John Donaldson Sextet, Millennium Hall

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John Donaldson Sextet, Millennium Hall

WHEN South African pianist Bheki Mseleku died three years ago after a relatively short but challenging life, he left a legacy of music lauded for its melodicism and rhythmic sophistication, confirming his ability to assimilate a broad range of styles and strong spiritual leanings.

Among those who miss him most is top jazz British pianist John Donaldson. In his final years Bheki was a friend and touring colleague, and inspiration to the extent that John’s new album Nearer Awakening and this Sheffield Jazz fixture was devoted to the late great.

The dual saxophone potency of veteran world-renowned blower Peter King (alto) and Ian Price (tenor) up front alongside trumpet player Quentin Collins was instantly captivating when the band fired up the room with Blues For Africa.

There’s an energy both to their playing and Bheki’s enduring compositions that crosses cultures and age groups, Timelessness here demonstrating the lighter side without conceding the technique so ably displayed on Suluman Saud and Angola.

With drummer Tristan Banks and bass-player Simon Thorpe completing a sextet triggered or driven by the humble Donaldson’s instinctive work with the ivories, there’s clearly an unspoken sense of knowing at work with this sextet.

That stretches to both the spirit that informs Bheki’s music as well as a depth and thrust that in turn promotes a huge sense of life beside its warmth and sometimes playful nature. It’s no wonder this show rushed by.

David Dunn