Kahil El'Zabar, a product of Chicago's South Side African-American community, is a true musical renaissance man. By trade, a percussionist who is fluent on conventional Western drums, he has mastered the esoteric and exotic instruments of his ancestors as well. He is a member of Chicago's famed AACM, has played with Dizzy Gillespie and Stevie Wonder, scored for film, arranged for the theater and taught at the university level.
Along with the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, his Ritual Trio has been his most consistently active unit, originally rounded out by Ari Brown, who doubles on tenor saxophone and piano, and the late Malachi Favors on bass. Ooh Live!
is something of an archival release, returning to 2000 for a concert at Chicago's now-defunct Hot House that featured Pharoah Sanders for half of its hour-plus long program.
No one has to tell the Ritual Trio to stretch out a little. The shortest of the four tunes runs 15 minutes and its version of "Autumn Leaves" is buoyed by Brown's crude but expressive piano playing. The same applies to its version of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," but here it's Favors' rich, resonant sound and infallible timekeeping that brings to mind the loss of one of jazz's most graceful monster bassists. Sanders joins the band to wild applause from the overflow crowd for the epic "In the Land of the Ooh!" and while he lets a few of his patented trapped-animal sounds rip, Sanders is on his best free jazz behavior.
If anything detracts from this date, it's that it's fairly sedate: even El'Zabar doesn't stray from his trap drums. Finally, for the closing "Ka's Blues," Brown picks up his tenor for some bar-walking exchanges with Sanders, who lets loose with a brief but exuberant rhyming litany of southern soul food, bringing this superb show to a rousing finish. From the jazz screamer emerges a blues shouter.
Personnel: Kahil El'Zabar: drums, voice; Phaoah Sanders: tenor saxophone, voice; Malachi Favors: acoustic bass; Ari Brown: piano, tenor saxophone.