Bheki Mseleku

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South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku has picked bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins for this session, and they really lift the music to new heights for the leader. Known primarily as a pianist, Mseleku plays a lot of overdubbed tenor sax on the date, ranging from breezy Stan Getz romanticism to Joe Henderson-like lyrical bluesiness, both styles are quite attractive. Mseleku's piano playing is world class, elegant, mostly understated, dancing, lyrical, and very bluesy. The music is mainstream jazz-oriented as opposed to township influenced. Of the ten originals from Mseleku's pen, two reflect the Stan Getz bossa construct: "The Love of the Gods" and "The Sun Race Arise" have that breathy quality typical of this subgenre. More bluesy and less legato and animated is the easy swinger for sax teacher Joe Allard titled "Mister Allard," with its sax and piano unison lines, and the clearly "Nardis"-like phrasings used on the good swinging romp "L.A. Soul Train Blues." The title track has a quirkier melody than the rest, and more Bud Powell-like bebop phrasings within an easy swinging framework, and Mseleku overdubs tenor sax, guitar, and vocal over his piano for the 7/4 modal "Thula Mtwana," a deeply spiritual near Yoruban chant. The piano-bass-drums trio selections have him paraphrasing "Naima" during a brighter, more upbeat "Ballad for the Saints," using a ballad-to-waltz, slow-to-quicker pacing on "The Age of the Divine Mother," and evoking straight-ahead jazz-based, downhearted blues inflections on the steady ballad "Melancholy in Cologne." There's also a solo piano piece, the cascading, tumbling lyricism on "Echoes of the Winds of Truth." With smaller ensembles Mseleku has made some bold music, but stripped to a trio and adding his personal touch, Mseleku has struck a chord with his muse on this truly beautiful recording.

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