as Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim is a pianist, composer arranger, bandleader
and teacher. Born in 1934 in Cape Town, he grew up in the "notorious"
District 6. In 1959 he joined up with other SA jazz giants Kippie Moletsi
and Hugh Masekela to form The Jazz Epistles but in 1962 left South Africa
and was only to return after 30 years in exile. This was his only concert
in the UK this year.
His music could be said to be
influenced by Liszt, late Beethoven, Mahler and even Messiaen. But there
are also influences of Arabic and Moorish music, township jazz, shebeen
music, fragments of English chorals, romantic music, and hints of Ellington
Abdullah Ibrahimís music is multilayered,
though deceptively flat to the unaccustomed ear. He is not afraid of
repetition, though not in the strict sense of the word, as every piece
is approached from a different angle. He continually deconstructs what
he has previously done, the effect being that he never plays the same
music twice. He strives to go beyond the traditional rules of music;
for instance he is fond of alienating the customary jazz chord by changing
its upper structure, the "French technique", with dazzling
His choice of music was more introspective,
meditative, reflective - even bordering on melancholic romanticism -
than we usually expect from him. The first half hour was unsettling
since it required his audience to adjust to the subtle energies he was
projecting through his responsive piano. Often you needed to rid yourself
of preconceived notions about his music and approach it as if youíve
never heard it before. Only then can you feel its desired impact.
He embraces constant change, revelling
in the flux of things seen and unseen. This can be disappointing to
those who expect "more of the past" from him. However, like
Miles Davis, he is not that kind of musician. He canít do it; he wonít
do it. The past only matters as material to be transformed, notes become
putty in his hands, and the next note his only guide.
During the concert, each distinct
work was woven together by a repetitive romantic ditty signifying the
start of a new piece. Some may find it reassuring; I thought it superfluous.
I would much have preferred a full version of this piece standing alongside
his other works in its own right.
By far the best music was his
solo piano performances. These compositions stand by themselves, without
the need for any accompaniment. As such, it is arguable that the double
bass and drums often subtracted from the music rather than adding depth
or colour to it. At times it seemed almost as if he had forgotten we
were there, as if he was in a trance. The only thing he looked at was
his piano, the distance behind it, and from time to time glanced at
his band members. Sometimes he would signal to them by hand or give
a slight nod indicating when they were to join him. The drummer, George
Gray was absolutely superb, playing with perfect modulation. The double
bass player Belden Bullock came across as rather uncertain of himself
and aurally was difficult to hear.
Two encores followed the scheduled
music, "The Wedding" as Iíve never heard it before, followed
by a variation of "Mindif", ending on the leitmotif ditty
he had used all evening.
All in all it made for a relaxing
and reflective evening. One couldnít help but be intoxicated by his
mesmeric and captivating sound sculptures. Abdullah is a veteran jazz
musician of truly historic, though fortunately not histrionic, proportions.
He is not as complacent as many older, well-established artists inevitably
become; he is still exploring sounds and its forms. As an experimenter,
he is constantly changing, but never forgetting where he started from.