Well, wouldn’t you just know it, here I was playing my very favourite bit of jazz at the moment and it occurred to me that my favourite track on this LP by my favourite jazz pianist doesn’t feature any piano on it at all.  Well, that’s jazz for you, I guess. 

The LP is Dollar Brand At Montruex, from 1980.  A no-frills packaged treat from Enja Records. 

The track is the LP and set closer ‘Ishmael’, a thing of rare beauty and joy.  Alonzo Gardner picks out a ten note run on the electric bass and just plays it right through almost without deviation, hesitation or uncoolisation, for the whole tune.  It’s in a very Eastern, possibly Arabic mode and the other band members gradually and rather gently appear over the musical horizon to add their tones, as that bass run snakes on down the line.

Play it.

The overall effect is utterly mesmerizing and I’m very much with the enthusiastic audience which whoops and hollers occasionally in the background.  It’s like nothing else I own, or am very likely to own in the future and that is I think as much a reason for loving it, as the actual sounds themselves. 

But back to Mr Ibrahim*, sublime pianist that he is I wondered why he was sitting out a quarter of his own LP by not playing on this track.  Then I read the small print properly, he plays the sopranino saxophone too – I didn’t know that, or indeed what a sopranino is**.  So that done explained it.

But please give this one a go, it really is my very favourite piece of music in the world at the moment. 

I may have digressed ever so slightly there from reviewing At Montreux.  It has other music-y bits on it.

The album tees off with ‘Tsakve’, where the band get named almost aggressively by Mr Ibrahim, before the music lurches sideways into a sunny, lilting processional vibe; think New Orleans relocated to Soweto.  Those of us who live the moments when Dollar Brand hits the ivories are well served by ‘Whoza Mtwana’, which manages the heady of trick of sounding like sunshine; Craig Harris and Carlos Ward’s brass merging and sparking off each other energetically over a gently rolling piano.

There’s a wonderful nimbleness about ‘The Homecoming Song’, again Alonzo Gardner plays a blinder on electric bass.  It’s such a happy track, barrelling along enraptured in its own joy, a sun warming itself, unmistakably African in origin.  The track gets more complex as it, literally, progresses but never loses sight of the basic underlying melody, which is very much a strength of all Dollar Brand’s work at this point. 

‘The Wedding’, which closes the first side of the LP has a stately graceful yearning quality to it.  It sounds to me more of a lament than a celebration, it has a very Tom Waits style sad vibe to it.  The 9-minute ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ does leave me a little unmoved though.

Oh and then there’s the last track on the LP, ‘Ishmael’ but I believe I may have mentioned that briefly before …

Ishmael of course in Bibledom was the son of Hagar^ and Abraham, banished to wander the wilderness to perish, but being saved from a thirsty death through the miraculous appearance of a well.  Well, music this sublime is the well I quench my thirst from.  I commend Dollar Brand At Montreux to you all.

917 Down (to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline).

Another favourite.

*Dollar Brand was using the name Abdullah Ibrahim by this point in time, although I always think of him as Dollar Brand because that was how his music was introduced to me.  Enja Records hedge their bets on At Montreux, by using both names on the sleeve. 

**basically a teeny tiny, higher-than-a-soprano sax – usually straight and tuned to E♭. 

^not actually the one of ‘Can’t Drive 55’ fame, she was a slave girl.

15 thoughts on “Call Me Ishmael

      1. I hear you on that. The big band stuff grew on me. Ellington, Mingus etc. They would pull it down then explode which I like. I’m going to start posting some jazz records I dig and the first one is in a “Big Band’ setting. But I do listen to the smaller combos more often. This music you posted is very good.

  1. I thought Mr Books was Dollar Brand?? That dude love the Jazz! When I first discovered KMA one of the fist thing he told me is that while everyone was rocking out to Metal in high school he was digging on Jazz…
    I called him the Melting Pot!

  2. I like that when an artist still dazzles even when the usual attraction (the piano in this case) isn’t featured.
    It reminds me of The (Pretend it’s a different singer!) Smiths, where most would cite Johnny Marr’s guitar as a/the favourite element of the music – but then, perhaps inspired by Mr, Ibrahim’s trick, they opened their last record with a terrific guitarless track!

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