Let us forget about the obvious for just a second and not dwell on who is Abdullah Ibrahim, his storied background and development, or even the importance of this compilation of material mostly culled from recorded work in South Africa. Anthology nonetheless, this is a super jazz album that stands on its own as a fascinating sketch of a truly significant global jazz figure.
Assuming a readership that might not be familiarized with Ibrahim’s music, one could simply venture that all the tracks in Best of Abdullah Ibrahim showcase resourceful tunes with robust, albeit uncomplicated arrangements. They serve well as conduit for solo and ensemble masterworks. Since the material selected spans a few decades, one has the opportunity to hear some common threads, as well as unique demarcations, taken throughout the years. Obviously, one would need to investigate where such paths came from and where they lead by examining his extensive recorded output in other labels, such as Enja. In Best of Abdullah Ibrahim, however, such a detection venture is facilitated by an introductory glimpse aided by trio playing mixed with various ensemble types, featuring various sonorities and musicians of variegated nations and persuasions.
Rashid Vally, the South African compiler of this CD, has been associated with Ibrahim’s journey during the most significant part of his career and his selections include “Woza Mtwana,” a live portion of the performances rendered during Ibrahim’s recent tour of his homeland that saw international light through Cape Town Revisited. Said album, however, did not include the aforementioned tune whereupon special guest Feya Faku performs a yummy trumpet solo. In the driving “Tintinyana,” which is another live performance, Ibrahim plays at will with the piano to great and salutary effect giving way to a truly organic bass exposition, while George Johnson keeps everyone in rein with his drumming freedom. It is not clear whether the live tunes listed in the liner notes as recorded in 1995 were recorded that year on in 1997 as the Enja label website would suggest. In the final analysis, only the most punctilious would really care about these matters, even if it would be nice to know for sure.
Although brief, “The Wedding” is an exquisite piece. If nothing else, “Mannenberg,” is a saxophonic and arranging lesson to behold; although that does not begin to describe its 13+ minutes of musical magnificence. “African Sun” features contented ideas. The thick swing of “Bayi Lam” heals. “Chisa” marches with a tasty tightness that does not squeeze the life out of the soloists as Ibrahim adorns and impels it to a triumphal faded end. “Little Boy” is neither small, nor infantile, although quite a bit of fun is had with it, as the reed players are as mischievous as they want to be. “Bra Timing From Phomolong” is the type of tune that only masters can perform to such level since it requires equal amounts of discipline, encyclopedic jazz knowledge and taste. Finally, does a tune entitled “Blues For a Hip King” require any teaser or explanation?
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