Abdullah Ibrahim’s followers likely have preferences for his big-band, large-ensemble, trio, or solo works, but any of his fans will agree that all of his projects display a unique melodic touch that is immediately recognisable and pleasant. Well into his golden years, Ibrahim still proves he has the Midas touch on this collection of 22 solo acoustic piano pieces. It’s a mix of familiar songs and new material, all referencing the elements of life, nature, hearth, and homeland that have always been central themes in what he calls storytelling, not mere music-making. On this triptych through memorable experiences, the pianist weaves his way through many short snippets of phrases that have served him well, and a few extended discourses that define his career and its struggles to come out triumphant. There’s an ebb and flow to the program that makes you want to listen all the way through, but certain familiar signposts along the way remind you how distinctive and singularly unique Ibrahim’s style is. From hymnal and reverent to bouncy South African township music, the blues, Duke Ellington, and back to nature, he continues to reinvent his music with a timeless quality that lingers and never leaves the back of your mind
Then again, there’s a serenity and peaceful quality always present, as heard in versions of “Ocean & the River” that bookend the CD, the similarly thematic “In the Evening,” the cool “Aspen,” the meditative “Prelude” to “For Coltrane,” and the soulful “Mamma.” Ellington’s influence has been with Ibrahim since he was discovered by the jazz legend, and he always acknowledges it, here with the patient revisited version of “Blues for a Hip King” and an unusual extrapolated take of “In a Sentimental Mood.” Back to his South African roots, “Tookah” is a short look back at youth, “Pula” a musical homage to rain showers, and “Jabulani” another remade original and expression of joy (this time much faster), while the very familiar “Banyana, Children of Africa” is a definitive, familiar, and rambling tune so identifiable with Ibrahim and Ibrahim alone. He pays tribute to wife Sathima on “Blues for Bea,” which assimilates the stride piano sound as well as anything he’s ever done, and “Nisa” and “Senzo” back to back are a spiritual pairing, painting aural images of moonlight on water and a somber, pensive, post-romantic mood. Always within his capabilities, playing lovely jazz improvisations embedded deep in his soul, Abdullah Ibrahim makes another classic and epic statement, worthy of high praise and recommended to sensitive and warm-hearted people everywhere.