By Tamar Sella | Published August 2019
The Balance is South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s latest album. And its release comes about 60 years after the founding and quick dissolution of the Johannesburg Jazz Epistles (with Hugh Masekela), the Sharpeville massacre, and Ibrahim’s ultimate departure for Europe and America with his wife, the late vocalist and composer Sathima Bea Benjamin.
The album spans a wealth of sounds—big band, township music, solo piano—yet the experience is not that of vertical stacking, but rather of horizontal stretching, a settling into elastic possibilities. Several pieces are like small orchestral impressions, textured instrumental paintings of the rhythm and horns: Cleave Guyton Jr.’s lightly vibrating solo flute line on the opening “Dreamtime” is both supported and interrupted by the dark clusters of horns and penetrating piano harmonies. In content and form, Ibrahim lingers between comfort and edge, pressure and ease. “Tonegawa” is a beautiful solo-piano piece—one of three on the album—that constantly moves between enticing, uneasy harmonies and deep resolutions. On pieces with the full ensemble, the pianist lays back; within works colored by tight horn lines, Ibrahim plays the briefest solos, interjects haunting voicings or gently and sparsely marks the changes. “Jabula” is a number of extreme groove with the gentlest shuffle on the drums, rolling horn lines and the intermittent chord placed just at the right moment. Ibrahim introduces “Song For Sathima” and then drops out completely—letting Guyton take the lead in this wailing eulogy—rejoining the band only to find the song’s conclusion.
The Balance: Dreamtime; Nisa; Jabula; Tuang Guru; Tonegawa; Song For Sathima; ZB2; Skippy; Devotion; The Balance. (37:49)
Personnel: Abdullah Ibrahim, piano; Noah Jackson, bass, cello (3, 10); Alec Dankworth, bass (3, 10); Will Terrill, drums; Cleave Guyton Jr., alto saxophone (2, 3, 6), flute (1, 10), piccolo (4, 8); Lance Bryant, tenor saxophone; Marshall McDonald, baritone saxophone; Andrae Murchison, trombone; Adam Glasser, harmonica (10).