Abdullah Ibrahim in melancholic mode

Mar 11, 2015
South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. Photo: Johannes Kassenberg

South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. Photo: Johannes Kassenberg

It was a gentle, meditative night at the Adelaide Town Hall on Tuesday when South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim leaned over the Steinway and massaged out an unbroken hour of his distinctive music.

Ibrahim, 80, has an interesting style of performing – a continuous stream of snippets and fully realised pieces that flow from one to another and, sometimes, return to earlier themes.

His mood last night was melancholic, rarely breaking out into anything more rhythmic or technically explosive.

There were shadows of standards and jazz favourites (the haunting late-night melody of ‘Blue Bolero’ made several showings), and occasional African-influenced pieces (‘Cape Town Flower’), hymn-like chord progressions, and much more.

In an epic bracket that went for an hour, Ibrahim moved from theme to theme, favouring texture rather than fireworks, teasing with sensuous melodies, then moving on to blurred and impressionistic soundscapes.

He took some applause, then sat back down again to provide another 15 minutes of the same.

Has he become too restrained? Some critics of his performance with a quartet at WOMADelaide on the weekend believe so. And last night there were a few heads nodding (and not in agreement).

However, I’m not so sure this was evidence of artistic misjudgement.

The world is full of unsubtle, in-our-face entertainments. It would be sad if there wasn’t a place for performers like Ibrahim to play to their mood; to give an audience a chance to get lost in plaintive melodies and subtle musical textures.

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Abdullah Ibrahim played a one-off concert at the Adelaide Town hall on March 10 as part of the Adelaide Festival program.

Click here for more Adelaide Festival reviews.


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