Three times during a two-hour concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 18, Abdullah Ibrahim sat alone at the piano, gently coaxing melodies from the keys that were by turns rhapsodic and elegiac. Each time, the South African bandleader’s wanderings incorporated strains of the same simple, hymn-like tune, familiar yet maddeningly difficult to identify (at least for this writer, although it shared traits with both “Edelweiss” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”). Each time, the other seven musicians in his band, Ekaya, gradually appeared from the wings, adding their voices to his reverie. And each time, Ibrahim’s direct contributions would then lessen, until entire pieces would go by in which he played barely a note. But as he bobbed his head back and forth, breathing heavily or mouthing wordless syllables or both—it was hard to tell which sometimes—in tandem with the beat, his continuing engagement with the music was clear. Then the musicians left the stage, and the cycle began again.
It was almost as if Ibrahim were repeatedly dreaming his bandmates into existence. Or, if you will, using the Force, much like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, to project images onstage to do what he could not.