Bheki Mseleku - The Best of Bheki Mseleku

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Sheer Sound SLCD 089    ****
Bheki Mseleku (p, ts) and many others including Courtney Pine (ss), Graham Haynes (ct), Ravi Coltrane (ts), Michael Bowie (b), Elvin Jones (d), James Spaulding (f) and Sibongile Khumalo (v). Rec. 1991-2003

Bheki Mseleku - The Best of Bheki Mseleku
There is a zen-like sense of repose with Bheki Mseleku. It’s not just his piano playing, or when he manages, quite extraordinarily, somehow to play a saxophone and accompany himself on the piano at the same time; it’s his persona, the Zulu in his soul, the meditative aura that is central to everything he stands for. The South African was relatively unknown beyond the local jazz community until the late 1980s and the breakthrough album Celebration on World Circuit. Mseleku then quickly became a celebrated part of the UK jazz scene, promoted and encouraged by the perspicacious producer Russell Herman, who sadly died prematurely in 1998 aged just 44. He recorded Mseleku on the Samadhi label before Verve signed him and a new higher profile phase of his career began. A breakthrough in the States then seemed to be the logical destination as he toured and recorded with Joe Henderson, but Mseleku’s star waned inexplicably and he is only now coming out of a long reclusive period, undertaking a small UK tour.

This compilation has all that is good about Mseleku, the joyous flute driven lines, the pulsating Tyner-ish energy, the sense of a dynamic spirit behind the keys, and a mix of the progressive jazz of the 1960s fused with the kwela and township flavours of his native land that have made such a distinctive contribution to the new global language of jazz. All the compositions are by Mseleku and most of them cry out to be covered. Go straight to track eight, ‘Closer To the Source’ to hear the essence of Bheki’s sound and one of Courtney Pine’s most enthralling narrative solo performances. Samadhi, the name of Herman’s old label, is a Buddhist and Hindu term that refers to the state of consciousness induced by complete meditation. Mseleku goes that deep.

Stephen Graham