening to and loving Akinmusire’s work for a long time. For me, this artist presents his work like a painting, or a book or a poem. How he names songs and albums always draws me in, like picking up a book from a bookstore with an intriguing title. Then comes the unfolding … This album is really a journey for me, both inwardly and to the edge. It is a sublime balance of the extremes. It goes without saying that there are  incredible performances from each of the members of this outfit, which includes Sam Harris (piano), Justin Brown (drums) and Harish Raghavan (bass). The quartet moves like one body and is probably one of my favourite modern jazz outfits … even as a quintet when the band includes reed man Walter Smith III. Definitely a bucket-list band to watch for me! 

Favourites: Response, Moment In Between the Rest (To Curve an Ache) and Taymoor’s World 

Kurt Elling Live in Chicago (2000)

Another Blue Note Records modern classic. This album was my introduction to this beautiful vocalist and the versatility of this art form of jazz singing. I had been aware of singing standards and scatting as a part of the jazz vocal approach, but, if I remember correctly, it was my first introduction to vocalese through his performance of the Wayne Shorter classic Night Dreamer. Vocalese is a style of jazz singing in which words are added to a soloist’s improvisation. I got into this album in university when jazz was very new to me. I was learning and discovering so much and in those days we had a “flavour of the month” culture with music we had discovered. So it also brings back  memories of that time and how I geeked over music together with my peers. I’ve since watched him live in Durban, which was incredible. 

Favourites: Night Dreamer, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Esperanto

Abdullah Ibrahim Live at Jazzhus Montmarte, Copenhagen (1969)

Man, I love this album! From the music to the way it sparks memories of my father. Everything I grew to love about Abdullah Ibrahim was informed by the many times I heard this album played by my father at home. I remember wondering how on earth the piano could sound the way he made it sound — both hard and warm at the same time. Still in high school at the time, I was completely oriented with my classical repertoire and how acceptable piano playing was meant to sound. I used to try to play what I remembered hearing from the recording and when my father heard me he would come near the piano and sing the basslines that Ibrahim’s left hand kept going in the recording. I was so fascinated by his mantric left hand, truly “a brother with perfect timing”. Hearing the sounds of home on this instrument I had always associated with Western classical music informed a lot of my artistic decisions moving forward. 

Favourites: Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro, Kippy and Tintiyana

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Thandi Ntuli
Thandi Ntuli is a Johannesburg-based pianist and composer. Her most recent album is titled Live at Jazzwerkstatt.

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