Abdullah Ibrahim Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Abdullah Ibrahim Trio

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When they film "The Dollar Brand Story," they won't have to dress up the plot. The facts will do just fine--from his birth (1934) and childhood in South Africa to his self-exile in Europe and then America to his mentoring by no less than Duke Ellington in the 60s to his conversion to Islam (and the name Abdullah Ibrahim) to his triumphant return to postapartheid South Africa in the 90s. Ibrahim didn't waste his time away from home: in an impressive discography, he established an unusual musical blend that weaves the songs of his homeland with the American jazz that has captivated him since the 60s. (Referring to his discovery of jazz, Ibrahim says, "We regarded people like [Thelonious] Monk and Duke [Ellington] as part of an extended family...all linked to traditional African sounds.") Ibrahim couches his compositions in the rolling rhythms and unhurried chord structures of traditional South African music, but he expands this format with the curiosity and experimentation native to jazz: he complicates the music, but in ways that deepen and extend it. Ibrahim will lead a trio in his Chicago concerts, a source of both disappointment and opportunity. The disappointment stems from the fact that we'll miss his small-group arrangements--in which two to four horns accentuate the plaintive openness of native harmonies--as well as the gently roiling saxophone solos his music calls forth. The opportunity lies in focusing on Ibrahim's reserved yet remarkably soulful piano playing--with its Monk-like nuances and its stark illumination of jazz standards--and the intimate retelling of his own cultural history. Thursday, February 9, 5:30 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 346- 3278. Next Friday, February 10, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235- 2334.

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