Home » Jazz Articles » Kahil El'Zabar and Billy Bang: Spirits Entering

179
Album Review

Kahil El'Zabar and Billy Bang: Spirits Entering

By

Sign in to view read count
Kahil El'Zabar and Billy Bang: Spirits Entering
As a ritual experience, music can be amazingly moving. That's a deep concept that American jazz players long ago absorbed from the traditions of West Africa. (Haiti and Cuba lie at the epicenter of this movement within the Western Hemisphere; but that's an entirely different tangent.) Free jazz veterans Kahil El'Zabar and Billy Bang improvise together on the drums and violin, respectively, on Spirits Entering. This recording would poorly be described as a "conversation"... having played together off and on for 25 years, these two musicians have come to develop an intuitive sense for each other's ideas and feelings. They play as one to make possible a ritual music with deep musical and extra-musical consequences. It's ironic that such a vital music be captured on aluminum. No fool would presume that ceremonial music deserves to cloak its visual, corporeal, and incantational elements.

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.

Visit Delmark on the web.

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.

Album information

Title: Spirits Entering | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Delmark Records


FOR THE LOVE OF JAZZ
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a champion of jazz since 1995, supporting it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to rigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Post a comment about this album

Tags

More

The Pan American Nutcracker Suite
Joe McCarthy's Afro Bop Alliance Big Band
The Power Station Sessions
The Pat Petrillo Big Rhythm Band
Sera Niebla
Nicolas Politzer
Xaybu: The Unseen
Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone

Popular

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.