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Abdullah Ibrahim, high priest of jazz, sat down at the piano in the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg last night, and with a gentle stroking of the keys liberated a stream of notes, an ethereal meditation of exquisite delicacy, that transformed and expanded over time into midnight conversations, moments of emotion, pity and eros and foot-tapping jive. His bass-man and percussionist swept in on the lightest cloud of sound and then began digging down until everything was solid and anchored, vibrant and alive. The flute, alto and tenor saxes, the trombonist, milked, fed and played the music like messengers from jazz heaven until eventually, when we left, close to midnight, it was as if we had been witnesses to a visitation. Through it all one felt the awesome power of musical restraint, the intensity that comes, not from noise and fury, but from quietly controlled energy and emotion. Other people may play the notes, but man, these guys played the music.

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