South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim was 84 when he performed this remarkable solo concert a year ago at a small recital hall in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, where he now makes his home. Even at his advanced age, he remains a superb stylist, focusing on nuance, mood and melody above thunder and flash.
For 67 minutes, he sits alone at the piano, calmly seguing from one tune to another, all 20 of them original compositions from his vast songbook, including one, “Blue Bolero” (from the 2003 album African Magic), he returns to four times as a sort of touchstone. There are no breaks between songs, each flows directly into the next, making the performance a kind of long, stream-of-consciousness suite.
Ibrahim is a master of understatement who makes complicated music sound simple, much like Thelonious Monk, one of his major influences. The tunes, some of them mere snippets as brief as nine seconds, represent the totality of Ibrahim’s life and career, including powerful older compositions like “Capetown District Six”, “Blues for a Hip King” and “Sotho Blue”, which evoke his South African homeland and the fight against Apartheid. There are also a trio of odes to some of his musical inspirations, namely John Coltrane, Duke Ellington (a mentor who introduced Ibrahim to international audiences via the 1964 Reprise album Duke Ellington Presents The Dollar Brand Trio) and Ellington’s longtime trombonist Lawrence Brown.
While Ibrahim plays nearly two-dozen individual songs, the performance has the feel of a single seamless composition. This is an unabashedly beautiful, somewhat melancholy album that paints a stirring portrait of the artist in his twilight. The sound quality is outstanding and it’s easy to forget that it’s a live concert, since Ibrahim doesn’t speak at all and the German audience is so hushed and reverent that it comes as a surprise when they burst into applause at the very end.
For more information, visit jazzrecords.com/enja. Ibrahim is at Blue Note March 5th-8th.