Kahil El'Zabar and Billy Bang: Spirits Entering
Just as the physical pulse of El'Zabar's drumming (as on "Old Time Religion") immediately strikes one with an opportunity to dance, Bang's elastic violin melodies offer an opportunity for song. (As also happens on "Old Time Religion," oddly enough.)
El'Zabar is at his best on Spirits Entering (which says a lot). His instrumental combination mostly includes hand-held percussion, traditional drums from the African diaspora, and the usual miscellanea. At moments he ventures squarely into the melodic realm (especially when he plays the thumb piano), but for the most part he nurtures quiet energy on the drums. El'Zabar plays with wisdom: not aiming for a new level of virtuosity, but focusing on the act of co-creation. He knows when to hold back, when to apply the pepper, and when to break free. Indeed, it's hard to separate his voice from Bang's.
Billy Bang has taken the (hardly idiomatic) jazz violin and defined a deeply personal sound, relying on bowed melodies and a pinch of altered techniques here and there where appropriate. His voice on Spirits Entering is restrained, but in a deliberate and focused manner. The melody fairly leaps out at you on the opener, "Spirits Entering" or the similarly pressing "Golden Sea." No fancy show here. But that would, of course, be completely out of place in this ritual setting.
As John Miller Chernoff reflected in his book African Rhythm, African Sensibility, the secret of the ritual in West African drumming is to make the music cool. That's as accurate a description as you're likely going to come across for Spirits Entering. But don't worry, it's a heavy kind of cool.
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Track Listing: Spirits Entering; 2 Was Now; Sweet Irene; Love Outside of Dreams; The Dream Merchant; Song of Myself; The Ituri Fantasy; Old Time Religion; Golden Sea.
Personnel: Billy Bang: violin; Kahil El'Zabar: drums, thumb piano, birimbau, percussion.
Record Label: Delmark Records
Style: Modern Jazz