African Sketchbook is a superb example of the kind of solo concerts Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) performed early in his career. They were lengthy, non-stop affairs with pieces strung together end on end, sometimes repeated, sometimes with interpolations from Monk or Ellington, and always supremely creative and moving. He would often introduce the evenings with a composition for flute, as is the case here with the gorgeous "Air." After that, it's wave upon wave of songs. Some are rhythmically propulsive numbers with Ibrahim vamping for all he's worth with the left hand while deftly evoking aspects of South Africa with the right. The songs tend to have a basis that may strike Western listeners as gospel-related while, in fact, it's gospel that shows these same African roots. Other pieces have tinges of 20th century European classical music and some, like "Sadness," are simply and astoundingly beautiful. When the album ends with a repetition of the invocational "Salaam -- Peace -Hamba Kahle," one indeed feels as though having been on a whirlwind tour of a small portion of Africa. The recording quality leaves a little to be desired, but the wonderful music more than makes up for it. Highly recommended, especially for those who came to Ibrahim's music later in his career and who are unfamiliar with his early, arguably more substantial work.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick