COMPARISONS MAY BE ODIOUS, but for Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African pianist once known as Dollar Brand, they must seem a way of life. Ibrahim's name is most frequently linked to Duke Ellington, who first recorded him in the early '60s. More recently, Ibrahim's homages to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane have drawn other stylistic parallels, yet these associations have never overshadowed the soulful, spiritual and richly evocative thrust of Ibrahim's Cape Town music.
"Live at Sweet Basil," a duet album featuring Ibrahim and saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward, is at once poetic and powerful. Although the album first captures the pianist in a gentle, Debussy-like mood, exchanging pensive and graceful themes with Ward, it becomes more emotionally intense and features a refreshingly melodic and thoughtful tribute to Coltrane.
Even better is "Ekaya" ("Home"), though Ibrahim's tremulous chords and percussive attack take a back seat on this septet session. Instead, Ibrahim is content to guide the band, sparked by solos from Ward and fellow saxophonist Ricky Ford, as it celebrates South African jazz -- an intoxicating blend of folk lore, dance and American gospel, blues and jazz.
Pianist Kirk Lightsey, who will share the stage with Ibrahim this weekend, has just released "Lightsey 2," a solo album featuring such standards as "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Oleo," along with a couple of original pieces. Like Ibrahim, Lightsey is a powerful rhythmic pianist with a flair for the unexpected. Which may help explain why he has no difficulty making these tunes, even the most familiar ones, come alive.