South Africa: Two Abdullah Ibrahim Reissues
Ibrahim and his trio (which includes bassist Belden Bullock and drummer George Gray) form the nucleus of this outing, but as you would expect the piano and drums stand out most prominently. The whole thing was thoroughly arranged and produced by Daniel Schnyder, with help of 20 string players picked from the Youth Orchestra of the European Community. The orchestra serves three roles: it supports the piano when Ibrahim takes center stage with melodies, it carries themes and sub-themes on its own, and it serves as a secondary persona with whom Ibrahim can trade commentary.
To pick a noteworthy example, "Ishmael" carries a lilting minor melody barely over the edge into clave land, staying near but not homing directly into North African styles. This piece features the most interaction between Ibrahim and the orchestra, though the latter tends to be rhythymically stifling. "The Call," two tracks later, is mired hopelessly in woozy orchestral sentiment, to the point where the emotional content is so predictable it becomes thoroughly redundant. Taking Ibrahim and his trio out of the equation, the orchestra-only "Blanton" is so busy it loses any organic feel.
The piano solo piece "Aspen" puts things in the right hands, but it's pretty clear that Ibrahim is trying to sound orchestral in the way he voices chords and overlays textures. By the time the sappy, cliche-ridden closing piece at the end of the record comes through, you're more than ready to hit stop and change the disc. Honesty is the best policy with material like this: skip this record and do Cape Town Revisited instead. No question about that.
Tracks and Personnel:
Cape Town Revisited
Tracks: 1. Damara Blue 2. Someday Soon Sweet Samba 3. Cape Town to Congo Square [1st Movement]: African Street Parade 4. Cape Town to Congo Square [2nd Movement]: District Six Carnival 5. Song for Sathima 6. Cape Town to Congo Square [3rd Movement]: Too-Kah 7. Tintinyana 8. Tuang Guru 9. Eleventh Hour 10. Water from an Ancient Well 11. Tsakwe-Royal Blue 12. Soweto 13. Mountain 14. Wedding 15. Barakaat [The Blessing]
Personnel: Abdullah Ibrahim: piano; Marcus McLaurine: bass; George Gray: drums. Guest Feya Faku: trumpet (7,11,12).
Tracks: 1. Mindif 2. Ishmael 3. Tsakwe 4. Call 5. Damara Blue 6. Wedding 7. Blanton (Orchestra Only) 8. Aspen (Piano Solo) 9. Barakaat 10. Tintinyana 11. Mountain of the Night
Personnel: Abdullah Ibrahim: piano; Belden Bullock: bass; George Gray: drums. With a string orchestra from members of the Youth Orchestra of the European Community. Arranged and produced by Daniel Schnyder.