7. Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: “Mandela” (Water From an Ancient Well; BlackHawk, 1986)
Ibrahim first formed his septet Ekaya in 1983 with Cecil McBee on bass; by this second recording, David Williams had taken over the bass chair. Lest it be lost in his heavy reserves of South African tradition and Monk-inspired quirky syncopation, Ibrahim could still swing as hard as anyone in jazz. Ekaya’s four-horn, little-big-band format was a fantastic one for showing off that capability, and one can almost see dancers whirling to the still-folk-steeped tribute to then-jailed Nelson Mandela. There are beautiful, knowing solos by all four horns: baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, trombonist Dick Griffin, tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford, and alto saxophonist Carlos Ward. Ibrahim himself stays in the background, but his smart, swinging fills are nonetheless difficult to miss.