Molelekwa's death in 2001 cut short his promising career - he was fast gaining a reputation as one of South Africa's most talented jazz composers and performers. Molelekwa died with just two studio albums to his name, so when the search for lost recordings produces music as fantastic as what's on Wa Mpona, it's like discovering an irreplaceable photo of someone you loved at the bottom of a drawer, years later.
Gracefully virtuoso, Molelekwa takes musical risks with unpretentious eloquence, and with every unexpected development, always lands on his feet.But Wa Mpona is not Molelekwa's work alone. The album is really a dedication starring the artist. This is all in tune with the spirit of Molelekwa's career, made stronger by his professional generosity to up and coming stars like Chocho Valdez (check out his first piano solo on the opening track "Ntate Moholo"). Many of the songs are remixes using often sparse original material - like the "Spirit of Thembisa - Mama City Remix" by Ben Amato, with additional recordings added by Buddy Wells. Later on the album, the same composition reappears, in the "deep space" trance remix by Ashley Beedle. Molelekwa's sound seems to gel beautifully with loungy remixes. Naturally rich timbre lends itself to studio mixes, as on the melancholy but chilled title track "Wa Mpona".
Highlights? Don't miss "Nobohle (live, previously unreleased version)" with subtle percussion by Airto Moreira, and airborne trumpet by Byron Wallen. "Nobohle" showcases Molelekwa's borderless touch as it journeys easily from strong new age refrains to classic tightly composed jazz with a jams feel. Then there's the unforgettable "Mountain Shade" from Finding one's self. Or the joyful township flavoured "Genes and Spirits" (from the album of the same name) that explores rhythms and returns surely to its playful groove.
An energetic, tight 11 minute long live recording of "Ntate Moholo", courtesy the Hague North Sea Jazz fest closes the album. If you never hear that piano solo that starts about five minutes in, you're really missing something.
- Jean Barker"...unreleased and live material as well as a young Moses Khumalo and Amampondo vocalist Lungiswa. Stunning is a wordthat comes to mind when listening to this album!"- SA Rock Digest
"This compilation has a wide idiomatic span, including work with Cuban jazz master Chucho Valdez, funk with British saxist Chris Bowden, a Pat Metheny-like lilt to Nobohle, Ibrahim-like solo piano and world-grooves with programmed drums. A big talent in development, who is saluted more than mourned here."- John Fordham for bbc.co.uk
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