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Abdullah Ibrahim: Solotude (Gearbox)

A review of the pianist's solo album that replaced his annual birthday recital in fall of 2020

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Abdullah Ibrahim: Solotude
The cover of Solotude by Abdullah Ibrahim

When it comes to stately beauty, it’s damn near impossible to surpass an Abdullah Ibrahim solo piano set. The 87-year-old NEA Jazz Master and South African cultural icon has continually returned to this format over the decades, exploring and deepening a lifelong romance with rumination while epitomizing grace and wisdom. Oftentimes, as with the performance captured for 2019’s Dream Time, an audience is in attendance at Ibrahim’s recitals, giving him the opportunity to commune with company. But for Solotude, as the title implies, the seats were empty.

Forgoing a standing birthday concert out of necessity due to COVID-19 lockdown measures in the fall of 2020, Ibrahim still managed to make the most of the moment by substituting a recording session in its place. The music he conjured for the occasion, as with several other late-career solo ventures, has a certain gravitas yet remains remarkably weightless. In short, it’s pensive perfection drawing on a lifetime of cultivation and pruning.

Ibrahim’s signature touch, appreciation for space and abiding love for encapsulated communication(s) are all on display as he explores one memorable melody after another. There’s the haunting “Mindiff,” lingering in midair; a quick glance at “Blues for a Hip King,” offering gospel-like comforts; the stirring “Tokai,” delivered as a rickety and righteous fragment for all times; and a gorgeously subdued trip down the aisle for “The Wedding.” More than a dozen other compositions appear—some projected as passing thoughts lasting less than a minute, others fairly compact but fully realized—and each adds substance without any accompanying heft. Using spare lines that demonstrate the art of restraint while simultaneously giving of himself completely, Abdullah Ibrahim proves to be both the model of good taste and a freehearted storyteller.

Learn more about Solotude on Amazon, Apple Music, and Barnes & Noble!

Abdullah Ibrahim: Grace Under Pressure

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.