Shirley Davis and The Silverbacks ‘Wishes and Wants’ LP/CD/DIG (Tucxone) 4/5

It seems like an age but in reality it’s only a couple of years I think since Shirley’s “Black Rose” album was being played daily here and now today this excellent ten tracker is fracturing the silence with a grittier sound. The album was written by Davis in tandem with The Silverbacks’ musical director and lead guitarist Eduardo Martínez, plus song-writer Marc Ibarz. She’s packed a lot into her life, but eventually found her salvation in music, she had her successes and today, when you listen to this album, it’s clear her life has influenced what we are listening to.

She cites Stevie Wonder as her main musical influence. It’s a beautiful sunny hot day here and this brand of funk and soul just sounds so right, the advertising pack makes mention of sweet soul but there ain’t nothing sweet about any of this, it’s tough modern-day funk with a liberal smattering of soul. If you’re not familiar with this lot then you’re in for a great ride, think Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, Sharon Jones, Nicole Willis, Grace Love etc. and you have the overall sound, so that’s okay then, loads of horns, heavy bass, percussion to die for and we have our Shirl’s voice, what’s not to like.

There is truly some fine moments on here, but as usual some rise to the top, and so to “All About The Music” which has that old sounding new music sound set at the perfect ‘Crossover’ dance pace and then we move to the big cheese sound of “Smile”, what a tune, funky soul at its finest, there can be no doubt she has a superb voice, fragile with grits, a contradiction I know but at times her voice has a nervous tremble and then she’s telling you how it’s gonna be, love it, this is displayed in the down low “Troubles and Trials” an epic performance vocally, the band are seriously tight. A superb album and then some.

Brian Goucher

Various ‘Screaming Gospel Holy Rollers’ LP (Vee-Tone) 4/5

Gospel seldom receives its due and gospel 45’s and LP’s from the golden era are now near impossible to find on the side of the pond at least and increasingly difficult even in the United States. Which is where indie label Vee-Tone records out of Clackmannanshire, Scotland, are on hand to save the day for the rest of us and we, the community of vinyl junkies, should be eternally grateful for all their efforts. They have been pioneering in their ongoing set of compilations due to the devotional sounds of gospel (this time on vinyl and previously on CD), but this is gospel from an era when, instrumentally, there was in practice precious little difference between the then emerging R & B and gospel other than that of a major distinction in the meaning of lyrics, and on this mini anthology the emphasis is firmly on uplifting songs that you do not have to be of the faith to appreciate. House rocking dance material is what the listener can fully expect and this set delivers on that front.

Expertly compiled with sleeve notes to boot from music aficionado and connoisseur of myriad genres (reggae and classic R & B being just two of his musical interests), Mark Lamarr, who has selected the eighteen tracks on offer, this compilation historically covers what has now been termed the ‘golden age of gospel’ and some brief explanation is in order here. Chronologically, we are referring to the immediate post-WWII period between 1945 and 1965 when there was a rapid increase in the number of gospel groups performing and recording, with dozens of new independent record companies that specialised in black music, whether that be blues, jazz, R & B or gospel, or any combination of those genres. Of those labels, this anthology focuses attention on the Gospel label with no less than six offerings, Peacock (strong on soul-blues too) with four, Savoy (a label that equally branched out into jazz) with another four and the rest including Checker, an offshoot of Chess, and Sue. Three key areas of the United States witnessed this explosion in numbers and activity and they were across the southern state, the Mid-West, and a major source of talent was to be found on the East coast. The dividing line between religious and secular was a thin one dependent on the content of the words sung, and some singers were tempted to cross over into the secular world and make a major success, such as The Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, and of course Al Green, to name but three.

However, others stayed true to their religious principles and of those, there are some wonderful examples on this compilation. They include The Gate City Singers with a 1958 offering, ‘John The Revelator’, that is this writer’s personal favourite and, in general, traditional songs served as a fertile terrain in which to expand their repertoire. Some of the major names on hand on this album are The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Caravans, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Full marks to the Vee-Tone team for convincingly recreating the era with their cover graphics that are in a smart red, white and black lettering, and the inner sleeve discographical notes are exemplary and shed useful light on the individual songs, some of which are 45 only, while other are choice album cuts.

Tim Stenhouse

Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine ‘The Poetry Of Jazz’ CD (Origin) 5/5

It was 1963 when Detroit born, Philip Levine, first had a collection of poems published with ‘On The Edge’, with over 20 others throughout his lifetime, some as early as 1973 receiving awards for poetry, with an early spell studying beside John Berryman proving to be a huge influence. His standing within the community somewhat strengthened in 1995 for ‘The Simple Truth’ by securing the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Levine left an enduring mark on the world of poetry prior to his passing in 2015 at the age of 87.

On this, ‘The Poetry of Jazz’, we first hear Levine on the opening theatrical piece, ‘Gin’, with leader Benjamin Boone on saxophone, Karen Marguth adding supportive vocals, whilst Craig von Berg; piano, Spee Kosloff; bass, and Brian Hamada; drums supporting the piece in an avant-guard fashion with more emphasis on the spoken word drawing the listener into the album. The said collection of musicians are also responsible for the ballad, ‘The Music Of Time’, further into the album, which is a much more structured composition, both numbers showing diversity between each other with the same formation. The American saxophonist/composer/professor, Benjamin Boone, is also responsible for gathering together some high-profile artists in Branford Marsalis, Chris Potter, Tom Harrell, and Greg Osby with respective homages to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker – all perfectly placed as we listen to Levine’s iconic poems.

“My mother tells me she dreamed
of John Coltrane, a young Trane
playing his music with such joy
and contained energy and rage
she could not hold back her tears.” – Philip Levine

Of the 16 musicians involved, all delivering exceptional pieces of music, it is still the overwhelming sound of Levine’s narration that dominates. His phrasing and timing on what was to be his only work of this type, and a posthumous one at that, leaves no doubt of his presence in the huge world of poetry. And where one would immediately draw comparisons with the Beat Generation poets, it wasn’t the path he took. Whilst the likes of Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were making ground in Greenwich Village, it was Detroit/Iowa/Fresno that Philip grew up, with a fascination of the Spanish Civil War, with unemployment and with violence, with topics of inadequacy, of loss and regret and an all too infrequent mention of jazz and the love for it. So it is to the latter passion that we would have never known had it not have been for this release. We would not have heard how perfectly balanced the two would sound, and for that alone we must applaud Benjamin Boone, for he has not only produced an exceptional musical album, but given to the ears of the world a groundbreaking document of Philip Levine perhaps enjoying what he had not previously had the opportunity to do.

Each of the compositions bring to the listener a different sense of satisfaction, the poems tightening concentration to each passage with wonderful music painting the scene for each story told, none more so than on ‘Yakov’, where David Aus’s piano intro draws in the story of wilderness, of a man surrounded by nature and beauty, enjoying each day to the fullest, sunrise, sunset, without human companionship – alone but content. Benjamin’s saxophone shining through the trees amidst his group as Yakov casts aside his apron of normality to venture out into nature’s bosom.

It is the longest piece on the album, ‘A Dozen Dawn Songs, Plus One’, that perfects the balance between instrument and voice. Taking the most risks and proving to be most rewarding. Its energy of playing, the shrill of the story, each musician perfectly tuned to the quickened pace and dramatic interchange – this is poetry of unquestionable authority. Dynamic and thought-provoking, serious music – the music holding its own at every step of the performance. An incredible band playing with supreme expertise. There should be no ear that passes by. Essential.

So where should we rank this album in history, in the not too overly populated jazz-poetry cosmos? Well, for this writer it is felt highly. It is not only a superb ‘jazz’ album but an incredible album of poetry, by a talent that has left us with much written work but far too little aural. It works perfectly. Benjamin Boone, recording between 2012 and 2014, has encapsulated the ‘sound’ to provide an album of unmistakable importance – one could say of historic importance.

Steve Williams

Grant Green ‘Slick! – Live at Oil Can Harry’s’ 2LP (Resonance) 4/5

By the mid-1970’s. guitarist Grant Green had moved on slightly from his earlier Blue Note recordings and was firmly focused on covering current soul and funk songs of the day. His group was now made up of Emmanuel Riggins (electric piano), Ronnie Ware (bass), Greg ‘Vibration’ Williams, and on percussion, Gerald Izzard. Lengthier numbers were the order of the day for his live performances and this one from 1975 is probably the last of its kind we have of Green. Of interest are the medleys that make up the second vinyl disc and Green’s open-minded approach is illustrated by his expertly weaving in, ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ by Stevie Wonder into ‘For The Love Of Money’ by The O’Jays. That said, an old evergreen favourite remains in his repertoire and that is Jobim’s ‘How Insensitive’, all twenty-six minutes here of a truly epic rendition, and one which reveals that the melodic side of Grant Green’s craft had remained undiminished, while the abiding influence of saxophonists on his work and that of Charlie Parker more especially is paid homage to on Bird’s composition, ‘Now Is The Time’. It should be remembered that by 1975 jazz was in a state of flux, with commercial venues in decline. traditional styles of the genre now seemingly under attack from jazz-fusion and jazz-funk sub-genres, but this was more reflective of a younger generation of musicians simply moving with the times, and in this respect, Green was ahead of his contemporaries.

The music is placed in context by the excellent black and white photos of the original band performing at the venue and by the national (including Downbeat) and local press reviews that are presented to us in their original typed journalistic format on the back cover of the inner sleeve booklet, and in a more reader friendly larger print over a couple of pages. These most definitely help to situate the reader in the moment and discover that Grant Green still had a grass-roots constituent audience that had listened to the Blue Note era material and stayed loyal to him. Another outstanding inner sleeve booklet contains a two-way conversation between guitarist and educator, Jacques Lesure and fellow guitarist and aficionado, Perry Hughes. Between them, they dissect the career of Green, and explain how influential his style became for other guitarists, making parallels between live recordings from the beginning of the 1960’s and another a decade later.

Tim Stenhouse

Grant Green ‘Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970’ 3LP/2CD (Resonance) 5/5

Sometimes classic unissued sessions are lurking in the background just waiting to be heard by a wider public and this is most definitely a case in point. Grant Green is nowadays regarded as something of a modern jazz guitar legend largely by virtue of his decade long work at Blue Note (as leader and master sideman, a de facto in-house musician of the label in fact) and this marvellous selection has the considerable merit of covering both sides of his career, the straight ahead early part, and the latter funk-tinged work. What is all the more remarkable is that the earlier recordings here were never originally meant to happen since French National Radio envisaged a ‘dream team’ line-up of jazz guitarists comprising Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow to perform live together in their auditorium. As it turned out, Tal Farlow was forced to withdraw and was instead replaced by Green. This last-minute change resulted in Grant Green being paired with Larry Ridley on bass and Dan Lanod on drums, plus for one track only a duet with Kessel. Some of his favourite jazz sides from the early to mid-1960’s are revisited including a bop-inflected tribute to Sonny Rollins on both ‘Oleo’ and ‘SonnyMoon For Two’, and it is important to stress that Green was far more influenced by saxophonists, Charlie Parker in particular.

There is, then, a languid nod to the French chanson and his immediate audience with a reprise of Charles Trenet’s, ‘I Wish You Love’ (Gloria Lynne had recorded a hit English language version in 1964), while an untitled blues reflects Green’s love of that genre, and the melodic reading of a Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes opus, How insensitive (‘Insensataez’). For the rest of the following four sides of vinyl, the mood and tone changes and we shift into the funk and soul groove of the beginning of the 1970’s. Green always prided himself on keeping up with the latest songs and would enjoy covering these, extending and embellishing them with his distinctive chords. Lengthy cuts of popular soul and funk classics of the time grace the following four sides, with the uplifting ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’, and the soulful ‘Hurt So Bad’, being the pick of the bunch. However, these recordings make for an interesting parallel with two official Blue Note live recordings made, the ‘Up at Mintons’ double album from 1961 and ‘Live At The Lighthouse’ a decade or so later. In his notes, Michael Cuscuna refers to how Grant Green had to be prompted by Cannonball Adderley no less to make it to New York in 1959 to be first heard by the wider jazz public, yet by this stage he was already thirty-four years of age and, similar to Wes Montgomery, they were both late developers rather than childhood prodigies. Between 1967 and 1968 Green relocated to Detroit, largely to attempt to tackle his heroin addiction. He emerged from this in 1969 with a new vigour and in significantly better health.

It is incredible to think that all this was organised by André Francis (an equivalent in knowledge and status in France to Humphrey Lyttelton) on a shoe string budget and that Green himself was relatively little known in France. Jazz organisers in France historically have made a habit of making accessible the great jazz artists to as wide an audience as possible, and this writer, in 1990, managed to witness on the same evening an incomparable trio of jazz greats: the Pat Metheny trio featuring Roy Haynes and Dave Holland; the McCoy Tyner Big band; John Scofield band. All for the sum of FF120 (around £12). This makes for a well-educated younger jazz public who are not priced out of the music and a more diverse demographic distribution of the audience. The top quality 180g vinyl is matched only by the impeccable red, white and blue outer cover (plus cockerel) that leaves little doubt as to the concert location, while the lavish gatefold sleeve unfolds to reveal creatively invented covers with a giant photo of Paris and the Seine where French National Radio headquarters are situated. The quality of the issue is worthy of a Japanese edition and Grant Green famously had unissued Blue Note material that came out on lovingly first time issued LP’s complete with graphics by Japanese artists, and these have subsequently become collectors items. Terrific inner sleeve booklet that a box set would be proud of includes in-depth coverage by Blue Note and Grant Green archivist Michael Cuscuna, while all matters French are more than adequately explained by Pascal Rozet. For historical note, the recordings here emanate from the INA, or French Audio-Visual Institute and other smaller musical items can be viewed online, and the list is both exhaustive and impressive. Interestingly, while the more venerable of the two French jazz magazines, Jazz Hot, gave the concert a favourable review, Jazz Magazine did not.

Tim Stenhouse

Sun Ra ‘Of Abstract Dreams’ LP-RSD (Strut) 5/5

Record Store Day will soon be upon us and to coincide with this, indie label Strut have over the last few years been quietly but carefully adding to the canon of work by one of jazz’s most intriguing and mystifying figures, namely Sun Ra. Their previous Sun Ra re-issues have been indispensable affairs, with a double LP of piano solo and trio work (including handily a no frills CD to accompany – other labels please take note. Listeners do enjoy listening to their favourite music in different formats so why not indulge them). This latest issue, however, is slightly different in its source of origin, and as such offers a whole new perspective on the Ra’s work. Thanks to the sterling efforts and aural detective work of Michael D. Anderson, hitherto unheard of master tapes of a pared down formation of the Arkestra as a septet have now been made available to a wider audience for the very first time and these emanate from a campus radio station at the University of Philadelphia, WXFN. Given that these master tapes were retrieved minus any date details, we can only surmise that the single recording session took place sometime between 1974 and 1976. Sadly, due to a change in management at the radio station in the 1990’s, all other master tapes, not only of Sun Ra, but equally of a whole range of other musicians, were discarded and have been lost forever. Which makes the acquisition of these two sides all the more important.

Three key questions need to be asked: (i) Where does this issue fit into the bigger picture of Sun Ra recordings and what is the historical significance? (ii) How did this recording actually come about? (iii) What new do we learn from the music itself?

The first question is, perhaps, the easiest to answer. What is incontestable is that the period 1972-1980 witnessed a prolific period of recording activity by Sun Ra and one in which he and the band themselves were in a particularly rich vein of form. This is illustrated by the release of some of Ra’s strongest, yet equally more accessible albums including ‘Astro Black’ (newly re-issued), ‘Discipline 27-II’ (a previous Strut Record Store Day re-issue and strongly recommended for neophyte and collector alike), through to the latter half of the decade and the superlative ‘Lanquidity’, dating from 1978. Moreover, Sun Ra recorded in an ever-increasing variety of formats from piano solo, to piano trio and with full orchestra sometimes including more than one drummer, instrumentalists doubling up on percussion and the use of vocalists of whom June Tyson was a regular participant. The Arkestra branched out into film soundtrack music (‘Space Is The Place’) and released occasional 45’s (the subject of another Strut re-issue available in CD and separate vinyl formats).

In relation to the second question,.Sun Ra was constantly searching for outlets and opportunities in which to record the band’s music and the university radio station on the University of Philadelphia campus turned out to be an ideal setting. It was relatively inexpensive to book and Sun Ra encountered at once a friendly and supportive concert entrepreneur who was in overall charge, Geno Barnhart, the founder of the Empty Foxhole collective that existed between 1969 and 1982. Thus Barnhart was able to facilitate both studio sessions and live performances at the concert venue. None of the latter appear to be available for posterity, but this single studio session is the sole remaining example of Sun Ra and the Arkestra’s presence during this period.

How does the music shape up? Several key members of the band are present, notably Marshall Allen who operates on both flute and alto saxophone, as well as John Gilmore on tenor saxophone. However, no bassist is present whatsoever which raises a further question of whether this was in fact a deliberate decision on the part of Sun Ra to diversify, or merely a practical necessity of adapting to the absence of a given musician. Irrespective, the combination of mono recording and a distinctly dry sound (re-mastered and perfectly acceptable) lend an unusual quality to the Arkestra ambience, though this writer has no issues at all with the overall quality.

Side A commences with a reprise of a piece, ‘Island in the sun’, that was previously included on the Saturn album, ‘The Invisible Shield’, and which, in sound at least, is a close cousin to, ‘Spontaneous Simplicity’. The number is classic Ra terrain in combining a swing-like groove with modal form and the straightforward theme is played on flute by Allen. For a complete contrast in mood, ‘New dawn’, is an altogether darker and more brooding beast of a tune, which starts off with a musical conversation between Sun Ra on piano and Marshall Allen, before a more rhythmic groove takes over, propelled by the searching soloing of Gilmore, while Sun Ra himself briefly solos.

Allying the Arkestra sound with the blues is where the second side focuses the listener’s attention on the curiously titled piece, ‘I’m gonna unmask the Batman’, which was co-written by Lacy Gibson and Alton Abraham, the latter a business partner in Saturn records. Sun Ra jazz imbued with Chicago blues has an additional layer cemented by the lead vocals of James Jacson who has just the faintest hint of Louis Armstrong mixed with the R & B influences of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The music veers off into freer form when Gilmore takes up an impassioned solo. The session concludes with, ‘I’ll Wait For You’, that intricately combines poetry and music, with a recital by both Sun Ra himself and Jacson, and this proved to be a regular concert favourite that long-time Arkestra vocalist June Tyson would perform.

An inner sleeve booklet accompanies the LP and contains detailed notes written by author Paul Griffiths who is best known for his groundbreaking book on new music of the twentieth century and Sun Ra surely deserves to be placed among the pantheon of musicians with something new to say.

Tim Stenhouse

Sons of Kemet ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 4/5

It is fitting that at a time when the rights of British citizens from the Windrush generation have wrongly been called into question and in the clumsiest and most heartless of manners, thereby rendering problematic their legal status and indeed very existence on these isles, that Shabaka Hutchings and his Sons of Kemet should come up with an album that seeks to focus on cultural memory. In so doing, the band aims to showcase the commonality of the African diaspora, whether that be in the musical inspirations that the leader heard while living in in the Caribbean, or the newer sounds of South Africa heard while on tour there, or even the cosmopolitan influences that any culturally aware resident of London would be exposed to. It is doubly fitting that this recording should arrive when the fiftieth anniversary of the highly controversial ‘Rivers of blood’ speech is being vigorously debated. Can and should jazz intervene in such matters? During the Civil Rights era in the United States, musicians such as Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp raised those same such issues, the former two paying a heavy price in terms of major labels avoiding them altogether, and yet all the aforementioned recorded some of their most engaging and committed music on the famous Impulse! imprint. Thus, it is triply and aptly fitting that the Sons of Kemet should be present on the re-activated label. It should be added that John Coltrane with his magnificent evocation of a tragedy in a church in Alabama should be added to that list, while others, most notably Duke Ellington, made symbolic reference throughout their career.

Stylistically, the music contained within is significant in that it reaches out to a disparate audience and one that one would not necessarily call a traditional jazz one with all nine pieces themed around the names of prominent women of African heritage. This is reflected in the Jamaican dub influences of, ‘My queen is Mammie Phipps’, with toaster Congo Natty on hand. A personal favourite of this writer is, ‘My queen is Harriet Tubman’, a figure, who it should be remembered, was paid homage to on Ellington’s masterful, ‘New Orleans Suite’, and someone who escaped slavery and was in the mid-1970’s name checked by Stevie Wonder on the seminal album, ‘Songs in the key of life’, quite possibly the location in which Hutchings first came across her name.

In nature, the pared down sound on this album of tuba, drums and saxophone plus guest voices hints more at Max Roach than say Kamasi Washington whose epic and lush orchestrations run counter to Sons of Kemet’s approach, yet there is no reason why the two cannot exist side by side. Afro-centric visions are evident from viewing the striking album cover art work of Mzwandile Buthelezi. Some will want to make an association with the upcoming marriage of a biracial woman of African-American heritage on her mother’s side with a royal prince and this may indeed be viewed as a positive development and one that drags the Royal family into the twenty-first century where fusion of all kinds is the new norm. Certainly, the multi-racial composition of the band speaks for itself, yet is by no means the first time that musicians from diverse origins have come together. One could equally cite Santana to Sly Stone, late 1960’s’ Miles Davis to any number of larger big band formations.

The fact is this world is in rapid demographic and technological evolution and that includes the composition of that global population. Duke Ellington had the foresight in 1971 to see how demographic shifts were progressing with the prophetic title, the ‘Afro-Eurasian eclipse’, when travelling through Asia and seeing how human faces were inextricably tied to one another. In this respect, Western Europe, is very much playing catch up with developments elsewhere and the continent of Europe is a small minority in a much bigger and ethnically diverse and richer world. That is also one aspect of the ‘global village’ that should not be forgotten. Shabaka Hutchings and the Sons of Kemet are merely reflecting that inexorable trend and should be fully supported in their endeavour.

Tim Stenhouse

Moses Taiwa Molelekwa ‘Genes and Spirits’ 2LP (Matsuli Music) 5/5

Originally released on CD in 1999 on the MELT2000 label, “Genes and Spirits” was the second, and final, solo album from South African pianist/composer Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, before his untimely death in 2001. He was to many a shining beacon of musical light in his homeland, with his infectious style of writing and performing crossing international boundaries with its multi-cultural influences.

Molelekwa was born in Tembia township outside Johannesburg, growing up among what he described as “the lost generation”. Both his father and grandfather were musicians, and the pianist was introduced to jazz through his father’s collection of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis records. Yet it was of course musicians closer to home that also influenced and encouraged the young musician, with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie Moketsi and Dudu Pukwana offering inspiration.

The rising star of a new generation of South African musicians, Molelekwa sought to further integrate the traditions of his forebears into a more contemporary Western jazz idiom, with exploration and diversity. And he certainly succeeded in this, integrating African harmonies, melodies and rhythms into modern jazz in a contemporary and harmonious way.

“Genes and Spirits”, whilst predominantly a jazz recording, incorporates many musical genres. Molelekwa seamlessly combines Cuba (with celebrated Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes as mentor), Brazil (Flora Plurim’s distinctive vocalisations), along with Brice Wassey’s funk from the Cameroon and even a touch of UK-style drum’n’bass, with his own inherent township rhythms. The resultant mix is a mesmerising stroll into the heart of joyful expression.

There are ten original compositions on the album, with this vinyl only release adding “Wa Mpona” as a bonus cut. From the glorious opener “Tsala”, with its beautiful vocals floating graciously over Molelekwa’s jazzy keys and a smooth bass and drums backdrop, into the funkier “Spirits of Thembisa”, with its Weather Report-like grooves and rhythms. “Down Rockey Street” is a reggae tune gone AWOL, African beats mixing with jazz horns and soprano saxophone. The gentle feel of “Itumeleng” takes a more classical path, allowing the composer’s grace and subtlety to softly shine. Whilst “Sogra” moves in more mainstream jazz circles, I defy anyone not to be completely wowed by the title track “Genes and Spirits”. Melody, harmony and lyricism all combine perfectly on this little piece of South African wonderment. “Kwaze Kwangcono” sets the African influences free, with intrigue and surprise dancing happily together. As with much of this recording, “Repela” rewards the listener with its intelligent mix of different styles, and “Dance to Africa” journeys successfully through the composer’s vision of interconnected musical genres. The closing track “Ntatemoholo” is a meditative piece and yet still sparkles with expressive joy. Characterful and celebratory, a wonderful tune to end a wonderful album.

For me, discovering this music for the first time, there is an earnestness and heart-warming naivety to Molelekwa’s music. A voice that sounds almost fragile, perhaps even vulnerable, that was still in the process of discovery when his journey was cut short. There is an undoubted ambition of trying to get somewhere else, somewhere new, and a willingness to take risks that put the feel of the music above any occasional shortcomings in technique. The pianist named his three biggest influences as Abdullah Ibrahim, Herbie Hancock and Bheki Mseleku. Ibrahim for his hard-won simplicity; Herbie for the way he treats the keyboard as a site of restless experimentation; Mseleku for his merging of jazz techniques and southern African melodic lines. To my mind, Molelekwa should be remembered for attaining a certain beauty in the music he made, and for taking South African jazz on to a new frontier.

Mike Gates