Abdullah Ibrahim

Review: Norwich Theatre Royal performance

21 May 2015

Few of us will have ever been disappointed by performances that our Theatre Royal puts on.

However, I have rarely been startled, especially by a jazz concert. This is a genre that I think I have loved since I was in my pram, with my older brother trying to lull me to sleep with his discordant harmonica. There was little discordant about the Abdullah Ibrahim trio – except when that was clearly what they intended.

This is one of the most innovative trios you will ever hear, with their fascinating set of ethereal music. From conversations with other fans, many of us were expecting a more conventional jazz performance, but what we got was a masterclass in the unexpected. Indeed at some points, both of the two core elements in all jazz were cast aside – improvisation and a distinctive swing rhythm.

Yet at all times their music was engaging, original and mesmerising. How could such small ensemble of piano, bass/cello and clarinet/soprano sax create such deep, impassioned music? Now over eighty, the guvnor plays with the abandon of an enthusiastic teenager who has only just discovered the piano. His music reflects many of the musical influences of his South African childhood, ranging from traditional African songs to gospel, raga and progressive modern jazz. I even heard references to jigs, Dixie and more than hints of the blues. The trio particularly reflects the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Also, ever present were phrases that seemed to be resolving almost into a tune that you know somewhere at the back of your brain.

The three musicians, on fluent soprano sax/clarinet/ flute, rippling cello/bass and that quirky piano, were all in perfect synchronisation. If you get the chance to see them do not miss an amazing experience.

— Roger Haywood, for Eastern Daily Press