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Adolphe Johannes Brand was born in Cape Town in 1934 and became known as jazz pianist Dollar Brand – a moniker allegedly arising from his habit of buying jazz albums from international sailors docked in the city’s port. He was influenced by marabi – South Africa’s blues – Christian hymnody, and the work of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Ellington heard him in 1962 and arranged a recording in New York. While living there, Brand worked with free jazz musicians including Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri and Johnny Dyani. Converting to Islam in 1968, he became Abdullah Ibrahim – and eventually, one of South Africa’s most revered musicians.

South African jazz is unique in being a genuinely popular music. Under apartheid, Cape Town was an outpost of multi-racial jazz; District Six, bulldozed under the notorious Group Areas Act, is celebrated by Ibrahim in ‘Cape Town District Six’, one of the few animated tracks on this superb album. Under cover of gentle, often hymn-like melodies, Dream Time is intensely political music. Ibrahim is sometimes described – possibly euphemistically – as a prickly character, imperious with his musicians. But his life was hard: his father was killed when he was four, and he grew up believing his grandmother was his mother, and his mother was his sister. His self- belief has had to be immense.

Ibrahim’s musical values, he says, are ‘ancient tradition, new elements’. The present album – a live recording from Germany – is a continuous flow, a suite of the pianist’s fine compositions. Th e dominant mood is beautifully meditative and intensely elegiac, with a haunting wistfulness. ‘Blue Bolero’ gets four interpretations, the longest one incorporating familiar Ibrahim themes. ‘Whoza Mtwana’ offers a minute’s arpeggiated agitation before relaxing into one of the album’s characteristic gentle grooves.

For a player of 84, Ibrahim is sturdy. Despite the slow tempos, the album is eventful and beautifully paced throughout. It shows that one of the most distinctive bodies of work in jazz is not completed yet.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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