A fine intro to a South African jazz artist
Reviewed January 2007
The Best of Bheki Mseleku
By Bheki Mseleku
Sheer Sound: 2006
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
The apartheid system in South Africa was despicable, of course; and some of those under it's evil thumb chose to emigrate. That emigration escape is the case with pianist Bheki Mseleku. He arrived on the Johannesburg jazz scene in 1975, but left for London in the early '80s, where he continued his musical quest. He has released six CDs as a leader, the last being "Home at Last" (2003), featuring fellow South Africans Feya Faku on trumpet and Winston Mankunku Ngozi on sax.
"The Best of Bheki Mseleku" compiles the highlights from five of his outings, a mix of mainstream and African grooves, featuring Mseleku's sometimes caressing, sometimes percussive touch on the keyboard that makes him sound like a mix of Red Garland (from Miles Davis' first great quintet) and McCoy Tyner (from John Coltrane's last great quartet).
The South African vibe is probably best known here in the U.S. from flugelhornist Hugh Masekela's music he had a Top 40 radio hit in the late '60s with "Grazing in the Grass" or from Paul Simon's pop masterpiece, "Graceland," that incorporated the sounds of Zulu jive. Mseleku's sound leans closer to mainstream American jazz, but the South African rhythms bubble up behind saxes and flutes and trumpets. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of John Coltrane, plays on "Beauty of Sunrise"; and another high profile saxophonist, Courtney Pine, plays on "Closer to the Source." The sounds are unfailingly upbeat, tinged with an ebullient spiritualism.
"The Best of Bheki Mseleku" is a great introduction to a fine, if little known, (in the United States) South African jazz artist.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.