tue 12/12/2017

Abdullah Ibrahim, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Abdullah Ibrahim, Barbican Hall

Abdullah Ibrahim, Barbican Hall

Veteran of South African jazz is on muted form

Abdullah Ibrahim: 'classy and consummate, but also decidedly muted'Manfred Rinderspacher

Like Hugh Masekela, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim first emerged as a member of The Jazz Epistles - that seminal, if short-lived, group who at the start of the 1960s were the first to offer a South African take on modern jazz. Both under the stage name Dollar Brand and, following his conversion to Islam, as Abdullah Ibrahim, it's an instinct he's been honing ever since. As early influences such as Ellington and Monk have gradually become less tangible, he has emerged as one of the most distinctive artistic voices of his generation.

In his old age, however, Ibrahim seems to have re-embraced Ellington, in particular; and as that composer's influence becomes notably more explicit, much of Ibrahim's own character seems, alas, to have disappeared. This much anticipated appearance, alongside the four-piece brass section, drums and double bass of Ekaya, is thankfully less bland than his recent album with the WDR Big Band. But it's still hard not to damn it with faint praise: classy and consummate, yes, but also decidedly muted.

The trademark meditative melodies are still there, if often at rather more lugubrious tempos than we're used to; but the subtly complex rhythms underpinning Ibrahim's recorded versions are all too often toned down. Such delicacy works fine for perhaps the first hour, which gradually ramps up from the solo opening number, through trio, to full band. It being a generously long set, however, there is almost another hour and a half still to go, and one single dynamic climax - a brilliant rendition of the upbeat "Tuang Guru" - simply isn't enough to sustain momentum.

Of course, there are other highlights, not least the cheeky allusion to Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" as an intro to that tune. An extended "Water from an Ancient Well" is exquisite too, as battered as a post-battle battalion, complete with slow-motion, martial snare. And the musicianship, of course, is hugely eloquent, particular mention going to George Gray on drums, as well as Andrae Murchison on trombone and Cleave Guyton on both alto sax and gloriously overblown flute.

The latter pair, like their colleagues on tenor and baritone saxophones, find themselves very much in the spotlight: Ibrahim himself is curiously absent, hands resting dormant in his lap for prolonged periods. Not that anyone seems to mind - indeed, the audience grant a standing ovation almost as long as that enjoyed at the Royal Festival Hall by fellow elder statesman Ornette Coleman last summer. Yet whereas that applause seemed to be at least in part for the show just witnessed, one couldn't help but feel that in Ibrahim's case it was deserved in rather more general terms, as a celebration of his entire, undoubtedly brilliant, career.

Comments

Come back to Newcastle eventually pesale (thats on tyne) saw you earlier this year took other half who loves the music but wasnt too sure because of all media /hype etc. Brill! best gig ive seen since black rebel motorcycle club (and candi staton, not together though!) good because your a musician/songwriter and thats what its about! . Academy in newcastle has re kickstarted opportunity to see good bands and accessible to younger folk too! all good.

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