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Kahil El'ZABAR's Trio Featuring Billy Bang – Live At River East Art Center 2005

Posted in Billy BANG, JAZZ, Kahil El'ZABAR on November 19, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Kahil El’ZABAR’s Trio Featuring Billy Bang – Live At River East Art Center 2005

Jazz

Stop Looking For 2005’s Best Jazz Album: This Is It
There is no doubt in my mind: This is the best jazz album of the year.

On one level, it’s just a great live album consisting of four long songs and a kind of sermon from bandleader and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. These pieces are ambitious and lengthy, deceptively loose and conceptually tight in that awesome AACM way. El’Zabar’s band is hot as hell, with violinist Billy Bang joining Yosef Ben Israel on bass and Ari Brown on saxophone; the momentum worked up by these four musicians carries so much weight that even the occasional off-note sounds right. The solos are as deeply soulful as they are technically skillful, but they all feel dedicated to the service of a larger thing being formed one night last December on the River East Arts Center stage.

But on another level, it is a concept record, a tribute to Malachi Favors, the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist who also anchored the Ritual Trio until he died last year. The songs here that refer directly to Favors, “Big M” and “Oof,” really bring that home by combining funeral dirge with funeral celebration, but the entire concert is really dedicated to his memory and spirit and inspiration. So if you need a concept to undergird your love of a record, there it is.

As far as what the music sounds like… well, I tried to figure something like that out for “Return of the Lost Tribe”. I’m not sure it’s any good as writing but it sums up the way things happen on one track, which is also a very generic template for all these pieces:

Begin with a short but complicated and intricate bass solo from fezzed wise-looking Ben Israel, which turns into a two-bar rhythm that he keeps up for the next four minutes. Drunken-sounding melody repeated in sloppy AACM-style unison by sax player Brown and violinist / 2005 breakout star Bang, bandleader / composer El’Zabar on drum kit with understated funk beat. Brown takes first solo, honking and exploring, twisting and turning, not really Coltraning but not really not Coltraning. Ben Israel starts walking and Brown turns into Sonny Rollins. Not sure how much title has to do with song. El’Zabar does the goat-moan thing when he plays. Bang’s first solo starts about six-minute mark, he’s fascinating in his approach, slicing the air with harsh scrapings and then precise dive-bombing runs, a touch of hoe-down when he essays both solo styles from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (narrator and Satan, very Manichean). Eventually disappears into ether, then reappears with little squalling notes that come into sharper focus. Finally stops, exhausted, three minutes later, so that El’Zabar can solo, which he does like Art Blakey, accompanying himself with little vocal interjection phrases and laughs at his own legerdemain. Audience seems charmed and appreciative, remind self to watch DVD of show. Pulls back at 10:30 mark so melody can be repeated, this time a little tighter. Final dissolve coda lets Bang and Brown riff a little like they’re whispering little secrets to each other, Bang doing a funny little pizzicato deal. Slide into nothingness. Feel like something has been learned.

So yeah, I’m having some trouble figuring out how to describe this music. I love jazz groups led by drummers, because they never forget how to have fun, and the Ritual Trio is a group that knows how to work together and apart. Billy Bang has really come into his own this year (his album Vietnam: Reflections is also going to be on my top 10 list), and his violin solos are both as soft as a morning sunrise and harder than any guitar solos since Eddie Hazel died. And there is really no point in trying to describe how great El’Zabar’s monologue is, other than to say that it sticks it to the right people for the right reasons and contains more hope and wonder and wisdom than anything any politician has said in a long time.

It may be too soon to call this one a classic for the ages. All I know is that it sounds to me like one of the greatest jazz albums I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. If any record deserves “best of the year” status, it is this one.
By Matt Cibula.
**
The Ritual Trio for this recording consists of Kahil El Zabar on percussion, Ari Brown on sax, and Yosef Ben Israel replacing the departed legend Malachi Favors on bass. The recording is set intimately at the River East Art Center, you can almost feel you are there. For the most part, this is not as “far out” as you might suspect, Kahil’s drumming is mostly performed on conga-style African drums and provides a steady underpinning, Ari Brown’s sax is generally basic and fine!-fine!-fine!, and Ben Israel’s rhythms don’t wander too far afield either. Now, for adventure, Mr. Billy Bang scratches in avantly here and there on violin. On “Where Do You Want to Go,” the combination is sheer perfection; Billy is the perfect counterpoint, where I want to go is the repeat button. Kahil’s verbal testimony is pretty short so, if you prefer your music to be uninterrupted, there isn’t a big impediment here, and I believe the man’s message deserves to be heard.
By Collegemone.
**
The diminutive but mighty acoustic bassist Malachi Favors was a charter member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio, and since his passing both groups have suffered. This recording for El’Zabar and his revamped trio including longtime member saxophonist Ari Brown and guest violinist Billy Bang is the first offering with bassist Yosef Ben Israel filling the chair of the late Favors. Because the unit was so reliant on the witty and unique elegance of Favors, not to mention his good humor, the band is at once somber and joyous, mourning his departure and celebrating his rich and wonderful artistic life. This live performance at the River East Art Center in Chicago sports a production value that also reflects the mood of the band — a bit detached and thin, but full of spirit, body, and true reverence for their great friend. The set starts with a typical ceremonial tribute, “Big M,” a 4/4 instrumental with mbira lead lines and shakers from El’Zabar, tenor sax and violin eventually soloing after a nearly ten-minute intro. “Return of the Lost Tribe” acknowledges Israel’s new role as he leads the quartet out in an easy-walking jazz swing, with El’Zabar on the drum kit, Brown’s John Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders/David Murray-like tenor brimming with emotion and power, and Bang’s signature off-minor, harmonic-drenched violin solo a highlight. El’Zabar then moves to the conga drums, and with Israel forms a base to build on during “Where Do You Want to Go?,” with the distraught violin of Bang up-front in a team workout and the line of the title vocally repeated by the leader. Following a spoken statement about “real” life and living, losing friends, and perpetual fear-mongering reared by governmental administrations, “Oof” is a similar instrumental theme to “Big M,” but at the end El’Zabar and Brown speak out about “Big Favors.” You hear and feel their pain and sorrow, with the tenor and violin in more understated moods — slower, deep, heavy-hearted, and beautiful. The band would go into the studio two days later to produce an extended homage to Favors, feelings still fresh about the loss of a true giant in creative improvised music. Both CDs are good companions, well worth owning, and abundant in remembrances of the great man and musician, Malachi Favors.
By Michael G. Nastos. AMG.
**
Sometimes, the music you don’t understand is the music that touches you most deeply. I’ve never been much of a jazz listener; I’ve skirted around it for years, essentially avoiding bebop in its myriad permutations, and enjoying traditional jazz, some fusion and a lot of the more postmodern artists influenced by hip hop or country, such as Medeski Martin & Wood and Bill Frisell – music that’s technically jazz, but also, in some fundamental way, not. Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio falls into this category. Originally a trio but consisting of four musicians for a decade or so, the Ritual Trio features amazing, African, tribal-sounding percussion, a deep, rumbling and melodic double bass, a tenor saxophone and an electric violin. The music has lots of space and passion. It’s very spiritual and soulful, develops slowly and unfolds into moments of extreme beauty and power, similar in impact to Fela Kuti maybe, or the spirit of Miles Davis when he played an improvised sort of `voodoo funk’ on 1970s live records like Dark Magus-Live at Carnegie Hall and Live-Evil.
By Carsten Knoc.
**
Kahil El’Zabar- Kalimba, Drums, Percussion
Billy Bang- Electric Violin
Ari Brown- Tenor Sax
Yosef Ben Israel- Bass
**
01. Big M   20:27
02. Return of the Lost Tribe   13:05
03. Where Do You Want to Go?   12:41
04. Be Exciting (Kahil Testifies)   4:39
05. Oof   16:27
** Continue reading

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