- The jazz minimalist finds new ways to sculpt stories with repetition.
- At the climax of Duval Timothy's "Fall Again" video, a faded tri-colored cloth flutters above the sea. Banded with green, white and blue, it is the national flag of Sierra Leone, a country that is a returning point in Timothy's music. Claiming roots in both Sierra Leone and London, Timothy spends several months of each year in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, where his identity has become something of a riddle. In an interview with The Quietus, he described the loaded experience of living as a mixed-race person in Sierra Leone. "It sounds weird for a lot of people but we're white. People will shout 'white man!' at you in the street," he said. "I always have to keep explaining myself to people out there and it gets frustrating, having to prove I am actually Sierra Leonean. People almost laugh at it; it's like you're a novelty."
For a musician who stands fervently by the proverb of less being more, the compositions on his fourth album, Help, are imbued with dense, diaristic narratives. Through scant vocals, which often arrive as stripped samples or brief interludes, Timothy documents a journey of healing and navigating the music industry which came out of a challenging period. His manipulation of vocals can make the mundane fascinating, like his pointillistic instrumentation of filler words, "like" and "um," in "Like." By contrast in the second cut, "Slave," which features a sample of Pharrell Williams discussing the master/slave dynamic of the music industry, the sweetly sung refrain, "slave" grows from a shocking listen to another phrase meshed into the background. Not dissimilar from the ways in which racial hierarchies are left to ossify under capitalism, the concept is gradually normalized throughout the track.
Timothy's take on minimalist jazz does not leave you feeling bereft of sound, far from it. His melodic gifts gleam in his simple piano hooks, which are repeated to construct warm, layered pieces. His approach opens things up, allowing more room to appreciate all the subtle progressions. For example, when Lil Silva's wispy falsetto finally exhales over the lilting melody of "Fall Again," an immediate somberness enriches the piece.
Much like Timothy's past works, Help is so deeply immersive. It almost feels like you're sitting right in Timothy's living room while he makes these changes. This may be best exhibited in "Look," where piano pedals clunk about, waves ebb and flow, and cars honk their way down a busy street. Even on the R&B-driven "Groundnut," nasal crooning sounds like it's been recorded over the phone. Pinned down somewhere between pared-down jazz and emotive R&B, Duval Timothy continues to find insightful ways to tell stories by way of repetition. When ideas are this robust, the extra stuff becomes less important.
01. Next Tomorrow
02. Slave ft. Twin Shadow
04. Fall Again ft. Lil Silva and Melanie Faye
06. Groundnut ft. Twin Shadow
07. Like ft. Vegyn
09. Something ft. Mr Mitch
11. Still Happened