Jo’burg, We Have a Problem


Dollar Brand
African Space Program
Enja : 1974

DB, piano; Sonny Fortune, Carlos Ward, alto sax, flute; Roland Alexander, tenor saxophone, harmonica; John Stubblefield, tenor sax; Hamiet Bluiett, baritone sax; Cecil Bridgewater, Enrico Rava, Charles Sullivan, trumpet; Kiane Zawadi, trombone; Cecil McBee, bass; Roy Brooks, drums, percussion.

It’s easy to imagine the title of this album being taken in the spirit of any number of space-inspired Sun Ra joints, as a nod to the cosmic music contained therein. But the seeming optimism and unbridled expansiveness that fuels these tracks can actually bring to mind a more literal reading — if not of afronauts, then at least of the vast plains of the southern savannah.

Brand/Ibrahim’s music is almost always marked by this open quality, and a directness that draws on both a folk tradition and a jazz tradition. Both are in ample evidence on these two wonderful cuts from this large band outing, a mix of Euro and American swinging superstars recorded in New York in late 1973. The first part is quite composed, brass heavy in a way that subtly presages the World Saxophone Quartet, not least by featuring the always rocking bari sax of future WSQer Bluiett. There’s also a late, sweet solo from McBee.

The second part is where the album achieves lift off. It’s more of a straight blow-out, with alternating, articulate statements from the whole band; a decent point of comparison is Muhal Richard Abrams’ “Blues Forever,” another big group outing directed by a pianist (in more of an organizational/compositional role). There are also echoes of the Art Ensemble’s arrangements in this track.

As the piece rolls on, the solos get increasingly ragged, the energy rising, until at the finale the rain really comes down hard on the plain. The under-appreciated Carlos Ward, Sonny Fortune, and John Stubblefield unleash some ecstatically unhinged solos here, tapping briefly into stratospheric Albert Ayler territory. First rate stuff from players too often regarded as second tier.

Other notable sounds include an all-too-brief harmonica solo (we won’t write that very often) from the late Alexander, which emerges beautifully out of the surrounding, splattering fanfares; and the amazing rhythm team of McBee and Brooks. Brooks is notably kick-ass throughout the whole date, and his thunderous backbeat powers the second half of “Tintiyana, Second Part” into orbit. Brooks, who died in 2005, was one of the original members of M’Boom.

As ever, Olewnick planted his flag some time ago.

Category Abdullah Ibrahim/Dollar Brand

11 Responses to Jo’burg, We Have a Problem

  1. Hi- Thanks for this! It’s great to hear Sonny Fortune in this context and A/B his playing with the work he does on Agharta/Pangaea.


  2. I’m not much of a collector, and don’t own Pangaea, but as it happens as I had just started listening to the stream of my favorite local radio show, Chocolate City, and the first sound is a lengthy extract from it…anyways I know Fortune mainly from Tyner’s Sahara, and I can’t imagine anybody considering him 2nd tier after hearing that.

  3. The other day, I left the office to get lunch, and WKCR was playing selections from the Carlos Ward discography. When I tuned in, it was near the end of Jabulani; when the whole band comes back in at the end, I lost it. I was in tears, weeping at the beauty of this music. I had to take the long way back to the office so that I didn’t look like a complete crackhead. Point is, everyone should go get a copy of African Space Program. Especially if you’ve heard Ibrahim’s later things and been non-plussed.

  4. Yeah, I find this much more interesting than the other Brand stuff I’ve heard.

  5. This was the first Ibrahim (then Brand) I ever heard. I was in the Harvard Coop, fall of ’74, browsing the jazz area. The heads of each section at the time rotated PA rights and the jazz guy, a tall fellow with frizzy blond hair who turned me on to many albums, would aggravate the rest of the store by insisting on playing the most raucous free jazz. One day this was booming over the speakers and I was stunned. Became a huge fan instantly.

    All of the Ibrahim catalog on Enja from that period is excellent (especially the first duo with Dyani which I think you guys have previously featured here). In fact, anything of his up to the mid 70s is a safe bet; check out the solo stuff on Japo (“African Piano”!) if you can. He gets sketchier, for my taste, after 1980 or so but….

  6. Wow! I don’t have this one. But it brings back to memories many nights spent in the mid/late 1980s at the old Sweet Basil checking out this band. When the rhythm section started to churning out that vamp, and Carlos Ward, John Stubblefield (and sometimes Sonny Fortune) got up out of their seats to take their solos – Watch out that you don’t get blown out of the club!

  7. I saw Ibrahim live in NYC a few weeks ago. Very nice.

  8. I haven’t heard very much of Carlos Ward’s playing, but the little I’ve heard is far from second-tier. Check out his work on Carla Bley’s Social Studies, especially on the pearl “Utviklingssang”.

  9. Ibrahim took this band on the road in 1973/1974 and I was fortunate to see African Space Program performed live at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase when it was in the basement spot at the corner of Rush & Oak streets. I don’t remember how many were in the band but they damn near outnumbered the audience. Standouts were Hamiet Bluiett, Carlos Ward, Cecil McBee, Cecil Bridgewater, Roy Brooks, Kiane Zawadi and of course Abdullah Ibrahim.

    I had heard a prototype of Tintiyana on the Elvin Jones date Midnight Walk, but I was not prepared for the way it was presented live–much like it is on the album. The band, a small orchestra really, played a brooding, swirling maelstrom, with Ibrahim at the helm, pounding out a dense percussive storm on the keyboard, swelling then receding then swelling again. At times he’d quiet the band by playing more and more softly and McBee would take over for a lengthy arco passage–then subtly but surely slipped into the joyous anthem that has become Ibrahim’s theme.

    Amazing. Brilliant. Still holds up well after all these years.

  10. any chance you could reup these tracks? i have been looking for/wanting to hear this record for a long time….

  11. Please reup this album? It’s impossible to find!