Album Remarks & Appraisals:
A selection of early Abdullah Ibrahim recordings! The pianist-composer (formerly known as "Dollar Brand"), has long ranked among South Africa's giants alongside Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and the late Kippie Mokoetsi. A master of improvisation with a distinctive African edge, the exiled Cape Town musician has developed a musical style over the past 30 years that defies categorization. Best known for his hypnotic and introspective stream of- consciousness compositions as well as his innovative interpretations of Ellington, Monk, and Strayhorn classics, Ibrahim's music is at once accessible and complex.
Dollar Brand Duo: Abdullah Ibrahim (vocals, piano, bells); Johnny Dyani (bass, bells).
Recording information: Studio Bauer, Ludwigsburg (12/10/1973).
The extraordinary South African pianist meets his countryman, the late, very great bassist Johnny Dyani, and the result is one of the single most beautiful recordings of the '70s. The duo mix in traditional African and Islamic songs and perform with a fervor and depth of feeling rarely heard in or outside of jazz. From the opening traditional Xhosa song, "Ntsikana's Bell," the rich, sonorous approach of these two musicians is evident, both singing in stirring fashion, Ibrahim guttural and serious, Dyani as free and light as a swallow. Ibrahim treats the listener to some of his all-too-rarely heard flute work on the following track, using Kirk-ian techniques of sung overtones in a gorgeous original. Dyani's bass playing is simply astonishing, never indulging in mere virtuosic displays but always probing, always deep -- what Mingus might have sounded like had he been born in South Africa. His whipsaw arco work on "Good News" provides an incredibly roiling yet solid framework for some inspired piano from Ibrahim. The Islamic prayer-song "Adhan/Allah-O-Akbar" is sung with such heartfelt intensity so as to melt the heart of the unbeliever and lay waste to countless quasi-spiritual attempts by lesser talents. The final two pieces are a fascinating pair. "The Pilgrim" is an Ibrahim special, based on a slow, irresistible loping groove, one that reaches its end lingering for a second or two before repeating, on and on like a luxurious desert caravan. The musicians embroider it exquisitely before reluctantly letting it go on its way after ten minutes. The next composition, Ibrahim's "Moniebah," begins in a stately manner, proceeding along for a minute or two until, as if drawn in by its ineluctable gravity, they return to "The Pilgrim," unable to resist its pull. It's an amazing, joyful moment that sends chills down one's spine. Good News From Africa was the shining, transcendent release by both of these great musicians and one that should grace every listener's collection. ~ Brian Olewnick