There was no mistaking Duke Ellington's profound influence when pianist, composer, arranger and Ellington protege Abdullah Ibrahim brought his remarkable eight-piece band, Ekaya, to Kilimanjaro Saturday night. The Ellington stamp was evident not only in the richly textured and romantic orchestrations that gave "Joan -- Capetown Flower" such a regal air, it was also evident every time Ibrahim tapped the talent of his soloists -- and in Ekaya there is talent aplenty to tap.
A few of the tunes, in fact, were clearly arranged so that Ibrahim could showcase the soloists and the band's exceptionally colorful tonal palette. Whenever the mood turned gritty, soulful and vibrantly rhythmic, as it often did, alto saxophonist Horace Alexander Young, trombonist Frank Lacy or violinist John Blake was usually leading the way, Blake swinging with a bluesy robustness seldom found on his own recordings. Baritone sax player Howard Johnson, who doubled on cornet, and tenor saxophonist Craig Handy were similarly resourceful when a piece called for a stirring and singular voice.
And yet among the most moving performances was a soft, yearning, spiritual-like ballad about a post-apartheid reunion of South African exiles and freedom fighters, poignantly sung by Ibrahim and discreetly embellished by the band.