Malachi Favors Maghostut was more than simply the bassist for the AACM's seminal Art Ensemble of Chicago, he was a musical force whose influence ranged far across the creative music spectrum. An estimable collaborator, Favors held down sideman duties in other ensembles, including percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's long-running Ritual Trio. Since Favors' passing in 2004, Yosef Ben Israel fills his role in the trio, alongside tenor saxophonist/pianist Ari Brown.
Big M was recorded the same week as the Ritual Trio's Live At The River East Art Center (Delmark, 2005). The musicians entered the studio with a frequent collaborator, violinist Billy Bang, to record a tribute to their recently fallen comrade. Mixing together a program of deep Afro-centric grooves, jubilant funk vamps and serene atmospheric ballads, Big M is a magical and heartfelt memorial to one of jazz's finest artists.
The album opens with the buoyant, funky "Crumb-Puck-U-Lent." El'Zabar and Israel lock into a stalwart groove as Ari Brown's tenor unleashes bristling shards with pithy accuracy. Ascending with escalating lyricism, punctuated by piston-like fretwork, Bang's singular approach to the violin creatively blends unbridled arco bowing and Bartokian pizzicato in equal measure.
El'Zabar breaks out his kalimba for reflective commentary on "OOF" and "Big M," lending a beatific atmosphere to the proceedings, with Bang and Brown eliciting gorgeously reserved aphorisms. The later tune features a brief, buzzing kalimba solo of simmering intensity that hearkens back to the instrument's African origins.
Bang's sole composition, the infectious "Freedom Flexibility," ups the energy level, with Ari Brown's nimble piano excursion followed by Bang's fervent cyclic variations, driven by El'Zabar's increasingly cathartic cries.
Blending hypnotic, Africanized modal grooves with post-bop verve, "Kau" and "Maghoustut" feature some of the album's most invigorating performances. Israel and El'Zabar deliver smooth, fluid grooves, taking brief solos while Brown and Bang alternate time in the spotlight. Brown's muscular tenor is brawny and sinuous, expelling waves of soulful exuberance with a husky timbre and measured phrasing. Bang's rough-hewn tonality and folksy melodic sensibilities knit seamlessly with the trio's Earthy aesthetics, adding a potent layer to their already rich sound.
El'Zabar closes the album with "Malachi," a tender vocal tribute to Favors filled with reflective remembrances and a rare flute solo.
Teeming with vivaciousness, this celebratory ode to the life of Malachi Favors avoids morose lamentation, and the result is a joyous, viable tribute to a beloved artist.
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