Bheki Mseleku’s illustrious career as a pianist, composer, and arranger is paraphrased in his latest release The Best Of Bheki Mseleku. His repertoire of post-bop and progressive jazz suites have a timeless quality. You can imagine them featured in everything from the film classic Casablanca to the modern motion picture Ocean’s 13. Mseleku’s compositions are delightful stringing along feel good vibes, jazz pop charms, and pleasant atmospherics tweaking a few spots with African style folk spirituals in the choruses inspired from his birth place. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1955, he arrived on the Johannesburg music scene in 1975 as an electric organ player for an R&B outfit. He left South Africa in the late ‘70s and took up residence in London, England where he teamed with many prominent figures from the city’s jazz revival scene, which inspired him to make his debut album Celebration in 1991.
Mseleku’s Best Of collection begins with a post-bop appetizer "Angola." The springy piano keys and quick paced rhythms dance along to the flute and brass jamboree in a friendly exchange like a band playing at a supper club when you first walk in. The dance-bop tempo and loops of piano, woodwind and brass sections are cheerful and light hearted. The slow, romantic horn shades on "Home At Last" have silky movements as the rotation of tapping drumbeats and sinuous guitar riffs project a moonlit night atmosphere. Each instrument takes turns in the spotlight. This is the moment when each couple at the supper club gets to shine. The album breaks into a palatial jazz/African spiritual on "Vukani (Wake Up)." The communal vocal chorus is spiritually laced and jubilant while cobbled by horn twists and piano twirls. The progressive jazz palette on tracks like "Melancholy In Cologne" and "Nants’ Inkululeka" have a warm clarity in the movements circulation while blanketed in misty piano escapes. The instrument rotations have a jazz pop charm and pleasant vibrations with a burden-free gait.
The sleek horn and piano sections on "Mbizo" have an after dinner mood. The atmosphere is relaxing, conversational, and delicately pitched for table talk. The affable tones of the piano keys are lightly scrolled as the horns are gently spread. Conversely, the upbeat tempo and vibrant piano keys on "Blues For Afrika" jam with the bass shuffles and spontaneous horn twitters. It is like an orderly chaos. The album returns to a walking pace with the happy tune "Closer To The Source" that evokes a smile from the listener. It is the kind of music you would enjoy coming home to. "Monk The Priest" delves into romantic hues with a lounging tempo and softly tossed piano notes. The heavy bass descents on "Beauty Of Sunrise" are splayed along the sensual horns and contemporary pop piano melody. It is upbeat with easy listening passages and well seamed intervals that create ripples of dynamics. The slow samba rhythms of "Celebration" etch in rhythmic pick ups and dives traveling at a comfy coast. The intervals have a lively interaction that complement the spiritual vocal choruses. The final track "Spirit Ascending" is an enjoyable torch song with the soul jazz vocals of Sibongle Khumalo. Her vocals stretch out into smooth caresses and exquisite soars with the caliber of Billy Holiday and Nina Simone over the smooth jazz verses as she sings, "Spirit Ascending/ Responding/ Aspiring/ So gentle/ So pure/ Fearless to love/ You have captured my heart/ Surrounded/ Out of control."
Bheki Mseleku’s Best Of collection is positively delightful and charming. It is music that is enjoyable at supper clubs and at home. The album encapsulates material from his previous albums, 1991’s Celebration, 1992’s Meditations, 1993’s Timelessness, 1995’s Star Seeding, 1997’s Beauty Of Sunrise, and 2005’s Home At Last. The album contains a prologue, narration, and epilogue of Mseleku’s life. With his band mates Marvin Smith (drums), Michael Bowie (bass), Courtney Pine and Steve Wiliamson (soprano saxophone), Jean Toussaint (tenor saxophone), and Eddie Parker (flute), Mseleku’s works are sure to stand the test of time and inspire other musicians to continue the legacy and charm of jazz music.