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Abdullah Ibrahim



In 1962 pianist Abdullah Ibrahim left South Africa for Switzerland, where he was discovered the next year by Duke Ellington, who produced his northern-hemisphere recording debut. His jabbing bass notes, well-placed chords, and authoritative attack declare his kinship with Ellington, and also with Thelonious Monk, whose tunes Ibrahim covers from time to time. But those influences account for just a sliver of his sound. He spent his youth soaking up the gospel music of his grandfather's Christian church, traditional Xhosa tribal tunes, the circular patterns and overlapping rhythms common to much African percussion music, and the simplified, streamlined brand of jazz that took root in his native Cape Town. Ibrahim carries it all with him: he'll establish a revolving left-hand bass line as deftly as a boogie-woogie pianist and then drift into a trance above it, catching Monk's signature hesitations, letting a singing line come gradually forward as its accompaniment melts away. At heart he's a melodist, able to imbue a simple tune with deep feeling or buoyant energy. He's written some very beautiful and catchy pieces insufficiently covered by others. If he's recorded a few rather often himself--"The Wedding," "African Marketplace," "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro"--that's mostly a function of how many records he's made: way too many, with bands of widely varying quality. (The best Ibrahim disc I've heard lately is a reissue of a 1977 duo date with drummer Max Roach, Streams of Consciousness, on Piadrum.) At HotHouse (where tickets will set you back $35 at the door) he'll be backed by two musicians who've played with him quite a bit since the mid-90s. Bassist Belden Bullock has worked with drummers Roy Haynes and Ralph Peterson and pianists Andrew Hill and Ahmad Jamal; drummer George Gray's road resume includes Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, and Cassandra Wilson. Ibrahim doesn't tour often (he hasn't been in town since early '95), and the trio format suits him well, providing rhythmic support but plenty of elbow room; pricey or not, this show presents a fine and rare opportunity. Saturday, July 5, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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