London Jazz Festival: Abdullah Ibrahim
Simon Adams reviews Abdullah Ibrahim at the Wigmore Hall, London, 18 November 2011
The Wigmore Hall is probably the best recital room in London, its warm acoustic and elegant style the ideal place to hear a solo musician in concert. For once, venue and artist were perfectly matched in this London Jazz Festival performance, as pianist Abdullah Ibrahim gave us all a masterclass in continuous improvisation.
Now a stately 77, Ibrahim delivered two uninterrupted improvisations at around 45 minutes each, plus a brief encore, that cleverly husbanded his physical resources. Gone were the trademark, thundering left-hand chords and strong dynamics of old, replaced now with a slow-tempo, subdued delivery that rarely strayed towards the ends of the keyboard. Gone too was the almost heady, religious feel that some of his previous concerts have invoked, in its place a more contemplative, reflective mood.
Each improvisation consisted of a medley of his – and no doubt others' – compositions strung together into a seamless whole. Tunes were hinted at and structures implied but never developed into fully formed pieces. A tentative exploration of a theme glided slowly towards a new idea. Even The Wedding and The Mountain, two of his more famous and distinct compositions, were outlined only in passing. For a composer of some highly recognisable and glorious works, this was brave musicianship. In this subtle and unshowy way, Ibrahim distilled a lifetime of performances into an exquisite evening.
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