Pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab revives a musical era in Essence of Spring (2018): CD Review

Listening to Essence of Spring (2018), a remake from its 1969 debut, is like experiencing an intergenerational revival, as the Elder Legend performs with his younger proteges, but without copying the past. It’s a musical history of an era in which composer Ibrahim Khalil Shihab, formerly Chris Schilder, performed with the popular Pacific Express band. Fifty years onward, Shihab, now in this 70s, has resurrected those popular songs, fusing them in this album with more contemporary jazz compositions.

Album producer and fellow pianist and protégé, Ramon Alexander, joins in this stylistic revival, moving Shihab’s songs from a swing era, including favourite American Standards, to present-day Cape ghoema rhythms.

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab and Ramon Alexander

Shihab’s Quintet is performing Spring this March, first at next week’s Woordfees at Stellenbosch University, and then at the Capetown International Jazz Festival (30 March on Rosie’s Stage) . The album is a celebration of style, but not necessarily story. The listener enjoys a mixture of motown, dance swing and blues, Latin, some improvised free jazz, and of course, the local Cape ghoema so richly conserved by the Schilder family generations.  Key, here, is Shahib’s satin piano solos, rich and graceful.

There’s electric and acoustic which provide moods with textures along with Shihab’s pentatonics that suggest the bluesy-ness of an era. His famous “Give a Little Love” is, according to Gary van Dyk writing in the album notes, “one of the anthems” of South African music. Van Dyk’s ‘notes’ are themselves an enlightening review of the album, telling us about the ‘Why’.

The younger musicians shine, while staying true to the legendary: The subtle yet pleasantly rhythmic inuendos of drummer Annemie Nel feature throughout, particularly in the last piece, Shihab’s remake of a classic, “My Funny Valentine”. Hear a soothing Shihab piano interpretation with Nel’s drums and the slight touch of delicacy by Lionel Buekes’ acoustic bass. Saxophonist Zeke Le Grange fires through the opening song, ‘Spring’, with a bossa feel and runs, followed by Shihab’s piano solo. The sax harmonies continue with trumpeter Marco Maritz accompanying the vibrant ghoema drums in ‘BoKaap’, as Shihab celebrates contemporary Cape jazz styles. Le Grange’s imitative stance holds well with Shihab’s fast paced keyboards in the liquidy “Cancerian Moon”.

Different vocalists interpret other Pacific Express songs: in “Angel of love”, Heinrich Frans’s familiar vocals and scats offer convincing emotions along with Alexander’s piano supports; Deon Manchess croons out lyrics in “I Hear Music”, suggesting just relax and let the music take you far and away to find that dream and never be without a song!

Shihab is not afraid to wander across the ‘free jazz’ modalities, thanks to guitarist, Reza Khota, known for his improvisational voicings, as “In Pursuance”, and where Asia meets Latin in Shihab’s unsuspecting ‘Jing’an Park’ with a surprising but cute ending. 

See the IK Shihab Quintet at the Weltevreden Restaurant Theater in Stellenbosch on 2 March at 13:00 and on 3 March at 19:00

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