Abdullah Ibrahim: The Song is My Story


“You know, he is still a great sax player,” I tell myself while listening to Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Celestial Bird Dance,’ the opening number of his 2015 Sunnyside release,The Song Is My Story. A series of solo explorations – two on saxophone, fifteen on piano – , the disc is a welcome reminder that Mr. Ibrahim continues to be one of the jazz world’s treasures.

Born Adolph Johannes Brand in 1934, he joined his first band, the Jazz Epistles, in 1960. The fifty-five years since then have seen innumerable highlights, including his 1966 sponsorship by Duke Ellington that led to recordings for Reprise Records, as well as wider recognition. The 1974 release of Mannenberg, 1979’s African Marketplace, 1988’s Chocolat soundtrack, 1997’s duet with Max Roach and 1998’s African Suite for Jazz Trio and String Orchestra mark major milestones in a lifetime of important music making.

In 2014, Abdullah Ibrahim visited the workshop where the legendary Fazioli grand pianos are crafted. These recordings reflect the excellence that a first rate understanding of sound and music can bring to a solo piano recording. The second track, ‘Threshold,’ a slow-motion contemplation of Ellington, Monk and Debussy, introduces the piano and the artistic gravitas permeating this disc, a perfect illustration of Mr. Ibrahim’s cover quote, “improvisation is meditation in motion.”

As the disc continues, Ibrahim explores themes from throughout his life, some of them new improvisations such as ‘Unfettered Muken,’ one of the strongest themes here, or ‘Just Arrived,’ which shows a hint of his love of classical music in its opening. ‘Kalahari Pleiades’ is a 1970 composition conveying a sense of extended exploration and how music slowed down can be music savored and revealed. At 6’09” it is the longest piece here, but each moment is a revelation. On the other hand, short fragments including “For Coltrane” at 0:57” and “Twelve by Twelve” at 1’39” give a unique sketchbook version of jazz piano; ‘sometimes he who says least means the most’ is an adage oft forgotten in an idiom better known for extended works. The more you listen the more you hear in compositions such as ‘Eclipse at Dawn’ and ‘Phambili – Looking Ahead.’ The fifty-six minutes of this disc just seem richer with each repetition. The Song Is My Story is a story you need to know.