CD review

Abdullah Ibrahim – Dream Time

Abdullah Ibrahim – Dream Time
(Enja ENJ9676 2 . CD Reiew by Sebastian Scotney)

Abdullah Ibrahim will be marking his 85th birthday on 9 October. And the day will be celebrated with a solo piano concert before an audience of 350 people in the main function room at the Hirzinger Hotel und Gasthof zur Post in Söllhuben in the Chiemgau, very near the pianist’s adopted home. This room, “with its combination of homeliness and openness, is a place where the musician feels at ease,” writes Roland Spiegel in the sleeve note for Dream Time, recorded at the same venue just a few months ago in March 2019.

The concert on this new disc is 66 minutes of continuous, unhurried flow. There is the occasional reminder that it is a live concert such as a quiet murmur or cough here and there. Right at the end of the album comes some polite Bavarian Sunday afternoon applause, which is tapered off by the engineers after about 40 seconds.

Before that acknowledgement finally arrives, there is a little pause when all of the resonance of the piano has been shut off. And that blissful moment of silent reflection serves to underline the fact that until that point there has been, almost all the time, continuing resonance from the Fazioli piano, or some hint of it, an ambient memory of the last notes played. And what is remarkable, and this is another point that Spiegel makes well in the sleeve note, is how Ibrahim keeps the ideas, the tunes, the flow and connectivity going throughout this continuous programme. There is one linking tune, Blue Bolero, which is hinted at briefly three times before it comes into its own in the final seven minutes, and during the hour-plus, Ibrahim takes us on visits to doff the cap to Ellington, Coltrane and, very memorably, Capetown District Six.

The appearance of this album underlines the connection between Abdullah Ibrahim and producer Matthias Winckelmann of Enja who was born in 1941 and is thus some seven years younger than the pianist. Wickelmann’s Enja label released its first album by (the then) Dollar Brand African Sketchbook in 1973, and has continued to make albums since then: South Africa by the mid-1980s band with bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and saxophonist Carlos Ward comes to mind with particular affection. The sound and production on Dream Time are excellent. One quibble perhaps: the English proofing could have been done with more care. For example the location Söllhuben is spelt incorrectly all three times it appears and in two different ways.

Whereas there has been some disappointment recently from reviewers and audiences alike with some of Ibrahim’s group appearances with Ekaya, his solo recitals, whether at Cadogan Hall last week, or at Inntoene in May are still  very special occasions, and this is a valuable document of a pianist who has a unique story to tell.

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