I guess you could say that the market for romantic pianists is wide open. Ever since artists like Jim Brickman experienced commercial success, it was inevitable that others would come to challenge him for a share of the marketplace.
If you go into this disc expecting a tropical feeling to the disc, you'll be disappointed. While there is a bit of new-age jazziness to early tracks like "Tribal Dance" and "Harbor Nights," Mbandi quickly settles into a pattern where his piano work takes center stage. There is still enough instrumentation behind him to suggest a smooth jazz feel to the music, which is sometimes enough to keep the listener in tune with the songs.
The only drawback to Mbandi's style of writing is that often it feels like we've heard this all before. Tracks like "By The Fireplace," "In Your Eyes" and "The Forgotten Child" all have an air of comfort to them, like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. It's not a bad trait, but not one which would make Mbandi stand out in the crowd.
Yet there are tracks which are superb on this disc. The emotional pull of songs like "Letting Go" and "Dear Mother" yank on the listener's heart strings, daring to coax any number of emotions out of you. This is the kind of songwriting that will get people's attention, and these songs deserve to be heard by a lot more people than who will probably really get to hear this disc. Damn shame, really.
Especially a pity is that I can see a song like "Could It Be," complete with vocals from Alfreda Gerald, as a future staple at wedding receptions. Look, somewhere in our readership there has to be someone who works with the numerous soap operas on television. Mark my words: you feature this song during a wedding sequence, and your switchboards will light up with requests for information on it. E-mail me, and I'll explain it further - seriously.
There is a lot of promise in Mbandi's work, and Harbor Nights, despite working along the already-trod paths of romantic piano music, does work at setting his skills above the crowd. Yes, you're going to have to do some searching for this disc. No, you're not going to regret it.