The track listing on Mukashi, which means once upon a time, reads like the index of an anthology of poetry, and each of the 14 movements, which is what they are, are segued by a common theme.
The life and exceptional times of Ibrahim bookend the evolution of twentieth century jazz into a truly universal art form: born into apartheid Africa in 1934, he left the country shortly before Nelson Mandella was jailed for life, but returned to play at his inauguration as President four decades later.
In the interim, he has performed with almost everybody of note all over the world: introduced to America by Duke Ellington, Ibrahim was responsible for his own style, whether as a soloist or with his band, Ekaya, but few of his many recordings seem as personal as the tour de force that is Mukashi.
During the writing and preparation of the recording, embellished by reeds player Cleave Guyton, Ibrahim’s wife passed away, and in Peace, both Ibrahim and Guyton are demonstrably elegiac.
The songs are, therefore, gilded in an unsentimental nostalgia, but exude serenity with gorgeous solos by Ibrahim, such as on Matzikama, with piano, flute and cello intertwining unhurriedly.
Matzikama is sandwiched between Peace and Cara Mia, seamlessly, and the temp, while sad, is not laden with gloom and somehow Ibrahim, and this is his creative genius, can accentuate the spiritual, without being maudlin.
Ibrahim was 79 in October and I wondered, after repeat listening to Krotoa, which shares a four part structure like A Love Supreme, whether Mukashi is his valediction on the road to Valhalla.
The answer is no. Mukashi is a philosophical work with the pace of a passing day, a reflection on the mysteries of life without overlooking its beauty, a long journey by river from its source.
Ibrahim concludes with the uplifting The Balance, which makes you reappraise which has gone before, wave after wave, with gorgeous textures, of the master’s sensuality. Cellists Eugen Bazijan and Scott Roller also add distinctive harmony, but the cello’s almost bass-like support is never overpowering.