Dollar Brand
(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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After cutting the first jazz record of the African continent, Verse I (september 1959), with Hugh Masekela's Jazz Epistles, in 1962 Southafrican pianist Adolph "Dollar" Brand (1934) relocated to Europe and then to New York. He debuted in the vein of Thelonious Monk, who was hardly avantgarde at that point, with Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Band Trio (february 1963), containing Ubu Suku and The Stride, followed by Round Midnight At The Montmartre (june 1965), also in a trio, that contained The Dream (both also contained Monk covers). Brand's musical ambitions were better represented by the five-part orchestral suite Anatomy of a South African Village (first recorded for trio in january 1965), the manifesto of his fusion of African rhythms, bebop piano and European classical music, and by collections of solo piano vignettes, permeated with a solemn and spiritual sense of nostalgy and often marked by disorienting dissonance: not so much the mediocre Reflections (march 1965), aka This Is Dollar Brand, as the brilliant African Piano (october 1969), that still contained extended pieces such as Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro and The Moon, and African Sketchbook (may 1969), a sequence of brief pieces (mostly under two minutes), the longest being African Sun and Tokai. These impressionsitic miniatures, organized in a stream of consciousness, struck a balance between post-bop techniques, romantic melody and Islamic ecstasy. Despite coming from a different continent, a different race and a different musical genre, Brand's piano music was not too dissimilar from Oliver Messaien's. In 1968 Brand had converted to Islam and changed name (as was fashionable at the time) to Abdullah Ibrahim.

The early 1970s were the age of Brand's majestic solo albums. Ancient Africa (june 1972), one long live medley of Brand compositions, was only the appetizer. One session produced material for two albums: African Portraits (february 1973) and Sangoma (february 1973). The latter, his masterpiece, contained the three-part suite The Alone And The Wild Rose, the six-part suite Fats Duke And the Monk and the side-long three-part suite Ancient Africa. Besides the much inferior Memories (december 1973) and Ode To Duke Ellington (december 1973), the other notably solo album of the era was African Breeze (february 1974). Good News From Africa (december 1973) was a duo with bassist Johnny Dyani.

That magic season was sealed by Brand's masterpiece for large ensemble, African Space Program (november 1973), that contained two suites, the 19-minute Tintiyana and the 23-minute Jabulani, for a twelve-piece unit (piano, three trumpeters, four saxophonists including Hamiet Bluiett, flutist Sonny Fortune, trombone, bass and drums) in the vein of Charles Mingus. Boswil Concert 1973 documents a live performance by Dollar Brand and his wife vocalist Bea Benjamin. Also notable were the Southafrican quintet session with alto saxophonist Robbie Jansen and legendary tenor Basil Coetzee, Mannenberg It's Where It's Happening (june 1974), aka Capetown Fringe, that included his Cape Town Fringe and The Pilgrim: Underground in Africa (march 1974), with three wild horns undermining Brand's bluesy piano during the 23-minute Kalahari; Soweto (june 1975), aka Africa Herbs, that included Soweto Is Where It's At, African Herbs and Sathima, three extended compositions for larger combos; Blues For A Hip King (november 1975), for a septet of piano, two saxophones, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums; The Children Of Africa (january 1976), with Cecil McBee on bass and Roy Brooks on drums, that contained Ishmael and Yukio-Khalifa; the saxophone quartet Black Lightning (august 1976), with the side-long Black Lightning; and The Journey (september 1977), for a nonet featuring Bluiett, Dyani and Don Cherry. There was little in these romantic fantasies that could be called "avantgarde".

Brand and his wife vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin also recorded African Songbird (march 1976), containing the 21-minute suite Africa.

Collaborations included: Buddy Tate Meets Abdullah Ibrahim (august 1977), Duet (june 1978) with Archie Shepp, Streams Of Consciousness (september 1977) with with Max Roach, Echoes From Africa (september 1979) with bassist Johnny Dyani.

Each subsequent solo piano album was a tender tribute to his homeland: Anthem For The New Nations (june 1978), Autobiography (june 1978), Matsidiso (december 1980), South Africa Sunshine (december 1980), and especially African Dawn (june 1982).

A saxophone quartet penned the more pensive meditations of Africa - Tears And Laughter (march 1979), such as Ishmael and Did You Hear That Sound. Another simple but effective musical statement came with the eight vignettes of African Marketplace (december 1979) for a twelve- piece unit, and this time the nostalgic reminiscence of South Africa was almost folk music.

Duke's Memories (june 1981) and Zimbabwe (may 1983) were his last recordings with a quartet, and South Africa (july 1983) an unusual quintet with vocals and reeds.

He opted for the septet, forming Ekaya (in New York) with flutist Carlos Ward, tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford, baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, trombonist Dick Griffin, bassist David Williams and drummer Ben Riley. This line-up recorded some of the best albums of his later phase: Ekaya (november 1983), aka The Mountain, Water From An Ancient Well (october 1985), without Griffin, highlighted by the 12-minute Water From An Ancient Well, and African River (june 1989). A Southafrican septet (with two saxes, trumpet and guitar) recorded Mantra Mode (january 1991), with the nine-minute Mantra Mode.

Brand also contributed to the film soundtracks Mindiff (march 1988) and S'En Fout La Mort/ No Fear No Die (july 1990).

Solo albums of the last decades included Desert Flowers (december 1991) and Knysna Blue (october 1993), with the 16-minute Knysna Blue.

After the septet, Brand's favorite format was the trio: Yarona (january 1995), reinterpreting his classics for the 1000th time, Cape Town Flowers (august 1996), with the nine-minute Joan Cape Town Flower, Cape Town Revisited (december 1997), with the suite Cape Town to Congo Square, and African Magic (2001).

His neoclassical Ellington-ian ambitions yielded African Suite (november 1997) for string orchestra and piano trio, African Symphony (january 1998) for an 80-piece symphony orchestra (both devoted to re-arrangements of old Brand compositions), and Ekapa Lodumo (june 2000) for jazz big band (mostly taken up by Black And Brown Cherries and African Market).

Another septet (three saxophones and trumpet) delivered an exuberant, folk-ish tribute to his Cape Town roots: Township One More Time (january 1998).

Senzo (april 2008) is a solo piano album containing 22 brief vignettes.

Bombella (april 2008) documents a live performance with the WDR Big Band Cologne.

Ekaya's Sotho Blue (spring 2010) featured bassist Belden Bullock, drummer George Gray, Cleave Guyton on alto sax and flute, Keith Loftis on tenor sax, Andrae Murchison on trombone and Jason Marshall on baritone sax.

He played mainly flute on Mukashi/ Once Upon A Time (autumn 2012 and spring 2013).

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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