Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Abdullah Ibrahim

  • Water from an Ancient Well [BlackHawk, 1986] A-
  • The Very Best of Abdullah Ibrahim [Music Club, 2000] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Water from an Ancient Well [BlackHawk, 1986]
Pining for his South African home, where American jazz has long symbolized black possibility, Ibrahim syncretizes. Relinquishing neither the modernist idiosyncrasy that underpins his exile nor the big-band entertainment values that have shored up the townships for close to half a century, he roots himself in the shared melodies and rhythms that give South African jazz its sound. Except maybe for tenor man Ricky Ford, the all-Americans who complete his Ekaya octet aren't great improvisors, but Ibrahim writes to their strengths and adds plenty of his own. Ekaya was more exuberant, but as inspiriting as I find the lilt of "Mandela" and "Manenberg Revisited," it's the brooding spiritual reserves of side two that convince me of Ibrahim's power. Not only does this artist have something to be serious about, he's found a way to make it breathe. A-

The Very Best of Abdullah Ibrahim [Music Club, 2000]
Cape Town-born pianist Dollar Brand won Down Beat polls in the '60s, when his idols Monk and Ellington were still active, because beneath his enticing fusion of modernist ambition and African authenticity he had at his disposal a store of simple tunes and beats Americans had never experienced firsthand. These later recordings, which begin with his second exile in 1976 and continue through the defeat of apartheid, no longer sound exotic-1985's "Mandela" we can now hear as pure township jazz, a jaunty classic put through its paces by a horn section featuring Carlos Ward's alto and Ricky Ford's tenor. I mention those names in part because the notes neglect to; Ibrahim couldn't have made his impact without American sidemen and frontmen feeling along with him, as several of the solo pieces here bear out. Nevertheless, the fusion was his idea, and his prophecy. After all, what young jazzman today would turn up his nose at the history encapsulated in a jaunty tune? A-