Thursday, October 05, 2017

Abdullah Ibrahim - Ancient Africa (Sackville/Delmark, 2017)

Abdullah Ibrahim (known early in his career as Dollar Brand) is an expatriate South African pianist, who was fortunate to escape the confines of the Apartheid government of that country, and to be sponsored by none other than Duke Ellington, who "Introduced" his first album. Ibrahim's distinctive piano style still retains aspects of township music, giving it an uplifting and joyful feeling, while hinting at jazz piano legends like Ellington, Monk and Powell. This is a disc of his solo playing, recorded in 1973, but released piecemeal in the succeeding years. The liner notes link him to Keith Jarrett, and there is some of the populist tone that Jarrett strikes in his early recordings, and Ibrahim also vocalizes with himself, albeit a bit more tunefully than Jarrett does. His playing can become deeply percussive, in the vein of McCoy Tyner, but overall he wears his influences lightly and develops a unique approach to improvisation that would in turn influence generations of musicians that followed him. The first two tracks on this album are actually multi-part suites, "Ancient Africa" and "The Aloe and the Wild Rose" and these performances were originally released on a Sackville Records LP called Sangoma they and are very impressive improvisations, which develop sub-themes as they go along, building the music logically and achieving an emotional resonance that is quite powerful. The third track on this album, "Cherry/Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro" was another LP side long suite, originally released on the Sackville Records album African Portraits. Presumably dedicated to Don Cherry and another close friend, Ibrahim uses bright and ringing chords to propel the music forward leading into a powerful improvisation that allows melodies to bubble up and move along as the performance sharpens into view. The final track on the album is the previously unreleased "Khotso" in which Ibrahim steps away from the piano, instead performing on bamboo flute and punctuating it with spoken word recitation. The flute has a haunting and spacious sound, punctuated by his soft and hypnotic voice which makes for a mysterious and thoughtful performance. This was an enjoyable album that consisted of music worthy of being re-issued and an outlier that will certainly captivate fans of Ibrahim's music. Ancient Africa - amazon.com

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