The name Abdullah Ibrahim is as inextricably linked with jazz history as those of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, or Don Cherry. The pianist has collaborated closely with all of these musicians, but his life history is a unique story that is directly connected to global developments during the twentieth century. Born in Cape Town in 1934 as Adolphe Johannes Brand, from 1949 on he worked as a professional musician under the name Dollar Brand. What that meant in the days of apartheid in South Africa does not have to be explained further. Nevertheless, until the early 1960s, he stayed in his native country, where he accompanied Miriam Makeba and founded the first important African jazz band, the Jazz Epistles. The international recognition also earned him distrust at home, however. He left for Europe in 1962, appeared primarily in Switzerland and Denmark, and was discovered by Duke Ellington in 1965.
Ellington brought Brand to New York. A triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival became his ticket to the jazz major leagues. He was a member of the New York avant-garde scene, and playing with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane he not only honed his improvisation skills but also set out on a spiritual path that he has not left to this day. He always maintained his strong ties with Africa but continually sought alliances in Europe and Asia as well. From 1968 on, musicians like Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri, and the legendary South African bassist, Johnny Dyani, numbered among his closest associates. He converted to Islam in 1968 and took the name Abdullah Ibrahim, which over the following decades gradually superseded the trademark Dollar Brand. During the 1970s and 80s, he was the leading figure in the integration of African jazz. One only needs to recall albums like Echoes From Africa (1979, in a duo with Dyani), African Marketplace (1980), or Zimbabwe (1983), which describe an organic connection between American jazz and African roots music that was inconceivable until then. The abolition of apartheid was a liberating blow for Abdullah Ibrahim. He played at Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994.
Abdullah Ibrahim is not only a musician, but a music educator as well. He founded the M7 Center in Cape Town, which, like the training in the seven liberal arts during the Middle Ages, advocates a holistic approach and familiarizes young artists with the secrets of tradition and nature. Ibrahim himself has always understood music as a healing power. His spirituality is particularly concerned with maintaining a direct continuum from our prehistoric ancestors to the civilization of the information age. Too much knowledge is lost when we do not listen to the voice of tradition – that is his artistic and personal credo. Individual and collective memory are closely connected for him as the sources of all human culture.
Although he proudly counts himself among the cyberspace avant-garde, he does not want to join the bloggers and hackers, but sees today's virtual worlds as simply the rediscovery of a universally valid principle that has been followed in all religions for centuries.
On his new album Senzo, Abdullah Ibrahim is heard solo at the piano, but he is far from alone with himself. The word "senzo" means "ancestor" in Japanese. As if that were not reason enough for the title, Senzo was also his father's name. The spiritually experienced pianist does not believe in coincidences. Abdullah Ibrahim has long been more than just Africa's authentic ambassador to the jazz civilization – that becomes clearer than ever before on his latest CD. He devotes himself to all of humanity. It is definitely not inappropriate to hear a direct link from African roots to American jazz and European art music in these piano works. For Ibrahim, who has been purifying himself with the Japanese martial arts for 40 years, such categories have long been unimportant. His playing is based on the primal tone from which all other sounds are derived as echoes to the end of time. His spirituality completely dispenses with esotericism and esthetics. It is grounded in the realm of everyday experience but is also traced back to its origins. One only has to enter into it, and it is like a clarifying discussion that has been put off for a long time and is now all the more liberating.
Abdullah Ibrahim's sound has nearly staggering clarity. What the jazz connoisseur perceives as a maximum of musical reduction to the essence of expression is for the listener unfamiliar with jazz simply disarmingly beautiful music. Ibrahim improvises, without overtaxing his own intellect or that of the listener in the process. His simple formula is "no mind." The pieces are unusually brief for a jazz concert, but in their entirety these torsos and fragments produce a stream of consciousness that begins long before the first note and does not end with the last. Ibrahim's uninhibited, intimate relationship with sound combines the sage wisdom of an ancient shaman with the insatiable curiosity of a little boy. The listener often forgets completely that he is hearing a piano and thinks it is simply a child singing in a clear voice. Ibrahim refers to his music not as pieces but as songs, and what he would like most of all is to make them sing.
Everything works exactly the way we hear it but could also be completely different. On Senzo, Abdullah Ibrahim not only catches up with his ancestors, the widely traveled nomad also finds himself.
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Added by Yoshis on May 11, 2009