It is safe to state that the percussionist Kahil El'Zabar has never made a mediocre or a mundane album and Follow the Sun
is no exception. On this intriguing and provocative disc El'Zabar leads his group through five originals and four covers that he interprets with his signature, fluid touch.
Oscar Hammerstein II's heartsick standard "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" gets a raw yet sophisticated makeover as El'Zabar and bassist Junius Paul
lay down rumbling, intricate vamps. Over this rhythmic framework tenorists Ari Brown
and Artee Duke Payne
trade tense and jagged bars in an exhilarating duet. Their respective turns in the spotlight contrast and complement each other with Brown's cool, thick and airy tone resonating against Payne's grittier, more ardent one. Paul's gingerly walking bass lines quickly evolve to a complex and stimulating display of virtuosity. El'Zabar's primal and energetic drumming marks his own elegant, albeit brief, solo. The result is a thrilling mix of emotion and thought, contemplation and unbridled fervor and a uniquely fresh take on an oft-recorded classic.
Overlapping, deceptively simple, refrains and spontaneous phrases form the building blocks for El'Zabar's dynamic and vibrant compositions. One of the highlights of this uniformly outstanding record is "Great Black Music." This sublimely spiritual yet boldly organic piece opens with the leader's haunting kalimba strikes mixed with Paul's deep reverberating strings and Brown's cascading piano notes. El'Zabar and vocalist Dwight Trible
's murmurs and chants add to its devotional nature and usher in Payne's wailing, melancholic bagpipes. The combination of voices and the Payne's echoing free reeds create an eerily memorable ambience. Trible's rough-hewn singing over the earthy percussion and Payne's wistful and evocative tones make for a perfect conclusion
Trible shines on saxophonist Wayne Shorter
's iconic "Footprints" and on pianist Johnny Green
's timeless ballad "Body and Soul." On the former Trible enunciates his poetic lyrics with deep passion and dramatic flair. Payne's broad, gravelly saxophone mirrors the spirit of Trible's song while Brown's bluesy simmering piano enhances the elegiac mood. Trible showcases his scatting abilities on the latter tune as his agile vocals take off on a meandering exploration. His band mates, meanwhile, create a backdrop of delightfully dark harmonies
Ever the innovator, through out a career of three decades and sixty recordings, El'Zabar has maintained the singularity of his vision and a stylistic unity without repeating himself or becoming predictable. This CD is yet another integral and representative slice of his unfettered ingenuity.
Personnel: Kahil El’Zabar: drums, kalimba, earth drum, vocals (3,5); Ari Brown: tenor saxophone, piano;
Junius Paul: bass; Dwight Trible: vocals (1, 3–5, 7, 9); Duke Payne: tenor saxophone, bagpipes.