ABDULLAH IBRAHIM “Mukashi – Once Upon A Time” CD

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The South African pianist has spent his last few albums revisiting and reworking old songs, and this album is no exception.  Ibrahim starts with a bit of Japanese-tinged flute and he sings a little, too (Mukashi is Japanese for Once Upon A Time). Then it’s on to the piano with Cleave Guyton on flute, clarinet and saxophone, and Eugen Bazijan and Scott Roller on cellos.

Flutes are at the heart of this recording, curling smokily around the unmistakeable melody lines, as rich in Monk influences as in old hymnal ones, and the cellos add extra gravitas. But there is a lot of solo piano music in there as well.

The tune’s titles say a lot – SerenityPeaceDevotionEssence. Initially the loveliest are the ones we know best – PeaceMatzikama and Root, which in part re-harmonises Mannenberg – but after the more unfamiliar ones start to sink in, the album begins to sound lovely from beginning to end.

This is a thoroughly reflective album, the rightful territory for a man who will be 80 next year, and whose wife died in the summer.

Ibrahim’s playing is marvellously stripped down – there is not an extraneous note as he sounds as if he is musing at the piano, lost in thought and memory and letting it flow through to his fingers. Guyton, who has been a musical companion for many years now, is a particularly sensitive player with whom to interact.

As South African music of melancholy and mournfulness, it’s particularly appropriate music at the moment, of course.