Category Archives: Abdullah Ibrahim

Classic Albums on downwithit.info in 2014

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Happy New Year to all visitors, new and old. Here’s my 100th post on downwithit.

I still have an unfinished task from 2014 which is to look back at all the classic sets that I reviewed here in 2014. By classic I mean anything other than a new release so there are one or two sets from the present millennium included here. A quick count indicates that I wrote about 26 of these albums in 2014, so I think I can conclude that I wasn’t idle, especially given that I also wrote about a number of contemporary sets and offered up some live reviews.

What follows may be a bit of a trudge through a list, but I have linked to all the reviews and if any catch your interest, please click and take a look.

On NYD 2014 I started with a bang by taking a look at John Coltrane’s Blue Train, one of my all-time favorites that I urged everyone to obtain and listen to if they hadn’t done so already.

This was followed up by Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and a track that inspired numerous imitations.

My January postings dipped into dinner jazz in the form of Grover Washington Jr’s All The King’s Horses and British hard bop from the 1980’s UK jazz revival via Tommy Chase and Groove Merchant.

Thoughts of Tommy Chase led downwithit.info into fresh territory and I decided to devote some time to exploring the current scene, which was something that I really enjoyed during the course of 2014. If you want a recap of the newly released albums that I reviewed last year, they can be found here and my trawl of live performances is referred to here. I’m not sure if my ramblings have encouraged the purchase of a single album or attendance at any gigs but if they have, please leave a comment and let me know.

I wrote five reviews in February 2014 opening with Horace Parlan’s piano trio set Movin’ And Groovin’. I followed this up with Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band. I wavered about posting on that one because I thought that it was something of a departure from the classic small band context and that it would not fit- but it seemed to be OK and remains a popular review according to my stats.

Fred Jackson’s great Hootin”N Tootin’ was next up. At the time, I checked Wikipedia which did not give a date of death. Hopefully Fred still is with us and is enjoying a peaceful retirement at the grand age of 85 years old. If anybody knows more, please tell us.

A further less well-known Blue Note set, John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell was placed in the spotlight, before I took a look at Thembi by my favourite living saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.

March 2014 saw me take an overdue look at Yusef Lateef (more to come in 2015) and Jazz Mood, his first set as a leader from 1957. The Cats, a fine session featuring John Coltrane followed and I made my first visit to a Grant Green recording on these pages with Grant’s First Stand.

In April, I brought news a a real gem: Heavy Sounds by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, another set to listen to even if you have to beg steal or borrow. A slow journey north up the motorway system led me to grapple with Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings. The same trip north gave me time to take a look at The Hot Club Of San Francisco’s Veronica and I got hold of a copy of Jimmy Smith’s lacklustre a less then incredible Softly As A Summer Breeze.

In May Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio was followed by another Sonny in the form of Sonny Rollins On Impulse, which sounds like a compilation album but isn’t. Later in the month, my local second-hand record store yielded up a copy of John Coltrane’s Ole.

I took another look at Grant Green with his lesser known Iron City, featuring a strong version of Hi-Heeled Sneakers, before returning to Blue Note and Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out and later in September with Joe Henderson and Inner Urge.

I took the view that Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet was slightly spoiled by Shepp’s poor sax technique on a couple of tracks, but I enjoyed Hank Mobley’s great Roll Call, Grant Green’s Green Street and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie.

2014 was the year in which a bit of research yielded some more answers about Freddie Roach’s later years and I shelled out for a first pressing of All That’s Good which turned out to be much better than a shocking review suggested it would be.

I’ve already got a the first few reviews for 2015 in mind, so please come back soon and see what I’ve been listening to and remember that comments are most welcome.

One New Year’s Resolution– the quality of the photography at downwithit must improve. No excuses!

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downwithit.info: Jazz Gigs of The Year 2014

One of my New Year resolutions at the start of 2014 was to get myself out rather more to catch live Jazz performances. As the year ends it is time to take stock of what I saw and where I went.

A deep benchmark was engraved in February when legendary funk masters, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley played at Ronnie Scott’s. Their performance was commented on here and I rated them with an 8/10. I was expecting a deep disappointment when they introduced a female vocalist- so many promise much, but deliver nothing. In this case my lack of faith was exposed and confounded. Robin McKelle was superb and is a real talent to catch (if she ever plays any where else other than France).

2014 was the year when I made my first visit to East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. Denys Baptiste featured one May evening and I was there to enjoy the first of six visits this summer.

I was assured that I would enjoy Gilad Atzmon and they were right. His powerful and intense soloing merited my second 8/10 rating of 2014. There were times when I that he was going to blow his alto sax apart, such is the forcefulness that he has on tap.

Another saxophonist also merited an 8/10 the ESJC. I’ve always harboured a strong mistrust of sax players who play several instruments from Adolphe Sax’s brood. They are usually adequate on one and dire on the rest. Derek Nash made me review that particular prejudice (Gilad Atzmon is a fine multi-reedsman too). Playing with the Letonstone R & B Allstars in an end of Summer season spectacular, I enjoyed his showmanship and that of the rest of a band which also featured Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

In addition to playing several members of the sax family, Derek Nash also fronts several bands, which he uses to showcase different repertoires. Following up on a gig he publicised on Twitter took me to a bar called The Water Margin at the 02 (Dome) in Greenwich in late July. I suppose all musicians have performed before small audiences, but that night saw Nash and his jazz funk outfit, Protect The Beat open to no more than three friends of the band and five civilians, myself included. After some deliberation amongst the band about whether to play or not, pure professionalism kicked in and the result was a performance which rated a rare 9/10. Nash is a very entertaining frontman and his joy encouraged his band mates to excel. Particular mention should be given to guitarist Dave Ital and drummer Darby Todd, but the whole show saw great musicians triumphing over a sadly meagre audience.

My home town of Macclesfield hosts a summer arts festival, which is growing year on year and it was there that I attended a rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was another memorable evening. On the same weekend I also saw a re-creation of A Love Supreme on London’s Southbank.

Unexpectedly, and for no particular reason, a hectic summer of gig-going gave way to an autumn in which I only got to three live Jazz performances. Dylan Howe merited the second of my two 9/10 ratings this year, while I was disappointed by Abdullah Ibrahim at London Jazz Festival, and Steve Wiiliamson‘s long overdue return to leading a band also gave me the opportunity to visit Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for the first of what I hope will be many visits.

All in all I went to 14 jazz gigs, none of which rated lower than 6/10. Out of these, the downwithit gig of the Year 2014 was:-

Derek Nash and Protect The Beat at The Water Margin, for a triumph of brilliant professionalism against the odds.

Well done Derek and here’s to getting out and about again in 2015, with seeing another performance by Pharaoh Sanders as my New Year’s wish. Hope I will have lots to tell you about this time next year!

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Abdullah Ibrahim with his New Trio & Ekaya: Royal Festival Hall. 15 November 2014

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One of the highlights of this year’s London Jazz Festival was a rare opportunity to attend a performance by Abdullah Ibrahim at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

I last saw him play in the 90’s, when a solo concert was part of the Greenwich Jazz Festival programme and I was relishing a chance to see him at work with other instrumentalists, as the gig promised solo piano, work as part of a trio and in a septet.

The radio presenter who introduced the evening assured us, incorrectly as it turned out, that we would be begging the pardon of those seated next to us as we would be needing to move our bodies when the band played Township tunes.

What we actually got was an evening where subtlety and virtuosity were the keywords rather than funk and energy. The expected exhuberance was present but it was a delicately weighted concert hall set, rather than a dance set that we received.

While listening, I thought of a young Dollar Brand impressing the Duke Ellington, to the extent that the older genius became a mentor. The evening commenced with Ibrahim alone on stage, in absolute command of the RFH’s mighty concert grand piano for an extended solo piece that took me to the good place that only the best pianists can reach. On its conclusion he introduced Noah Jackson, who played cello in this segment and Cleave Guyton doubling on flute and clarinet. They took us through about six short pieces that reminded me of the Duet set that Abdullah Ibrahim recorded as Dollar Brand with Archie Shepp, which I took a look at here.

After an intermission, the full septet added tenor and baritone saxophone, drums and trombone. The set was made up of mature and exquisite arrangements with Abdullah Ibrahim sitting out for long periods, seemingly to enjoy and absorb the voicings that he had written and which were being played out for him by the accompanying ensemble.

Overall, the performance was very easy on the ear but seemed to lack a certain spark. There was no sense of musical risk-taking and the accompanists seemed to have been offered little scope to add their own contributions in their short solos. They were more the well-drilled back line rather than contributors with freedom to improvise.

What the audience got was an evening of refined concert hall Jazz from a great musician who is now 80 years old. There were only the slightest nods to the Township sound and definitely no dancing in the aisles. I wasn’t disappointed as the opportunity to see Abdullah Ibrahim playing what he wanted to play in the way he wanted his music to be heard was too good to miss. We were, after all being treated to an evening with a musical genius.

As I close in on completing this review I’m listening to Voice Of Africa, a recording made in 1974 in Cape Town. It has something in abundance that last Saturday’s RFH concert lacked (as well as the great anthem Mannenberg that you can hear on this post from last year here). The recording clarfies that the qualities that were missing from this London concert were exhuberent inventiveness and soul. Saturday’s cool proficiency can go a long way but music that comes from both the head and the heart is what really moves me. It seems almost mean to rate this as a 6/10 performance- but that is what the great Man is getting.

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Archie Shepp & Dollar Brand: Duet

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Although I’m something of a newcomer to the work of Archie Shepp, I have enjoyed listening to Abdullah Ibrahim for over 20 years, indeed I had the good fortune to attend a solo performance in a venue up the road from where I live in the late 1980’s. This set brings two distinctive musicians together and it was one of those orders placed in anticipation that it would live up to its promise.

Duet was recorded at Columbia’s studios in Tokyo in 1978, with a Japanese producer. I don’t usually comment on the recording quality but Shepp’s sound on this album compels me to do so. Overall, the reproduction is extremely clear and detailed but there is a devil in that detail, to my ears.

Archie Shepp’s playing detracts from what could have been a great set. From his opening notes on Fortunato it seems as though he is pecking at the mouthpiece, playing with short breaths and letting too many notes end with a badly controlled pitter-patter sound. It’s almost as though he is playing his tenor sax with a similar mouth action to Hannibal Lecter when he says ‘Clarice th th th th th’ early in The Silence Of The Lambs. It could be the microphone placement and too much studio accuracy, but to this (tenth rate) former saxophonist it just sounds like very sloppy playing. The track itself is a slow and subdued piece, best suited to reflective early hours listening, perhaps.

Barefoot Boy From Queens Town (To Mongezi) is a great piece of Township Jazz- light without being trite and a delightful composition. Typical of a certain vein of Abdullah Ibrahim’s work. But there is a surprise here. It was only when I looked at the sleeve credits that I discovered that it was actually written by Archie Shepp (whose playing is more appealing on his soprano sax here).

Left Alone has a wistful, yearning sort of feel to it. Blues for the hours after midnight, perhaps with a fine single-malt whisky close to hand, if that’s your poison.

Theme From ‘Proof Of The Man’ had me mining Google as I wanted to find out what nature of the underlying production was. As this wiki link shows, it is a Japanese / American detective film which seems bleak and ends up with a pile of the bodies of all main protagonists. I may seek it out sometime, or maybe not. It’s another tone poem. Abdullah Ibrahim does not let us down but, once again Shepp’s playing falls short for the reasons referred to above.

Ubu-Suku, at just over 4 minutes is the shortest track by some way and, to my ears, is a bit of an aimless meander.

You can listen to the closing track, Moniebah courtesy of YouTube. It offers a mellifluous and satisfying conclusion to a good album, which could and should have been great. Archie Shepp isn’t really Hannibal Lecter, but he has played far better elsewhere.

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

The band etc: Archie Shepp (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones); Dollar Brand (piano) Recorded: Nippon Columbia 1st Studio, Tokyo, Japan (06/05/1978). Producer: Yoshiro Ozawa. Cover Photography: To follow. Issued by Denon.

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The downwithit playlist: Twenty great tracks for you to listen to

The downwithit playlist is a list of 20 YouTube track selections that I have used to give readers a taste of the albums that I have looked at here on downwithit. They are highlighted and form part of a full post.

They are gathered together here for your further pleasure. Click on the burnt orange title to link directly to YouTube and listen.

If you would like to read my full post for the album, each one is available to read here on downwithit

The following six tracks should open on a tablet or mobile device and a computer:-

Tommy Chase: Grove Merchant: Killer Joe
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mannenberg
Pharoah Sanders: Africa: You’ve Got To Have Freedom
The Crusaders: Hollywood: Hollywood
Don Wilkerson: Preach Brother: Camp Meetin’
John Jenkins: John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell: Sharon

The following fourteen tracks should open on a computer, but will not open on a tablet or mobile device:-

Blue Mitchell: Down With It. Hi-Heel Sneakers
John Coltrane: Blue Train: Blue Train
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver: Camouflage
Horace Parlan: Movin’ n Groovin’: On Green Dolphin Street
Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe: Mode For Joe
Johnny Griffin: The Big Soul Band: Wade In The Water
Freddie Roach: Brown Sugar: Brown Sugar
Fred Jackson: Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Southern Exposure
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder: The Sidewinder
Grover Washington: All The King’s Horses: Lean On Me
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas: Una Mas
Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin’: See See Rider
Freddie Roach: The Soul Book: One Track Mind
Kenny Burrell: Out Of This World: Montono Blues

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Nelson Mandela RIP

This week witnessed the passing of a true hero and a person who changed the world for the better.

I’m listening to Abdullah Ibrahim’s Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening and you can too courtesy of artist4africa on YouTube, in a film which Shows Abdullah Ibrahim’s visit to Robben Island:-

A beautiful track, wonderfully well played, ideal for quiet reflection while still remaining joyful.

Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela

artist4africa says:-

For the first time ever, Abdullah Ibrahim, formally known as Dollar Brand, went to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned. All forms of music were banned. A lawyer smuggled one of Abdullah’s songs into the control room, blocked the doors and played it over the loud speakers. Mandela’s first sound of music in decades.

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