CD review: Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya

Sotho Blue
(Intuition INT34332)

The South African pianist has done some of his most satisfying work with a mini-big band, which is what this US-manned septet sounds like. It enables him to stretch his distinctive harmonies across a bunch of horns, and links to the work he did for the home crowd when he was still Dollar Brand – like the classic Mannenburg, for example.

This is the band which toured Europe earlier this year – Brand’s long-standing trio with Belden Bullock on bass and George Gray on drums, plus a four-horn frontline of Cleave Guyton on alto and flute, Keith Loftis on tenor, Jason Marshall on baritone and Andrae Murchison on trombone.

The absence of trumpet gives the band a particularly lush, and all the players are quite old-fashioned in tone and style, despite their obvious youth from the cover pic. The vision is, of course, very strongly the Ibrahim’s, and the band is there to bring it to us. That is not to suggest he denies his musicians their characters, just that composition and arrangement are the dominant forces here.

The disc opens with my favourite bass riff of all time – this is Calypso Minor, first heard on Ibrahim’s soundtrack to the film No Fear, No Die. The interleaving of drum and bass groove, horn lines and piano interjections is just exquisite, with the horns solo in neat sections within the tune.

The rest of the album is mainly made up of revisited tunes from Ibrahim’s huge back catalogue, including such old favourites as The Mountain, The Wedding, and the more recent piano trio piece Joan Capetown Flowers, here expanded to full band.

There may not be anything particularly new here – it is rather a fine-tuning, a rehoning of some of the brilliant things Ibrahim has already done, with a particularly sweet-sounding young band to help him. Just listen to the sax choir intro to Nisa for an example of how Ibrahim says so much with such stripped down elements, and enjoy the almost classical composition of Glass Enclosure. And for some unadorned Ibrahim piano, there is Abide.

Most of the pieces are medium to slow paced, and Ibrahim’s themes are so strong and distinctive that the album almost feels like one unified whole split up into movements. Beautifully recorded, too.

Categories: CD review

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