Abdullah Ibrahim. On the Radio. Right Now…

I am listening to Abdullah Ibrahim on Radio 3, with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I have seen Abdullah Ibrahim play many, many times – a couple of the best gigs (evah) were his, but also a couple of the most prissy, stuck-up and irritating ones, too.

He does this thing where he comes across all zen-like, and refuses to hear applause – or bans it outright, playing through from one tune to the next to the next… It can actually be quite irritating, because there is no release of the beautiful tension he builds up.

He is a great pianist and composer, and he is one of the few jazz composers who I am pleased to say breaks my private rule that jazz and strings don’t mix. (The favourite “jazz” albums that people that don’t like jazz like are Bird with Strings, Billie with Strings, or Ella with Strings. Sickly sweet syrupy confections. That don’t swing.)

His “African Suite” – tunes he wrote in other contexts played by his trio and a string orchestra – is just beautiful, sublime music.

But not tonight. Introduced by Petroc Twelawney (how come it is always him MCing Radio 3 concerts I don’t like?) as if Abdullah Ibrahim playing with an orchestra is new (the African Suite recording is ten years old), the BBC Concert Orchestra are – well, syrupy suite; they’re not adding anything, and they don’t swing. They are getting in the way.

The vocal trio featuring Iain Shaw and Cleveland Watkiss (I think) are little better – Shaw’s recognisable voice sounded strangled and angst-ridden, strange among what is fairly chilled, relaxed music.


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