Saturday, February 04, 2012

Abdullah Ibrahim - Sotho Blue (101 Distribution, 2011)

The pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim reconvened his band Ekeya with Belden Bullock on bass, George Gray on drums, Cleave Guyton on alto saxophone and flute, Keith Loftis on tenor saxophone, Andrae Murchison on trombone and Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone. The “little big band” format allows him to add dimensions of color and texture that make this ballad centered recording compelling. “Calypso Minor” begins the program with horns strutting slowly around a thick bass line, with languorous saxophone to trade sections with trombone at a languid tempo. Light piano accompaniment provides a gateway for flute to enter and swirl with pulsing bass and the feel of a humid tropical night. Very light and subtle shades of horn with soft brushes pervade “Sotho Blue” making way for a smoky night-time tenor saxophone solo and flute adding a night bird song. Subtle, breathing saxophone with gentle piano accompaniment display the thoughtful texture and shading at work. After the solo piano interlude of “Abide,” “Nisa” follows with shaded horns riffing as the piano, bass and drum unit glides in underneath like the approaching tide. There is a tenor saxophone solo taken at a stately medium tempo, before Murchison’s trombone swaggers in proud but humble. After another well grounded saxophone and bass solo, the full band crescendos and finishes. Dark piano chords alternate with probing horns make for a fascinating re-animation of Bud Powell’s “Glass Enclosure.” The horns harmonize with with a rich controlled feel, and then drop out entirely for darkly hued piano chords from the leader giving the music a sense of being unmoored in space and time. “Star Dance” moves back to the hushed evening feel with crystalline drops of piano bass and brushes clearing the decks for smoky saxophone and flute. This was a very interesting album as the compositions and arrangements took center stage, and the bandleader stayed mostly in the background directing the pace with great patience and humility. The arrangements are uncluttered, bearing the hallmark of one of Ibrahim’s champions from his early career, Duke Ellington. It’s a sound world that envelops the listener with fluid vibrations of rhythm moving through the air. Sotho Blue -

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