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Abdullah Ibrahim with the NDR Big Band: Ekapa Lodumo

Somewhere between “soft jazz” and that other ambiguous category, “world music,” you can file this offering from Ibrahim. South African rhythms, balmy Caribbean ostinatos, reggae riffs and infectious jungle “shouts” not only make it impossible to sit still, but tend to lull the critical faculties into overlooking the fact that when all the happy sensuality is filtered out, there is precious little in the way of memorable solos or effective concerted writing-and we’re talking 18-piece orchestra: the NDR (North German Radio) Big Band, with Dieter Glawischnig directing a dozen Ibrahim originals, which were recorded live in Hamburg in the summer of 2000.

Two exceptions can be found on one track, “Duke 88.” Steve Gray’s chart lights a fire under the band and inspires fine solo statements from alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch, tenor saxophonist Frank Delle, trombonist Michael Danner and flugelhornist Claus Stotter. Other highlights are heard on the thoughtful intro to “Mindif” by Ibrahim’s contemplative meandering and the brief statement by bass clarinetist Edgar Herzog and Gray’s pulsating arrangement of “Black and Brown Cherries,” a relentless fusion of big-band licks and rock-oriented rhythm that proves to be quite a crowd-pleaser. “Whoza Mtwana” shows promise of evolving into an interesting gospel chart, but it somehow goes astray.

Another contrast: Ibrahim comps beautifully, but his solos generally tend to disappoint-so does Ekapa Lodumo.

Originally Published