In today’s jazz world with all of its wunderkind piano prodigies, the simplicity of South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s approach to the piano is his genius. He can say more with two notes of his left hand than an entire room of Julliard and Berklee graduates can express with both paws.
In his fiftieth year playing music, the former Dollar Brand recorded this 25-track suite of music at the Jazz Across The Border Festival in Berlin 2001. This live date is free from audience interruption until they respond to drummer Sipho Kunene’s solo on the penultimate track! Such reserve. Ibrahim plays a continuous set, weaving his compositions in and out of each short section, all of which use his “Blue Bolero” as a segue.
In 1963 Ibrahim, then Dollar Brand, was ‘discovered’ by Duke Ellington and introduced to an American audience. His jazz has always taken cues from Ellington as well as from gospel and his native South Africa. When he plays, it is impossible to define his style as ‘World Music,” for, like Ellington and Coltrane, his music transcends classification.
The music heard here is reminiscent of the late John Lewis’s final Evolution recordings, with their unassuming elegance. Only one so confident in his art can be so unpretentious. Ibrahim draws from African, Latin, Mid-Eastern, and American jazz for his ingredients. He honors Ellington by a humble break down of both “Solitude” and “In A Sentimental Mood,” rearranging each piece into his own. He taps Coltrane’s “India” in his tribute “For Coltrane,”exercising the possibilities that Trane revealed to the world.
African Magic is a matchless recording from a peerless performer.