Music from Africa

【Dollar Brand】 His best 5 piano albums! Music from Africa – part ③

Hi! It’s konkaz (@konkazuk) here. 

With this article, I’m going to feature some albums which are performed by a South African jazz pianist and composer called “Dollar Brand” who is presently known as “Abdullah Ibrahim”.

image by Dan Grinwis

When I think of recordings which are performed by jazz pianists either as a solo or as a band’s leader, most of them that come up in my head are of Blue Note label’s or a selection of standard numbers performed with each one’s own style. 

And when I try to look for the pianists who are doing something else other than of these styles, you will end up with Monk, Jaki Byard, Cecil Taylor, or Mal Waldron.

As I had been searching for someone who could give me some new mind-blowing experience, I came across this Dollar Brand’s music via YouTube, and surprisingly, he’s from South Africa but not from America.

If I am to describe his piano playing, it’s like a mixture of beauty and strength surging like a rumbling of the ground?

…and this could satisfy your appetite for some new musical experience just like this is what you have been longing for!!!

I’ve only met his music quite recently, but I can say that he plays the piano with the most persuasive and the most adventurous way I have ever listened within a category of jazz!!! 

Ever since my first Dollar-Brand-experience, I’ve been so attracted to his music that whenever I make some kind of achievement which is worth giving myself a bit of reward, I create a good excuse to buy one of his records.

Many of his recordings are done with the organs as well as with the piano, but here I have selected his five great albums which are all performed with the latter.


African piano

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His monumental work in 1970.

My impression of the very beginning of the first track is like an endless flow of a big river… so powerful! It’s so powerful that once you get tripped up, that will be it…

And then, after a little while, you can hear heavy drops of his right hand pressing the piano keys just like lightning is striking the flow of the river. 

It’s so heavy and sounds sacred that stopping the music here is probably like acting against the nature, hence you might call down Divine wrath!

image by Greg Rosenke

There are 4 tracks on each side of the record, and they are performed without an interval.

I suppose how it’s done here is called “suite”, and you can’t help taking your hat off to his concentration.

I’m sure you will enjoy listening to the dramatic traffic of some sense of hope and agony in his playing and I guarantee it’s 100 times more impressive than watching some movies.

This album is possibly the appropriate one to pick to get to know his music.

African sketchbook

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The 1st track is not something what you would expect from jazz pianist’s album.

The title of it is called “Air” and it is a flute solo.

Its performance with an idyllic and some teasing sort of vibe is really refreshing no matter how many times you listen to. And there is even some kind of nostalgia in it.

From the 2nd track onward is a sublime suite of piano solo, so I guess this track plays a role of appetizer for it.

And then entering the 2nd track… The work of “genius”!

image by Osman Rana

It’s probably just me but the introduction of the suite gives me an impression of some kind of theme for graduation ceremony.

It opens quietly, but these are the compositions of the master pianist “Dollar Brand”. He won’t let you graduate easily. w 

It goes like a roller coaster till the end.

And again, there are no intervals between the tracks.

An epic drama is waiting for you just like what you can experience in “African Piano” album, but this album is more like… things are happening in the air rather than in the flow of a big river…

I’ve never been to, but this could be how it is like in heaven… w

B side of the record includes 6 tracks (2nd track comprises 3 themes) and it sounds even more abstract comparing to A side, therefore it’s very difficult to distinguish each track… 

However, it doesn’t really matter, to be honest.

By this point, you will be completely absorbed in his world, and you might be feeling just like looking over the ground from the sky or looking up the sky from the grass field of Africa…

image by Ivan Horvat

While you are having a sort of hallucinations, the scenery in your head keeps changing, and you will be hearing the theme of the 2nd track of A side which is the beginning of the suite before you knew it… 

This album is epic!

Absolutely, recommended. 

Children of Africa

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A couple of albums I have featured so far are his solo performance, but this is a trio one.

The introduction (or the theme) of the 1st track which has got the name of the title of this album is absolutely catchy, and I love it.

It will be most likely to sound pop and cheesy, if the composition is played by some other pianists, however, the powerful touch of his piano playing is formidably persuasive, therefore it gives you nothing but refreshing impression.

And I can hear Duke Ellington’s influence in his rippling-wave-like fine descending notes.

This is a classic album.

The second track is called “ASR”.

An amazing trio performance and it sounds so cool…

I sensed something ominous is going to happen from its intro… and I was right. w

You will be hit by a storm and crumbled. All you can do is to pray that something will be remaining under your feet.

image by Mystery Nicky

The 3rd track is also impeccable.

It starts with bass, and then drums… and while they are creating a certain ambience, Mr. Brand comes in with his own vocal.

After that, he picks up his soprano saxophone, and then his piano playing follows… then great bass solo… drum solo…ahhhhh…

I’m sure I would be drinking by now if I wasn’t working following day.

B side’s band performance is also amazing. It’s the level of mission impossible! W

Roy Brooks’ drumming is c,razy and Cecil McBee’s bass playing is just something else!

The final song “YUKIO” was said to be named after his Karate teacher from whom he had been learning for 7 years.

It goes on overwhelmingly crazy till the end. 

The Journey

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This album is performed by 11 musicians (orchestra?), hence it naturally has got a deeper sound than 3 albums I have picked above. 

Anyway, the 1st track on A side is called “Sister Rosie”.

It’s a happy tune and sounds very African. 

This type of lively danceable number can be often heard in African people’s carnival, I reckon.

And with a happy introduction, 2nd track sounds catchy…

and… oh no, I got totally betrayed!

It didn’t last long, and it has gone abstract! w

Since I had spotted Don Cherry on the back side of the sleeve earlier, so I kind of thought it wouldn’t be straightforward… and.. it didn’t! w

After each member’s solo performance, everybody comes in and it goes into a trance…  and eventually they will bring it back to the theme. Peace is around once again.

image by Dewang Gupta

And the main course is on B side.

Only one tune.

A masterpiece that goes over 20 minutes.

It’s called “HAJJ” and with English title??? it’s called “The Journey”

Absolutely, overwhelming.

Mr. Brand just keeps playing the same riff with his piano on this very long tune which has got an ambience of Middle East.

I personally think that it has got a similar vibe to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in their Physical Graffiti album, although the speed is totally different…

Each member of the band gives a solo performance by turns and they successfully create a dismal and very anxious mood. 

This is an amazing number, but not the best song to pick for your lunch in the sunny afternoon, I guess. hahaha…

African Dawn

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This is the work of his piano solo in 1983.

Mr. Brand is playing the digital piano here, therefore you might find the mood around this album slightly different from his other piano albums.

And I think this digital piano sound is really matching up with the word “Dawn” which is included in the title of this record very well.

I personally found the style of this album is quite similar to his monumental work “African Piano” which I had featured in the beginning, but is it just me???

You can actually hear the same piano riff that appears on the 1st track of “African Piano” towards the end of A side of this album (and also the one that appears in “African sketchbook”?).

When it comes to the digital piano, I had got a biased viewpoint which is like… the instrument is generally used by a formally-dressed young lady who has been hired to play some neutral numbers behind some posh people socialising with a glass of champagne in their hand in some party venue whose building is made of marble.

But this album has changed my impression a little bit. w

Whichever instrument it is, if it is played by the master, it will sound awesome, I’ve found out.

image by Nicky Smolders

The other thing to note here other than the usage of the digital piano about this album is that it differentiates from the other 4 albums because the record includes some jazz standard numbers on its B side.

However, they are perfectly fitting in with other tracks, therefore you can listen throughout the album really comfortably.

This is an absolutely beautiful chill-out album.

Well… so, this is it about Dollar Brand’s piano albums…

I hope my blog post was inspiring enough for you to check Dollar Brand (or Abdullah Ibrahim)’s music out, and hopefully you will love his brilliant piano playing and his compositions like I absolutely do!


👉 * Japanese version of this blog post