I suppose one does mellow with age after all. Time was when I wouldn’t even listen to, let alone review a disc by Archie Shepp and Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio. Now I’m listening, and if not exactly galvanized by the music, I find it far less displeasing than I would have some years ago. Much of it, in fact, is quite good in its own way (although I still believe there’s a tendency in so–called “free Jazz” to blow one’s own horn, so to speak, at the expense of communication). On the other hand, they may be saying exactly what others wish to hear, and who am I to claim that isn’t the case? Among the qualities that draws one to Jazz is its eclecticism; there’s room in this house for all manner of tenants, from trad to swing to bop to avant–garde. El’Zabar and his trio have found their space, and made themselves quite comfortable therein. Their “conversations” with guest Archie Shepp are loose and informal, like old friends who bump into each other on a street corner and swap stories about where they’ve been and where they are going. Of the two tenors, I am more impressed by Brown (on “Kari,” “Brother Malcolm”) even though I am well aware of Shepp’s imposing and assuredly well–earned reputation. He simply doesn’t say as much to me. Brown is also an excellent pianist (as I learned on his earlier CDs, Ultimate Frontier and Venus, on which he also doubles). Shepp is, to these ears, most likable on the finale, “Revelations,” the most “straight–ahead” piece on the menu (whose ill–advised fadeout lessens its impact). All compositions are by El’Zabar who is a versatile and cogent timekeeper. Two numbers, “Big Fred” and “Brother Malcolm,” include lyrics of a sort that are chanted rather than sung by members of the group. There are few pyrotechnics; much of the music is pensive and sedate, and most of it is melodic as well. While this isn’t the sort of disc I’d run out and buy, there are many who would, and to them I would unreservedly recommend it.
Track listing: Conversations !: The Introduction; Big Fred; Kari; Whenever I Think of You; Conversations 2: The Dialogue; Brother Malcolm; Revelations (60:39).