This project is built on a paradox: the idea that a large-scale African landscape can best be expressed musically in the most Germanic of media, the full romantic orchestra. Schnyder employs a sonic palette closely associated with Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss. It works because Ibrahim's eclecticism extends far beyond his African roots and encompasses American jazz and blues, Arabic influences, English choral and European romantic music. (Schnyder points out that, as a master of suspense and musical space, Ibrahim is a great "rest composer" in the tradition of Bach and Beethoven.) It also works because Schnyder's arrangements are deeply in touch with Ibrahim's belief in the hypnotic, cathartic, healing power of music. The huge ensemble never overwhelms or intrudes. It surrounds Ibrahim's trio (with Marcus McLaurine on bass and George Gray on drums) with airy, translucent elaborations that add scale and texture and fascinating detail to this varied fabric of incantations.
Abdullah Ibrahim (born Adolph Johannes Brand on 9 October 1934 and formerly known as Dollar Brand) is a South African pianist and composer. His music reflects many of the musical influences of his childhood in the multicultural port areas of Cape Town, ranging from traditional African songs to the gospel of the AME Church and ragas, to more modern jazz and other Western styles. Ibrahim is considered the leading figure in the subgenre Cape jazz. Within jazz, his music particularly reflects the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington.
Abdullah Ibrahim sings and plays soprano on Ishmael but otherwise sticks to piano on this trio set with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Brooks. As usual Ibrahim's folkish melodies (this CD has six of his originals plus a previously alternate take of Ishmael) pay tribute to his South African heritage and Islam religion without becoming esoteric or inaccessible. Some of the unpredictable music gets a bit intense (Ibrahim is in consistently adventurous form) but his flights always return back to earth and have an air of optimism. An above average effort from a true individualist.