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Abdullah Ibrahim: Senzo

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Any record by Abdullah Ibrahim is always an event to look forward to, often with bated breath as he always turns in something quite breathtaking. Ibrahim has done this with Good News from Africa (Enja, 1973), Water from an Ancient Well (Ekapa/Tiptoe, 1985), the exquisite orchestral work African Suite (Ekapa/Tiptoe, 1998), and several others. The thrilling Senzo can be added to that list.

This is a major solo piano suite, comprising 21 individually composed segments, plus a version of Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" that is reverently reworked and almost completely unrecognizable, were it not for the fact that the title appears on the sleeve. Senzo is a sweeping opus of epic proportions that meanders elegantly through great swaths of time—ancient and modern—and finally returns to the continually evolving roots of jazz. The appropriate imagery here is that of the "Ocean & The River," both song and leit motif for the track's beginning and end; although the concept of Alpha and Omega begins to describe it infinitely more precisely.

Throughout the expression of the music's ideas and idiom—and topographical landscape—Ibrahim conducts himself with regal loneliness. There is a sudden feeling that no longer does he belong to jazz, or the African Diaspora, but to the whole of the human race. His voice becomes highly individual, and it begins to speak for artist and audience alike, just as Ellington's once did when he composed his own opuses—Black, Brown and Beige (Columbia, 1944) and The Drum Is a Woman (Columbia, 1956). Thus, it is no longer possible to credit technique or virtuosity in his playing; the music takes over the senses in waves of pure sound.

The suite mixes short segments, like "Blues for Bea," with slightly longer sketches, such as "In the Evening," a meditation that appears to flow like wet paint spreading gently through a still life portrait. There are longer segments that pay tribute to some of the milestones along the walk of life—"Blues for a Hip King" (dedicated to the late King of Swaziland in southern Africa) and "For Coltrane," a deep meditation that appears to commune with the spirit world in the wake of the saxophonist. The sublime title segment, "Senzo - Contours and Time," conjures up the great spirit of the ancestors, and an Ellingtonian séance takes the form of an utterly beguiling version of "In a Sentimental Mood."

Senzo is a monumental defining work in Ibrahim's long and illustrious career. It begs or provokes a somewhat frightening thought: does the artist consider this to be a spectacular pinnacle from which the eye and the mind can perceive nothingness? Or will the artist's mind turn inward to search the soul once more for a new sound that will send the spirit soaring? Audiences throughout the world will wait once more with bated breath.

Track Listing: Dust; Corridors Radiant; Jabulani; Dust (Reprise); 'Senzo' - Contours and Time; Meditation / Mummy; Banyana, Children Of Africa; Mamma; Blue Bolero; In a Sentimental Mood; Ocean & The River; Ocean & The River (2); In the Evening; Blues For Bea; Prelude 'For Coltrane'; Aspen; Blues for a Hip King; Third Line Samba; Tookah; Pula; For Coltrane.

Personnel: Abdullah Ibrahim: piano.

Title: Senzo | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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