Saturday, February 11, 2006

Black History Month: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio

Black History Month at HurdAudio takes a spin of Abdullah Ibrahim's debut recording from 1963 - back when he went by the name of Dollar Brand - Duke Ellington Presents The Dollar Brand Trio.

"Dollar's Dance" opens with a great hook on the piano as the ears open up to a great piano trio in action. It is immediately apparent what caught the Duke's attention when he heard this trio playing at a club in Zurich and immediately agreed to produce three recordings and heavily promote this sensational pianist from South Africa. This trio is fantastic. The bass solo on this track is dead on and the overall sound is such a great balance between these three players and their big-ear interactions together. I'm struck by the rhythmic approach on the piano and the choice of harmonies that puncture the texture and occasionally move in parallel lines.

The liner notes provide no clue to the identity of two-thirds of this excellent trio. With a little digging around online I learn that this bassist is Johnny Gertze and the drummer is Makaya Ntshoko.

"Kippi" switches gears as a ballad. Here the focus in on the melodic line that is lovingly supported by a restrained trio along with some artfully arranged harmonies. This brief number has a wonderful conclusion as a well-crafted chord that spans the wide registers of the piano is allowed to decay naturally.

"Brilliant Corners" by Thelonius Monk is the lone non-Dollar Brand composition on this collection. The melodic bends and harmonic quirks of Monk are a natural fit for Abdullah Ibrahim both as a composer and pianist/interpreter. This is another track that allows a glimpse at the creative prowess of Gertze on the bass as he rips out another great solo on this one. This arrangement sticks close to the overall form and chord changes of this familiar standard. The brief flashes of double-time are incredibly cool.

"Jumping Rope" skips along, propelled by Ibrahim's deft navigation of some rapid chord changes before swirling around into a steady groove for some deeply laid back improvising. He packs a lot of surprising twists and turns over a steady cyclical chord sequence. This track is far, far too short. The Gertze bass solo seems to just get started before things swing into a coda.

"Ubu Suku" begins with piano alone as Ibrahim unfolds a melody and interjects increasing degrees of harmonic and rhythmic divergences into it until the trio eventually joins in. The texture alternates between smooth passages of linear melody juxtaposed against short doses of repeated sequences. This track is my personal favorite from this collection. There's a great sense of contrast at work in this one compositionally and it feels less abridged than the rest of the offerings on this disc.

"The Stride" closes out this listening experience with an up-tempo groove that seems to keep rolling over on top of itself. Ntshoko's drum work catches my ear on this one - even before his solo. This was a great trio and they really fused together on this track.

Compared to the records that Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim would later record this one is a modest introduction to a great talent that really deserves more attention.

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