The aptly titled Africa N'da Blues
is the Ritual Trio's fourth outing on Delmark. Most of the record explores the uniquely Afro-American space between African percussion and the '60s free jazz revolution. El'Zabar's group appears equally at home playing straight-ahead standards like "Autumn Leaves" or post-Coltrane material like the title track, but it really seems to thrive during moments of exploration and discovery. A spoken word piece with a Latin feel, for example, explores ethnic diversity with a twist. As vocalist Susana Sandoval so aptly puts it, "soy Africana." During pieces like this, El'Zabar gets a chance to stretch out with Latin rhythms.
Meanwhile, the group as a whole displays a relaxed cool which stands as a stark contrast to the otherwise passionate playing on the record. The addition of tenor saxophone titan Pharoah Sanders, of course, pulls Africa N'da Blues directly back into Coltrane territory. In a way, much of this material celebrates the liberation made possible by Coltrane and his contemporaries during the '60s. When in this mode, El'Zabar rumbles and crashes, obeying the emotional feel of the music instead of a specific swing or feel. Pianist Ari Brown, whether purposefully or not, sounds uncannily like McCoy Tyner at his fiery best.
Even when the Ritual Trio occasionally swings into a more traditional sound (with a lot of swing, if you listen to the rhythm section), it conveys a sense of restrained energy. It's all a matter of twisting the emotional knob, and the Ritual Trio can go all the way.
Personnel: Kahil El'Zabar: drums, percussion; Ari Brown: piano, tenor and soprano sax; Malachi Favors: bass; Pharoah Sanders: tenor sax; Susana Sandoval: spoken word.