Mon March 6, 2017

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya (SA/USA)

Abdullah Ibrahim: piano
Noah Jackson: bass, cello
Will Terrill: drums
Lance Bryant: tenor saxophone
Cleave Guyton: alto saxophone, flute
Alex Harding: baritone saxophone
Andrae Murchison: marching baritone valvetrombone

Nelson Mandela has referred to Abdullah Ibrahim as “South Africa’s Mozart,” and few would disagree. Born in 1934 in Cape Town, Abdullah Ibrahim’s journey to becoming a conduit of beautiful music began at the age of seven with formal piano lessons at his mother’s church.

As a young boy, his musical influences ranged from spiritual hymns, traditional African music, carnival and minstrel music, and of course American jazz, swing, and boogie woogie. He earned the nickname “Dollar” from American sailors for his spirited efforts to buy American LPs which could be found for one dollar. This nickname stuck and he would later earn renown as “Dollar Brand.”

Alongside Hugh Masekela, he performed and recorded with South Africa’s first premiere jazz group, the Jazz Epistles. In exile in Europe in 1963, destiny would call when Duke Ellington discovered him in a jazz cafe in Zurich, which led to the recording Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio (Reprise). Following his mentor to New York where he would later convert to Islam, Abdullah Ibrahim would record prolifically and become one of the leading pianists, composers, and figures in modern jazz.

In the 1970s, his songs “Mannenberg” and “Soweto” would be embraced as anthems of protest against Aparthaid South Africa. In the 1980s he would form the septet Ekaya, which would become one of the few successful acoustic jazz groups of this era. The 1990s would see collaborations with big bands and classical string orchestras. A documentary film, A Struggle for Love, about Abdullah Ibrahim’s life journey was made in 2004. His latest recording, Sotho Blue (Sunnyside), is a joyful and swinging performance by his current incarnation of Ekaya.

“…his voice—so carved from the blood and gemstone of African earth—that comparing his tone and manner to anyone living or dead is really impossible.” (All About Jazz)

“A calm, steady heartbeat nourishes his music, fulfilling a meditative urge.” (The New York Times)

“Each member of Ekaya solos with intelligence, taste, and understatement…” (Downbeat Magazine)

“The affection his fans feel for him was apparent in the roars that greeted his slow walk to the stage, and in the even louder standing ovation…” (The Guardian)