Herbie Tsoaeli’s graceful Bheki Mseleku tribute

2014-09-29 11:26

It is a few minutes after 10.15pm. Ann Hampton Callaway has just got off stage.

Roberta Gambarini, an Italian jazz singer who has been referred to as the "best new jazz vocalist to come along in fifty years", was on the mic about four hours ago.

This is the Dinaledi stage at the 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, in Sandton.

Roy Hargrove Quintet is act number four on the bill. Callaway, Gambarini and the Quintet are the three United States-based performances at the now less-intimate arrangement that is Dinaledi.

But before Hargrove, after Callaway, an ensemble of four music men comes on.

Nduduzo Makhathini on piano is on the far left. Diagonally on the far right, Ayanda Sikade is manning the drums. A few metres away towards the centre, a tenor sax hangs around a neck as Sisonke Xonti drifts flirtingly to the edge of the stage and back.

“We composed a song recently, and you will be the first one to hear it.

It is called Grooving with Doctor BM. Do you know who that is?” asks the figure between Makhathini and Sikande, from deep behind the centre spot. After the moderate crowd responds "no", the man mentions Bheki Mseleku and announces the next song as a tribute.

This is how the Herbie Tsoaeli Quartet introduced what became a warm and intriguing delivery on Friday night. Between the piano and drums was a brown bass guitar with strings protruding a few metres above its player for the night, Herbie Tsoaeli.

Bheki Mseleku is the late South African jazz great; a self-taught pianist, who also marvelled on guitar and sax. He died at the age of 53 in London in 2008.

This dedication to Mseleku was weaved in between the first opening arrangements with which the Tsoaeli collective seduced the lukewarm crowd, steadily bridging the huge gap between the stage and the first row of seats and creating a vibe.

Tsoaeli, a South African Music Award winner for best jazz last year, worked with Mseleku and almost every other heavyweight in the jazz game in his career.

His quartet produced a proudly South African show among the three other appearances, arguably the most entertaining on Dinaledi that night.

The 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz event ran until Saturday. This weekend was its first appearance at its new home, the Sandton Convention Centre.


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