For the occasion of the last Jazz Across Border Festival in Berlin in 2001, Abdullah Ibrahim chose to present not so much a concert of previously written music that he interprets as much as scenes from his life that he brings to life on piano. Bringing to the concert his own trio consisting of bassist Belden Bullock and drummer Sipho Kunene, Ibrahim recalls incidents and feelings of his background in South Africa, an influence that has remained a part of his music and which distinguishes him. Even though Ibrahim could, if he so chose, play with ever-rising intensity and complexity, he instead decides to simplify his music as he creates songs to which his audience could instantaneously relate.
While all of the tracks on African Magic
receive titles, some of them are mere fragments that recollect an experience or bring out in the open a fleeting thought. Indeed the first 4 "Blue Boleros" are less than 20 seconds long, leading up to the tune’s final performance at the end of the CD, and thus recalling Ibrahim’s performance of the tune on previous albums. Even though he includes other references to previous recordings, such as "Blues for a Hip King" and "Pule," Ibrahim moves seamlessly from one composition to the next--so much so that the listener isn’t immediately aware of the introduction of a new tune.
Rather than presenting a concert that follows a pre-determined song list, Ibrahim developed the tunes for the Berlin concert organically so that one number flows into the other, as a mood or an alteration of a rhythm arises from the preceding tune. Ever indebted to Duke Ellington, Ibrahim includes, as usual, several Ellington compositions, including Ibrahim’s deliberate and thoughtful solo interpretation of "Solitude" (only 16 seconds long) and his equally rhythmless but darker version of "In a Sentimental Mood" (elongated this time to almost 3 minutes). The surprise of Ibrahim’s allusiveness is his stomping, thickly chorded version of "Moten Swing" (33 seconds).
Still, the colors and festivities inherent in a tango like "Tuang Guru" or the danceability of "Third Line Samba" or the musical visualization of "The Mountain" are characteristic of Ibrahim’s blending of styles into one that’s uniquely his own. And the opportunity to hear him perform without apparent constraint, albeit in an understated manner, provides the most convincing reason to appreciate the extended work of which African Magic