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There’s nothing quite like an Abdullah Ibrahim solo piano concert, especially in the golden late-life era of the now 87-year-old master. In concert, as evidenced on this glorious new solo album, the South African-born pianist seems to traipse and gently dance through his decades-deep repertoire of songs, without excess fanfare or hubris, falling into a reflective reverie which quickly becomes infectious to those on the listening end.
Adding poetic strength to the title Solotude, which is subtitled My Journey, My Vision, the singular, sonically pristine and solitary grace of this live recording emanates from the unusual circumstance of our pandemic-afflicted time. Recorded “live,” but sans audience, in the acclaimed Hirzinger Hall in Germany, on his birthday, October 9, 2020, Ibrahim’s seamless set wanders down and around themes old and new with wisdom and poise.
The pianist passes through memorable themes on the journey, including the flowing “Tokai,” the angular ballad “Sotho Blue” and the sweetly soothing “Blue Bolero,” which becomes an unofficial motif through its reappearance on two extra “reprise” treatments in the concert’s sequence.
A new song, “Once Upon a Midnight,” qualifies as the longest song in the set (6:27) and layers an airy tension around a theme built on pensive two-note gestures, rather than settling into anything resembling a standard-brand improvised solo. For Ibrahim, particularly in this period, the element of spontaneity comes through in delicate nuances and embraced spaces in his renderings.
Solotude closes on a metaphorical note. The wistful new tune “Signal on the Hill” comes on the heels of the more expansive (relatively speaking) gospel-ish themed “The Wedding” like a denouement to the album’s narrative. “Signal” clocks in at just over a minute long. But the tune feels less like a discrete piece then as a swatch of fabric in a lovely, lyrical tapestry. It’s a seamless portrait of the artist, one of the greats.