Abdullah Ibrahim: Namhanje (Today)

This traditional tune, presumably of South African origin, is a lovely, peaceful duet, sung and played by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and bassist Johnny Dyani. It’s basically a two-chord vamp—nobody plays anything particularly fancy, but it’s warm and inviting, a great thing to hear first thing in the morning. It was beautifully recorded direct-to-disc (according to the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings) in 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer in Germany. This is a great example of making something rich out of almost nothing.

April 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Bheki Mseleku: Mister Allard

The talented South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku passed away in London on September 8, 2008, due to complications from diabetes. He was only 53 years of age. Star Seeding, arguably his best CD, should have resulted in what the title implied – the blossoming, if belated, of a major jazz artist – but this never came to pass, and he only recorded twice more after this 1995 session. While Mseleku's playing on these tracks is noticeably derivative, it is also highly skillful and passionate. At various times he sounds, on saxophone, like Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Johnny Griffin or Charlie Rouse, while on piano like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner or Monk.

For "Mister Allard" (named for co-producer Jean-Philippe Allard), overdubbed tenor sax joins Mseleku's piano, with his tenor singing the lyrical, dancing theme and sounding like an amalgam of Getz and Henderson. Mseleku's fluid piano solo is quite diverse, in a Hancock mode, and executed with a glistening touch. Buoyant phrasing, gliding single-note lines, and assertive left-hand accentuations highlight this elegant, self-contained improvisation. Mseleku's tenor then reprises the alluring melody, adding tastefully nuanced variations. Mseleku's polished musicianship will be sorely missed.

September 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Bheki Mseleku: Adored Value

Now that he has gone back to a country that has changed for the better, we don't hear so much about South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku. More than a decade ago, when he was an exile living in London, he was considered a musical wonder who could play piano and tenor sax in the various styles of his native country as well in the neo hard-bop style that was prevalent at the time. On this track, surrounded by such young lions as Graham Haynes and Ravi Coltrane and supported by veteran drummer Elvin Jones, Mseleku tackles a cleverly penned tuned that might have been a hit on a Blue Note or Prestige album in the '60s. Still, both his sensitive piano style, indebted to Monk, and his partners' enthusiasm prevent this song from becoming a mere copy of the past. It boils with a life and feeling that defy time and stylistic categories.

August 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Hugh Masekela: Grazing in the Grass

In 1961, Hugh Masekela fled his native South Africa's apartheid to graze in America's greener grass. By the summer of 1968, he was leading the hit parade. Is this a great country or what? Replete with 4-alarm cowbell, "Grazing in the Grass" pastured 13 weeks among the Top 100, chewing its way to #1. Contentedly masticating an endlessly regurgitated 2-chord vamp, "Grazing" made the perfect party music for urban cliff-dwellers who wouldn't know a cow pie from a Big Mac. As approving teenagers liked to tell Dick Clark on American Bandstand, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


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