Abdullah Ibrahim

Cape Town Revisited
Abdullah Ibrahim
by John Barrett

When Abdullah Ibrahim returned home to South Africa, his music became reflective, and a bit more emotional. On this 1977 live date from Cape Town, the music is a river, with almost no pause between numbers. “Damara Blue” is an impressionist hue: light chords, big echo, and little else. When George Gray turns to the cymbals, it becomes an urbane waltz, swirling in its worry. After some Monkish phrases, the calm returns – and the rhythm changes. Gray presses hard on the snares, while Abdullah works a heavy left hand; this is the “Someday Soon Sweet Samba”. (The tune reminds me of “Besame Mucho” … and “Under Paris Skies”!) On Marcus McLaurine’s bass solo, Ibrahim dabs in tiny fast bleeps – a nice contrast to the cello-like swoops.

Next is “Cape Town to Congo Square”, a three-part suite: it begins with quiet blues, played over Gray’s second-line. McLaurine’s solo is rich and buoyant; the second movement is tougher, with lots of left hand. “Too-Kah” has a warm gospel feel, garnished with cymbals – the whole work is short, but it’s “suite”.

“Tintinyana” was first heard on the album, in a forceful trio. This time, after Abdullah works the big bassline, we hear the tart trumpet of Feya Faku. He’s got the tone of Clark Terry, and the wistful mood of Miles – now there’s a combination. Feya flutters high on the blues “Tsakwe” (how Gray runs on this one) and plays “Soweto” with a friendly rasp. He’s a great performer, and I wish we heard more of him.

The trio looks east on the delicate “Tuang Guru”: it sounds like George is playing with his fingertips. After a quiet two minutes Gray turns to the cymbals; the piano turns turbulent, and everyone goes fast. “Water from an Ancient Well” starts solo – exquisite stillness, stopped only by a cough in the audience. When the others arrive, it becomes a church-blues, and McLaurine gets funky. (Playing open, Faku has his sweetest solo.) “The Wedding” is soft and formal – the piano is understated, but grand at the same time. And “Barakaat” evolves in stages: a three-note theme, a bass slowly stretching out, and a piano that sneaks up on you. Pleading at first, Abdullah explodes in a burst of shimmering sound. The crowd erupts, as they have heard something special. I’m sure you will agree.

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