Abdullah Ibrahim

African Symphony

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This is an oddball recording for several reasons. First, while it is issued under the name of Abdullah Ibrahim, he does not perform on the opening piece (the musical highlight of the disc), which is a work for strings by Daniel Schnyder, who arranged all the pieces on the album. Second, the following tracks are mostly watered down, reworked versions of compositions by Ibrahim that he has performed and recorded much more effectively elsewhere. Listening to them here, it is difficult to imagine how innovative these tunes were once considered. The arrangements are symphony lite, suitable for a pops concert on a Sunday afternoon, but hardly worthy of the great jazz pianist and writer. Performing jazz with a symphony orchestra is a common dream of jazz players, and there are numerous instances of it being tried, usually, as here, with mixed results at best. That said, the recording does contain pleasurable kernels. The melodies, for example, are recognizable as those of Ibrahim, or at least clearly bear his mark. Further, while this is not challenging artistry it is fun to listen to in the way that a pop singer allures his audience with a well-known tune. For followers and admirers of the artist, this recording is bound to disappoint; much of it is suited to the elevator. There are joys, though, to be found for those willing to suspend critical analysis and appreciate the music for its simple, delicate, lightly swinging style and pretty melodies.

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