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Abdullah Ibrahim: A Celebration

A Celebration was released in Europe in 2004 to celebrate Abdullah Ibrahim’s 70th birthday, and its 13 songs spotlight the incredible pianist’s multifaceted, 35-year tenure with the Enja label. From solo pieces (“The Perfumed Garden Wet With Rain,” “Ancient Cape”) and duets (“Ntsikana’s Bell,” “Saud,” “Earth Bird”) to trio numbers (“Ishmael”) and beyond (“Imam,” “African Market Place,” “The Mountain,” “Siya Hamba Namhlanje,” “Mannenberg Revisited,” “Mindif”), Ibrahim incorporates everything from South African dance music and European classical to jazz swing and worldly discursions. A Celebration is a fine introduction, but those who already possess a bulging Ibrahim CD collection should feel free to skip it as there’s only one rare-ish track: an edited version of “Ishmael,” featuring Ibrahim on soprano sax and piano with drummer Roy Brooks and bassist Cecil McBee, from the Enja compilation The More We Know.

In fact, I prefer the version of “Ishmael” on Re:Brahim by Stefan Rogall of Sonar Kollectiv. The bass is sped up, and rather than being a Middle East meditation it becomes an Arabic-style dance tune. Other tracks the two discs have in common are the bass-groove driven “Calypso Minor” (albeit the one on A Celebration is merely a slight remix of the one on Re:Brahim) and “Mindif,” which is given two new treatments on the remix CD: a big band version by Philipp Winter, which sounds like something out of Matthew Herbert’s jazztronica bag, and a trio version by DJ Spooky that turns the beautiful tune into stuttering hip-hop. Other solid numbers on this surprisingly worthy CD include Motorcitysoul’s samba-ambient mix of “Damara Blue,” Christian Frommer’s broken-beat version of “Sweet Samba” and Toshio Matsuura’s dubby, slow-waltz take on “Did You Hear That Sound?” Only “Blues for a Hip King” falters because Kinderzimmer Productions jams rigid, trembly hip-hoppy beats behind the gorgeous original, which constantly shifts tempo and defies facile rhythms.

Originally Published