The Journey
Downtown Sound DS 1002

First — and best-known — of the many expatriate, anti-Apartheid South African jazz musicians — Duke Ellington sponsored his first LP in 1963 — Abdullah Ibrahim, then Dollar Brand, gradually adapted a more ethic identity when he became a known quantity in the jazz firmament. As evidence, here’s an LP-length reissue of his 1978 Alice Tully Hall concert. On it he uses both his birth and Muslim names to show his mature music was an mixture of Townships, Arabic, traditional and new jazz influences.

Furthermore, while all the compositions are his, it’s through the orchestral and solo skills of his eight sidemen that make the CD is as good as it is. Like the pianist’s distinctive writing, they bring a variety of musical and extra-musical influences to the concert.

Bassist Johnny Akhir Dyani, another South African, went into exile at the same time as Ibrahim. He was a member of the freebop Blue Notes, then accompanied various Scandinavian free jazzers until his death in 1986. A man who connected Ornette Coleman’s creative breakthrough with musics of the world, the late trumpeter Don Cherry adds his distinctive tone here.

Reedist Hamiet Bluiett had just helped organize the World Saxophone Quartet after a stint with Charles Mingus; while alto saxophonist Carlos Ward, is probably the only person to have been both a member of Cecil Taylor’s Unit and disco funk band B.T. Express. Detroit drummer Roy Brooks also played with Mingus, while percussionist John Betsch still works with Steve Lacy. Conga drummer Claude Jones and woodwind player Talib Rhynie hardly recorded elsewhere, but the textures of their instruments help define Ibrahim’s musical persona here.

Most palpable is Rhynie’s oboe on the more than 21-minute “Hajj (The Journey)”. Exposing an Arabic theme as if he was playing a ney, Rhynie’s snake-charmer-like texture adds an otherworldliness to the foot-tapping, polyrhythmic line first advanced by the piano. As the five-piece rhythm section keeps on top of the beat — relying on billowing strokes from Jones’ conga — counterpoint arrives from the horns. Out-of-tempo and seemingly lacking stamina, Cherry squeezes out bent notes and an ornamental obbligato. Ward moves from shrill pitches to mid range trills, Bluiett contributes reedy clarinet fills and Ibrahim offers a high-frequency vamp and clanking right handed piano fills.

“Sister Rosie” is a slightly more than 4½-minute exercise in percussive Township Jive, but the nearly 18-minute “Jabulani (Joy)” is another major statement. Balancing on an exegetic Dyani solo, it soon features the bassist shoring up Cherry’s hummingbird-like tones and Bluiett’s baritone, which slithers from squeaking dog-whistle territory to mid- range. Pulling out all the (double) stops, the bassist resonates his strings like giant rubber bands keeping time with the double ruffs and drags from the two drum kits. With all the percussionists evidentially turning to hand drumming and bell shaking to create more of an African temperament, sniggering reed lines turn the sound structure to disharmony until the piece is resolved with a stop time section that resembles the African National Congress’ anthem.

One of Ibrahim’s defining recording session, THE JOURNEY is a welcome, and exceptional, reissue. It’s just too bad extra material couldn’t be found to add to its truncated length — especially since every tune seems to fade out at its completion.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sister Rosie 2. Jabulani (Joy) 3. Hajj (The Journey)

Personnel: Don Cherry (trumpet); Carlos Ward (alto saxophone); Talib Rhynie (alto saxophone, oboe); Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone, clarinet); Abdullah Ibrahim (piano, soprano saxophone); Johnny Akhir Dyani (bass); Claude Jones (conga drums); Roy Brooks (drums); John Betsch (percussion)