NYT: Abdullah Ibrahim continues his quest for perfection
For the Jazz Master who survived the harsh toxicities of apartheid South Africa, life comes full circle with a new album
By Giovanni Russonello
WASHINGTON, July 31 — Receiving a Jazz Master accolade from the National Endowment for the Arts this spring at the Kennedy Center, Abdullah Ibrahim delivered his acceptance speech in under two minutes. The South African pianist thanked his mother and grandmother, then his fellow musicians and fans. All of them had fed his quest, he said, “to strive for perfection.”
Leave it to Mr. Ibrahim — a master of understatement and balance — to make the impossible sound simple, and vice versa.
Sitting down for an interview at a nearby hotel earlier that day, a pastel scarf slung around his neck and a thicket of white hair tousled on his head, he had been similarly epigrammatic. He named the values underpinning his music: “ancient tradition, new elements.”
Mr. Ibrahim, 84, is cool and serious by nature; he smiles often, but only halfway. At Jazz Standard starting Thursday with Ekaya, his longtime septet, he’ll likely keep his interactions with the audience to a minimum, focusing intently on the keys instead, rummaging through a vast repertoire of original compositions, seeking perfection. …