Among the current fertile crop of Chicago improvisors only Ken Vandermark outdistances the recording fecundity of percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. The difference is that for various reasons, most notably the Vandermark’s MacArthur Foundation windfall, more of the reed player’s projects seem to make it into circulation. Still, El’Zabar’s discography continues to swell at a steady rate, thanks mainly to the diligent investment of the Delmark label. This current release offers up two thirds of a former incarnation of The Ritual Trio (before reedist/pianist Ari Brown’s arrival), taped three years ago in the intimate surroundings of Delmark’s Riverside Studio. Bang is one of the few improvisors around that can completely complement and match El’Zabar’s measure of spiritual fire and passionate emotionalism in his instrument.
As on past dates for his various ensemble groupings El’Zabar mines a few choice tunes from his regular songbook and Bang brings along a favorite or two as well. But while some of material may seem familiar the stripped down improvisatory setting and the fertile ingenuity of the two men make the session seem fresh. Bang’s beautiful and haunting “Spirits Entering” sets things in motion with El’Zabar on standard traps kit. Shaving off singing high-pitched ribbons of sound the violinist saturates his lines in vibrato that is at once transcendent and earthy. The drummer spreads a flexible lattice of supportive rhythms jockeying between snares, cymbals and toms with grace and fluidity.
The bare bones surroundings force each player to marshal both his imagination and his prowess, performing both in expected and revelatory capacities. On “Song of Myself” his bass drum adopts string bass attributes kicking out a funky undercurrent around which Bang’s bow wails. His hollow resonating berimbau surprises on “The Ituri Fantasy” plucking out tight funky ostinatos through which Bang’s somber bowed shapes sail. El’Zabar’s thumb piano, a voice I’ve long lauded in print and conversation, frames the aptly titled “Dream Merchant” working in near perfect union with the violinist’s voice-like arco and pizzicato patterns. A like-minded coda arises with the lapping delicacy of the closing “Golden Sea.”
El’Zabar continues to strike a favorable balance with each new project he unleashes, testing challenging new directions while remaining true to the history he’s made for himself. His prolific nature never seems to come at a cost to his creative drive. Safe in the knowledge that his recording frequency far outdistances his release schedule we as listeners can rest assured that the El’Zabar reservoir is far from dry.
Delmark on the web: http://www.delmark.com
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.
Billy Bang: violin; Kahil El'Zabar: drums, thumb piano, birimbau, percussion.
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