JJ 06/73: Dollar Brand – This Is Dollar Brand / African Piano

Fifty years ago, Martin Davidson thought the pianist's range, while limited, was wide enough to produce one masterpiece. First published in Jazz Journal June 1973


Dollar Brand (né Adolph Johannes Brand, alias Xahuri-Dullah Brahim) be­longs to the group of ‘modern’ two-handed pianists (notably Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Dick Twardzik, Randy Weston, Stan Tracey and Cecil Taylor) who have kept the jazz piano tradition alive by not resorting to the Bud Powell non-pianist simplification which has become the ‘norm’.

However, this previously unissued Black Lion ses­sion does not show him to be one of the few jazz pianists (notably Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Art Tatum and Monk) who can sit by themselves in a recording studio and produce mas­terpieces. As one listens to him noodling through his four originals, the Weston classic, the Ellington medley and the traditional Scottish folk song (Allen Waters, which is credited to Brand), one does not sense a great deal of involve­ment which an audience or other musi­cians would probably induce. In fact, these pieces sound like tentative sketches for his superb studio duo and trio recordings and his supreme master-work to date – the live solo performance which has just been reissued on Japo (a subsidiary of ECM).

This ‘African Piano’ was previously available as Spectator SL 1005 which I enthused over in the May 1972 JJ. Unfortunately, Japo have reprinted Brand’s sleeve note as strict prose and made it virtually incomprehensible in the pro­cess. They have also omitted the few minutes of flute which rounded off side two, and have just left the sensational piano solo which consists of variations on eight originals segued together.

The opening Bra Joe consists of a slow left-hand vamp riff over which the pianist weaves some incredible polyrhythmic right-hand improvisations. The rhythmic independence of his two hands has to be heard to be believed during these eleven minutes. Just as one thinks that he has got lost, his right-hand miraculously returns to a figure directly related to that of the left-hand before going its own way again. After the short, relaxing Selby, Brand takes off to The Moon on an energetic ride of thematic variations over a fast repeated left-hand figure. Somehow he keeps this up for eight minutes without exploding or collapsing from exhaustion before going through a very short Xaba to take off in another direction on the jaunty Sunset In Blue. Then comes the beauti­ful ballad Kippy leading to the teasingly fragmented Jabulani which dissolves into the final stomping and joyful Tinti­yana.

Having listened to several records and takes of Dollar Brand, it appears that he has a limited range of music. However, this range is wide enough to pro­duce at least one masterpiece, and ‘African Piano’ is one of the classic recordings of jazz piano as well as one of the very best records to have been made in years. When you have absorbed it and his duo and trio records, the Black Lion London session may tell a little more about this remarkable man from Cape Town.

[This Is Dollar Brand] Little Niles; Resolution; Which Way?; On The Banks Of Allen Waters (19½ min) – Knight’s Night; Pye R Squared; Mood Indigo / Don’t Get Around Much Any­more / Take The A Train (17¼ min)
Dollar Brand (solo-pno). London, 16/3/65.
(Black Lion 2460 192 £1.85)
[African Piano] Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro; Selby That The Eternal Spirit Is The Only Reality; The Moon; Xaba (22 min) – Sunset In Blue/Kippy/Jabulani-Easter Joy/Tintiyana (16 min)
Dollar Brand (solo-pno). Jazz-hus Montmartre, Copenhagen 22/10/69.
(Japo 60002 £2.45)