Abdullah Ibrahim, Water from an Ancient Well

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

This is pacific record, featuring the sort of masterfully elegant understatement that skirts boredom to achieve a calm, spiritual profundity as it pays tribute to a series of people Ibrahim admires. "Mandela" leads off with the disc's most ebullient groove, a relaxed fanfare that provides an opportunity to showcase the four horn players, ranging from Charles Davis's baritone to Carlos Ward on alto and flute. That's followed by "Song For Sathima," in honor of Ibrahim's wife, a jazz vocalist who is feted here with delicate music imbued with the calm promise of early morning, with a slow, honeydripping lilt reminiscent of Ellington. By contrast, there's a sense of strife and foreboding in "Tuang Guru," dedicated to the Islamic hero who fought Dutch colonialism in Malaya. The lengthy title track anchors the disc, led off by Ibrahim's gospel-reverent piano solo before stretching into a showcase for trombonist Dick Griffin and other horns. "The Wedding" is much shorter, with a memorable, refined melody and beautiful, uncluttered arrangement.

A masterfully elegant understatement of a record

Ibrahim's piano is almost the least of his contribution here, as the stately pace and sweep of eight songs seem exactingly ordered and of a piece. It's a great band, with drummer Ben Riley, tenor Ricky Ford and the ever-ambling bass lines of David Williams rounding out the septet. But both the tunes and the manner in which they are executed successfully aim for an effect where the sum is greater than the individual parts.