Kahil El'Zabar's Tri-Factor: The Power
CIMP is a unique label on many fronts. Their recording techniques emphasize the natural space and interplay of musicians without the intrusion of studio wizardry. Their A&R philosophy centers on nurturing not only well known names in improvised music, but also up and coming ones as well. In addition, each of their discs contains honest and informative essays sharing and describing the details of each session even when the events recounted are less than flattering. Many of their recording dates go without a hitch, but like any continuous enterprise the law of averages suggests that others will be visited by problems.
In the world of collaborative art interpersonal friction can be a figurative blade that cuts both ways. In some settings it can be a damaging and divisive agent that retards the creative process. In others, properly channeled, it can also serve a catalyst for the birth of extraordinary artistry. The results of this session, one that according to the liners penned by producer, engineer and musician got off to a rocky start, fall somewhere between but definitely lean in the direction of brilliance.
Bang, Bluiett and El’Zabar are each strong and accomplished players and their skill and resolve translates beautifully into the music. To my knowledge the instrumentation of this group has never before been combined in the way that it is here. Bluiett plays a flawless limbo game of ‘how low can you go’ forgoing his usual baritone for the even deeper registers of bass and contra bass saxophone. Bang’s quicksilver bow bleeds an astonishing array of harmonic shades from his lightly amplified strings and El’Zabar holds the rhythmic center on his earthy arsenal of hand percussion and the infrequent switch to drum kit as on “Contrary Motion.” Most of the compositions make excellent use of the players’ singular voices and they are often grounded in a solid groove that’s difficult to resist. On “Space of No Pain” El’Zabar sculpts one of his patented rhythmic patterns and Bluiett and Bang build an urgent unison call to arms on top. “Katon” and “Moment’s Resolution” unpack El’Zabar’s thumb piano, a device that in his hands never fails to floor me, for a sweetly somber ballad. His delicately luminous tones create a lush slope for Bang’s pizzicato kora-like plucks and once again illustrate his preeminence on the instrument. The pair of Bang penned pieces that follow both feature the violinist’s adroit high register antics. His quick-witted harmonic shapes stand in clever contrast to Bluiett’s bulbous bass sax lines and El’Zabar spreads tenacious rhythmic glue on hand drums to keep everything tied together.
The trio’s many successes are balanced by a few subjective blunders such as the wandering title piece that sounds more like a trio of music students exploring the sonic properties of their instruments than a unified musical statement. El’Zabar’s unaccompanied “Vocal Improv” that closes the set is another acquired taste. But these tunes, though not as strong as other material on the disc, are an important part of a creative whole and definitely deserve to be heard. Considering the difficulties associated with the session these three players may not choose to record together again soon, but the fact that they recently played a gig in Chicago as a group suggests that their alliances have mended. The document they left behind at the Spirit Room proves that the trials attendant in their initial collaboration were well worth the struggle.
Tracks:Space of No Pain/ Katon/ Silent Observations/ At Play in the Fields of the Lord/ Contrary Motion/ The Power/ Moment’s Resolution/ A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’/ Alternate Tuning/ Space of No Pain/ Vocal Improv.
Players:Kahil El’Zabar- drums, percussion, thumb piano; Hamiet Bluiett- flute, bass & contra bass saxophones; Billy Bang- violin.
Recorded: July 26 & 27, 1999, Rossie, NY.
CIMP recordings are available directly through North Country Distributors- http://www.cadencebuilding.com