Abdullah Ibrahim- still introspective after all these years
The first time I witnessed this legendary South African jazz pianist (and Ellington protege) was in the early 90's at an Apollo Theater show, opening for one-time band-mate Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Quite a triple bill. What struck me most about Ibrahim's set wasn't just the beautiful sedateness of his music but also how the crowd would scream out at the solos, even the flute.
Just shy of 20 years later, aka last weekend, I caught Ibrahim at NYC's Jazz Standard with his band Ekaya. Though the great sax-man Carlos Ward isn't with him now, AI had with him an impressive four-piece horn section to play a wonderful hour-long set. The brass-men let out sweet, lyrical solos but what still gripped me was Ibrahim himself and his elegant, sublime piano- something no doubt learned from Sir Duke. It made me wish that I hadn't foolishly skipped his solo gigs earlier that week.
Luckily, when I asked if there was any merch available, there was a solo album from last October for sale (now coming out again this past March). Somehow I missed it then but I was really grateful to get a hold of it now. It's called Senzo, available on Sunny Side Records.
While I was hoping for a bunch of meditative piano pieces, what I got instead was a 22-part suite which doubled as travelogue, with nods to Ellington, Coltrane, New Orleans and of course, Ibrahim's beloved homeland. Even when strung-together, the pieces still have an airy reflective charm to them. All of which makes me want to catch him do a solo show the next time I have the chance.
Also see this wonderful clip from 1984 of Ibrahim & Ward