Stream-of-consciousness solo-piano recitals come in as many shades as jazz itself. At one extreme are Keith Jarrett's messianic epics. At another are Abdullah Ibrahim's less flashy but deeper outings. Ibrahim's style is about substance, space and subtlety. He says more by doing less. Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, after all, were his formative influences.
Dream Time was recorded in March 2019 at the Hirzinger Concert Hall in Sölinhuben, in the foothills of the German Alps where Ibrahim lives. Over the course of sixty-seven minutes, he ranges over seventeen tunes from his massive songbook of original compositions, returning three times to one of them, "Blue Bolero" (from the 2003 Enja album African Magic). Audio quality is superb and the performance is seamless, each tune seguing into the next. Only at the very end does applause inform us that an audience was present.
It would be interesting to know if Ibrahim's choice of material was planned or off the cuff, but it is of no consequence. Dream Time was conceived not as a greatest-hits package, but in the spirit of the Native Australian timelines from which it takes its name. It is contemplative and intimate and unhurried. Ellington and his longtime trombonist Lawrence Brown are both acknowledged as inspirations and other pieces evoke Ibrahim's early years in South Africa (he exiled himself from the country in 1963). Three of the tunes ("Dream Time," "Nisa," "The Balance") were included on his excellent 2019 album The Balance (Gearbox), recorded in London with his eight-piece band, Ekaya.
Talking soft and saying something, as is Ibrahim's wont, this is a work of exquisite beauty.
Trieste My Love; Genesis; For Coltrane; Blue Bolero; Nisa; Blue Bolero; Capetown District Six; Sotho Blue; Machopi;
Whoza Mtwana; Blues For A Hip King; Dream Time; In The Evening; Song For Lawrence Brown; Blue Bolero;
Dedication To Duke Ellington; The Balance; Aspen; Did You Hear That Sound; Blue Bolero.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.