Jazz musicians are among the most prolific artists around. It’s not uncommon, particularly in the freer strains of the idiom, for an artist to have a half dozen albums under his or her belt on an annual basis. Sales of course are an entirely different matter and even the busiest artists in the music frequently go relatively unrecognized for their efforts. In terms of sheer fecundity David Murray’s discography has been the yardstick by which other musicians are compared for some time now. The exact number is debatable, but the count on sessions Murray has graced easily tallies into the triple digits. As is to be expected with rampant activity comes the inevitable gradation of quality. Murray’s track record is surprisingly solid, but there are a number of projects in his oeuvre that haven’t been on par with his usual reservoir of creativity and talent.
Kahil El’Zabar’s docket is similarly stacked with undertakings. Over the past several years he’s fronted a handful of regularly working groups including The Ritual Trio and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and has released a steady stream of recordings that routinely illustrate both his prowess and his vision. The teaming of these two musical giants in the intimate environment of CIMP’s Spirit Room was an inspired stroke genius that surpasses expectations. To my ears, Murray hasn’t sounded this focused and spontaneous in years. The loose arrangements and informal atmosphere coupled with El’Zabar’s menagerie of percussive devices from drum kit to kalimba and balafon allow Murray’s horns, and especially his tenor, to blossom in ways much of his other work has not allowed him to do.
The opening “Ryan’s Groove” attains an early summit. El’Zabar’s gorgeous kalimba (thumb piano) spools out a loose rhythm over which Murray is free to extemporize on throaty, whinnying tenor. The formers ensuing solo is alone worth the price of this disc- a delicately crafted reverie that squeezes every drop of melodic emotion from the metal tines of its vehicle of expression. To put in the simplest and most emphatic terms El’Zabar’s kalimba is the most unrepentantly beautiful sound in improvised music.
Later tracks like the blustery “Upsy Daisey” signal the drummer’s shift to traditional trap kit, but it’s on the pieces where his arsenal of palm percussion devices are on hand that things really gel. Murray’s spiritual-infused “Far Too Long” is an ideal example. El’Zabar’s dual conga, Earth drum set-up spreads a tight, but spacious balm beneath Murray’s preaching tenor that rises and wanes in an emotive confluence of ideas with the formers vocalized chants. This is Soul music, pure and simple. No excess trappings or accoutrements. Just two men opening their minds and hearts in front of the mics and coming up with undiluted aural magic gleaned from a Griot tapestry of traditions.