Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya

@ Blue Note Jazz Club – Shows @ 8PM & 10:30PM (Doors @ 6PM & 9:45PM)

Abdullah Ibrahim – Piano
Noah Jackson – Bass, Cello
Will Terill – Drums
Cleave Guyton Jr – Alto-Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Lance Bryant – Tenor-Sax
Andrae Murchison – Trombone, Trumpet
Marshall Mcdonald – Baritone-Sax

Many things have changed since the founding of pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble. This mid-sized jazz ensemble, whose name means “home,” presented Ibrahim’s most powerful musical statements during an important time of protest against Apartheid in his native South Africa. Sotho Blue, Ibrahim and Ekaya’s new recording on Sunnyside/Intuition, shows a new side of the ensemble as compositions of the past evolve new and more promising depictions of Ibrahim’s home.

Ibrahim hardly needs introduction. He has been an important musician since his debut in the 1950s in South Africa (using the stage name Dollar Brand) as a member of the legendary Jazz Epistles with Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsi and Jonas Gwangwa. Ibrahim left South Africa for Europe to escape Apartheid and became an outspoken activist against the inhumanities suffered by the millions of his homeland. Well known as both a bandleader and solo artist, Ibrahim has become a favorite of jazz listeners for his ruminative piano playing and folk inspired compositions that echo the vocal tradition of South Africa.

Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble originally convened in 1983. This midsized group featured a strong, unique lineup of reed players Ricky Ford, Carlos Ward, Charles Davis, trombonist Dick Griffin, drummer Ben Riley and either bassist Cecil McBee or David Williams. Ekaya recorded Ekaya and Water From An Ancient Well for the Ekapa record label. The ensemble proved to be one of Ibrahim’s most popular and he has kept it as one of his vehicles for presenting his music, though not with the same musicians. The capable replacements that play in the current version of Ekaya include bassist Belden Bullock, drummer George Gray, alto saxophonist/flutist Cleave Guyton, tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis, trombonist Andrae Murchison and baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall.

The passing years have seen change in areas concerning Ibrahim and the Ekaya ensemble. Most importantly, Apartheid has been abolished and a new government celebrates new achievements on the global stage. Thus music that had been intended as protest has taken on new meaning. Celebration, hope and meditative calm dominate where there was once angst. The compositions revisited on Sotho Blue seem minimalistic in contrast to stormier early incarnations. This doesn’t detract from the music but only deepens its character, closer to what is heard in Ibrahim’s legendary solo piano performances.

Ibrahim’s intention to revisit the past leads him to rearranging compositions that are contemporary jazz classics. The first tune “Calypso Minor” from the soundtrack to the French film No Fear, No Die (which he scored in 1991) gets recast as a methodically laid back head-nodder with punchy horns. The noir-ish “Sotho Blue” follows with a sax led melody and cool horn swells highlighted with Ibrahim’s own piano flourishes. “Abide” is a solo piano meditation on a gospel inspired theme. The horns return on “Nisa” (another composition written for No Fear, No Die) accompanying an off kilter rhythmic piano melody followed by an exceptional round of solos. “The Mountain” and “The Wedding” are two of Ibrahim’s most beloved themes and get lovely new treatments by the ensemble. “Glass Enclosure” is a composition of the legendary Bud Powell, one of Ibrahim’s heroes, and Ibrahim provides a lovely tribute with declaratory, twisting horn and tender piano lines. “Star Dance” is a slow ballad led by a lovely tenor sax melody. The record rounds off with “Joan Capetown Flower (Emerald Bay),” featuring a singing alto sax melody over a beautiful harmonic bed and a shuffling rhythm, providing a feeling of contentedness and warmth that is predominant throughout the album.

Times and custom continually change but one’s connection to home remains the same. Ekaya continues to be Ibrahim’s musical home and favored voice for his compositions that have always provided him remembrance of home. Sotho Blue is a testament to the virtues of music that speaks across generations and cultures.

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June 19, 2015
$30 - $45
Blue Note Jazz Club