The Balance (Gearbox)

Abdullah Ibrahim

Released June 28, 2019

Jazzwise Top 10 Releases of 2019

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review




At the age of 84, Abdullah Ibrahim (AKA Dollar Brand) releases his first new album in four years. Entitled ‘The Balance’, this project features his long-time septet Ekaya, a line-up that he’s been recording with since 1983. In this case, the album was recorded over the course of one day at London’s RAK Studios last November. The lush horn lines, lilting melodies, and uplifting chord progressions are characteristic of Abdullah’s all-encompassing Township-Jazz. This is contrasted with various solo piano improvisations, which epitomise the nostalgic yet hopeful nature of Abdullah’s musical spirit. Hence, The Balance.

In his own words:
“We push ourselves out of our comfort zones. So that we can present to the listener our striving for excellence. So that we can engage with our listeners without any barriers of our ego. It’s not jazz. For us, it’s a process of transcending barriers.”

Track Listing:

1. Dreamtime (Abdullah Ibrahim) 04:08

2. Nisa (Abdullah Ibrahim) 06:40

3. Jabula (Abdullah Ibrahim) 03:46

4. Tuang Guru (Abdullah Ibrahim) 05:14

5. Tonegawa (Abdullah Ibrahim) 03:36

6. Song for Sathima (Abdullah Ibrahim) 04:14

7. ZB2 (Abdullah Ibrahim) 02:07

8. Skippy (Thelonious Monk) 05:37

9. Devotion (Abdullah Ibrahim) 02:58

10. The Balance (Abdullah Ibrahim) 03:05


Abdullah Ibrahim: piano

Ekaya Noah Jackson: double bass (1, 2, 4, 6, 8), cello (3, 10)
Alec Dankworth: double bass (3, 10)
Will Terrill: drums
Adam Glasser: harmonica (10)
Cleave Guyton Jr.: alto saxophone (2, 3, 6), flute (1, 10), piccolo (4, 8)
Lance Bryant: tenor saxophone
Andrae Murchison: trombone
Marshall McDonald: baritone saxophone

Recorded November 2018 Engineered by Tony Platt
Mixed by Caspar Sutton-Jones
Mastered and cut by Darrel Sheinman and Caspar Sutton-Jones


If your back catalogue with Ekaya includes such essential albums as The Mountain and Water From An Ancient Well, then the excellence of your own work makes you a hard act to follow. After a five-year absence from the studio, following his last records for the Intuition label, and now aged 84, would Abdullah Ibrahim’s new venture with Gearbox Records match up to the high standards that he set years ago with this band of African and (mainly) American musicians? The answer is a resounding yes. And the record is in some ways more satisfying than the band can occasionally be in concert, where Ibrahim sometimes cuts off tunes too soon, or if there’s not enough feedback from the crowd, seem slightly sterile.

There’s no sterility here, and no sense of anything being curtailed. With Terrill’s drums and special British guest Alec Dankworth’s bass setting out the introductory pattern for ‘Jabula’, followed by piano interjections and then a conversation with the horns, this is music as joyous and extrovert as anything in Ibrahim’s long list of recordings. That outgoing mood is sustained in Monk’s ‘Skippy’ with Guyton’s piccolo making the running. There’s a contrast with the slightly otherworldly ‘Tuang Guru’, where Jackson (who played cello on ‘Jabula’) resumes his regular place on bass and underpins the movement of this work from the back catalogue with nimble rapid-fire bass-lines. Ibrahim sits out much of this track – just as he might do on stage – but he comes back in exactly where it matters, ushering back the scalar head arrangement. His three solo improvisations offer a very different level of emotional depth, being introvert and involving. And the high point is a return to another piece from the earlier days of Ekaya, ‘Song for Sathima’. On this, Lance Bryant catches exactly the timing and phrasing of the South African masters, and turns in a really outstanding performance on tenor saxophone, genuinely, as Ibrahim puts it, ‘singing a song’. 

Alyn Shipton (Jazzwise)

➜ Read our Abdullah Ibrahim interview: “In our music there’s no such thing as a mistake and, actually, maybe in life itself there’s no such thing as a mistake either “