A Memorable Performance
Abdullah Ibrahim Trio graced the stage at the Barbican on 15 July, as part of the ongoing 2023 EFG London Jazz Festival Summer Series. The 88-year-old South African jazz pianist received rapturous applause and reverence from the appreciative audience.
The Trio’s Lineup
During the 90-minute performance, much of the spotlight fell on Cleave Guyton (on flutes and clarinet) and Noah Jackson (on double bass and cello), who opened the set with Duke Ellington’s ‘In a Sentimental Mood’. They displayed their fine chops and impeccable tone on their instruments, followed by a superlative solo rendition of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ by Noah Jackson on bass.
The importance of the Duke and Coltrane to Ibrahim’s artistry is well-known in the jazz world.
Abdullah Ibrahim’s Journey
Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand, and his partner Sathima Bea Benjamin sought refuge in Switzerland due to apartheid-era South Africa. They spent three years at Zurich’s Club Africana, where they met several visiting American jazz musicians, leading to the famous ‘Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio’ and Sathima’s ‘A Morning in Paris’ recordings.
Later, Ibrahim moved to New York City in 1965, befriending the likes of Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Ornette Coleman among other notable jazz exponents of the day.
Highlights of the Concert
‘Water from an Ancient Well’, a moving African blues piece from Ibrahim’s 1985 album of the same name, was very well received by the audience. It featured Jackson’s empathetic bass playing and Guyton’s birdlike and wonderfully buoyant flute.
Another standout performance was ‘The Wedding’, which emphasized Jackson’s sonorous technique on the cello. Ibrahim’s evocative and magisterial touch on the piano was still very much in evidence at this special Barbican concert, especially on numbers such as ‘Blue Bolero’, ‘Mindiff’, and ‘Nisa’—compositions striking a fine balance between the mournful and the elevating.
Although Abdullah Ibrahim may be frail and in need of assistance on and off the stage, he remains a force to be reckoned with as an elder statesman of the jazz piano.