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Abdullah Ibrahim: The Balance

Chris May By

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Abdullah Ibrahim's discography goes back sixty years, and although there are longer periods between his releases than there used to be, Ibrahim has retained all his grit and jubilance. The pianist and composer continues to make gloriously uplifting music steeped in its South African roots, in a style which still carries echoes of his formative overseas influences, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

The Balance, which is Ibrahim's first new album in four years, will delight anyone who has enjoyed landmark discs such as Anatomy Of A South African Village (Fontana, 1965), Water From An Ancient Well (Tiptoe, 1985) and Yarona (Tiptoe, 1995). Nine of the ten tunes are Ibrahim originals, with Monk's "Skippy" the only cover. Ibrahim is accompanied on most tracks by Ekaya, the mid-size band he formed in 1983. The group has been through numerous personnel changes but Ibrahim's orchestrations have remained constant, blending the rugged beauty of township jazz, the positivity of African American gospel and sumptuous Ellingtonian flourishes.

A writer on the British newspaper The Times once nailed Ibrahim's appeal thus: "There are few musicians in jazz who can make you feel that essentially all is right in the world." All is far from right in the world in 2019, but Ibrahim truly does make you feel otherwise. The late Erroll Garner invariably did the same. But Garner worked with feelgood material from the Great American Songbook. Ibrahim is coming from a heavier place—his political engagement did not stop when in 1963 he exiled himself from apartheid South Africa, or when South Africa finally freed itself from apartheid—but he has always been energised by the injustices he sees around him and he raises the listener up alongside him. (The longevity of Ibrahim's career, incidentally, is underlined by the fact that Garner, who passed in 1977, was born only a decade or so before him).

Ibrahim is an international treasure and The Balance is one of 2019's standout releases.

Track Listing: Side 1: Dreamtime; Nisa; Jabula; Tuang Guru; Tonegawa. Side 2: Song For Sathima; ZB2; Skippy; Devotion; The Balance.

Personnel: Abdullah Ibrahim: piano; Noah Jackson: double bass (1, 2, 4, 6, 8), cello (3, 10); Alec Dankworth : double bass (3, 10); Will Terrill: drums; Adam Glasser: harmonica (10); Cleave Guyton Jr.: alto saxophone (2, 3, 6), flute (1, 10), piccolo (4, 8); Lance Bryant: tenor saxophone; Andrae Murchison: trombone; Marshall McDonald: baritone saxophone.

Title: The Balance | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Gearbox Records

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