NTHNL expands musical palettes with ‘Cosmic Flute’ series

Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Jacob Rudin introduces the flute as an instrument that can fit into anything—hip-hop, EDM, psychedelia, smooth jazz, sunshine pop, you name it.
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A singer-songwriter from Boston, MA that also writes blogs about music from time to time. A loud and proud as fuck member of the Alt-Black, LGBT and autistic community.

So… word on the street is Andre 3000 dropped a flute album, and hip-hop artists are having mixed receptions. Some folks are completely happy to hear the album, largely because it is an Andre 3000 album that finally saw the light of day. Others were distraught and just wanted to hear Andre 300 spit bars. Meanwhile, the million-dollar question goes like this: weren’t plenty of us hip-hop artists listening to Stones Throw back in the day? Did we forget what that label did for our musical tastes? How about Brainfeeder?

For those unfamiliar with Stones Throw, the label is famous for releases such as Madvillain’s rap opus Madvillainy and J Dilla’s posthumous masterpiece Donuts. Still, right next to the hip hop albums, people cherished so much were jazz albums—most by Madlib’s “band” Yesterdays New Quintet. As of now, the clientele concerning jazz has expanded with artists such as the new age-tinged Apifera and John Carroll Kirby. Similarly, Brainfeeder has signed artists such as avant-rap wunderkind Jeremiah Jae and indigo rap duo The Underachievers but also handed you post-rock outfit Jada Jazzist, spiritual jazz musician Kamasi Washington, and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (who recently also dropped a new project). The point is jazz was always sold to hip-hop and electronic artists and/or enjoyers of other genres with no problem, so questioning the shift feels odd. One other artist who could have also had a hand in expanding musical palettes, even toward hip-hop ears, is named NTHNL.

Musically, NTHNL, who, by the way, is signed to neither label, would fall more in line with artists such as Jonti, Mild High Club, and Dam-Funk with his employment of psychedelia-laced electronica, but as the title will suggest, NTHNL’s weapon of choice is the flute.

The first album in the Cosmic Flute series opens with a sweet pipe of the flute before liquid guitars—provided by Damien Scalise—and maracas and hand claps percussions kick in. The title track, “Cosmic Flute,” finds the Brooklyn composer leading the group with a sunny, sweet composition to set the tone for the album. Following this is NTHNL’s rendition of two songs: the Andes’ folk tune “Cutchatparri” and southwestern China’s own “Phoenix Tail Under the Moonlight.” “Smooth jazz” and “new age” are expanded into other genres, such as spare funk on the blooming dance epic “The Crown of Rays” and even rhythmically complex juke/footwork with the heady “Syncretism.” On the album, NTHNL even flexes his vocal abilities on rare occasions: the feather-light folktronica track “Away We Go” and the escapist anthem “Run Away.”

Where 2019’s Cosmic Flute painted a bright picture with such a lean towards new age and pop, 2023’s Cosmic Flute Rides Again takes a much jazzier and more futuristic direction. It also finds NTHNL taking on more musical duties than before as he branches into playing saxophone, keyboards, guitar, and drum programming.

Described upon the album’s bio as a “post-smooth jazz, avant-easy listening, psychedelic electroflute experience,” CFRA obliterates genres while still satisfying his musical wanderlust. Think the sound of EDM with enough dynamics to keep the music banging and not enough to get in the way of NTHNL’s flute playing, and that is how you get tracks such as the sweet and energetic “Neon Flow.” Sometimes, NTHNL even makes music with a hip-hop bounce to appease those with said taste, such as on “La Salle D’attente,”—a track that features French reader Eline Marx—and “Sexual Selection.”

Accompanied by his choice of bandmates who assist his vision, NTHNL made two albums that help introduce the flute as an instrument that can fit into anything. Hip-hop, EDM, psychedelia, smooth jazz, sunshine pop, you name it. Cosmic Flute crafts an adventure with every touch of a musical palette, all without getting in the way of what is the star of the show: the aforementioned cosmic flute.

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