At its best, there’s a quiet majesty to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African pianist-composer once known as Dollar Brand, and his new solo CD, Senzo
(on the German WDR label’s Cologne Broadcasts series), is his most stirring album in years. He was discovered in 1963, at the age of 30, by no less than Duke Ellington, who produced his first recording, then lured him to the States, where he played with Elvin Jones before going on to form his own bands. In the ‘70s, he found his full voice—a swaying pastiche of jazz, spiritual and Capetown rhythms—and, over the course of a few years, recorded a staggering number of great albums: Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1
(there was no Vol. 2) and Duke’s Memories
with the saxophonist Carlos Ward, Good News from Africa
with the bassist Johnny Dyani, Streams of Consciousness
with drummer Max Roach, Duet
with saxophonist Archie Shepp (the most lyrical album Shepp ever made), and African Marketplace
, The Mountain
, and Ekaya
with his octet known as Ekaya.
All of these albums are out of print, and several are hard to find, which makes Senzo all the more vital. Ibrahim’s playing doesn’t quite swing, but his indigo harmonies and rocky river-flowing rhythms have a mesmerizing appeal; and on this album, the song “Nisa” in particular has a sensuous buoyancy that renders the point moot. The sound quality is very good—warm and percussive and ripe with ambience.