Kahil El'Zabar is a man of many inventions. His music has a pure passion that transcends the mundane. He lifts compositions with imagination into realms that are at once startling and captivating. He manifests those traits on this splendid recording where his compositions are zapped into a three-dimensional impact by Ernest Dawkins (alto saxophone and percussion), Joseph Bowie (trombone and percussion) and the 39-piece Infinity Orchestra from France which has some exciting and innovative musicians.
El'Zabar leads the Infinity Orchestra at the National Theatre of Bordeaux, where he is also an artist in residence. His compositions are front and center as he pulls in various styles and molds them for the Orchestra and, on the last track, "Return of the Lost Tribe, for Bowie and Dawkins.
Jazz has been married to several other idioms, but the art has escaped many. El'Zabar comes up trumps on "Nu Art Claiming Earth where voice, horns and percussion lead in Bindi Mahamat to rap over a scratching turntable. The groove primed for dancing, is irresistible. The beat is pulled back into silence one-third of the way when a whole new atmosphere comes in. A curling bass line, a piano that sings a sweet mainstream melody and draws the swaying ensemble of the horns, and lush orchestration change movement and mood. The suite gets a resounding finale from drummers who fire up the tempo with the cacophonous explosion of the horns.
"Speaking in Tongues swings, the orchestra playing off an improvisatory head on the balafon from El'Zabar. The chart opens room for the brass and the reeds, the consonance seamless. In the expanse of the near 25 minute track come a host of impulses. There is the tenor saxophone of Karlis Vanags, seeking and finding eloquent bop, the trumpet of Piero Pepin, at once filtering the melody and taking it out onto colorful branches, the clarinet of Jean Dousteyssier, glistening and glowing with prancing phrases, and the alto saxophone of Benoit Berthe swinging buoyantly. The catchy melody is given a joyous air by the Orchestra, enhanced by a dollop of European chromatics, a classical temperament that cools the ardor without dampening it. In sum, a perfectly crafted gem.
Dawkins gets into the melody of "Return of the Lost Tribe and stays there for a short spell, letting only an occasional darting phrase undulate the calm. As he begins to build the tension, his phrases get muscular, but he draws back and lets gentility seep in. The juxtaposition is compelling, but it is also the soothing pad for the orchestra whose ensemble lines are softly translucent. Bowie growls and swipes broad strokes on the trombone letting a jutting note add variety. Melody and freedom are compact soul mates, nailed in the fierce propulsion of Dawkins on the comeback. This tune was written by El'Zabar in 1978, but it still makes a vital statement. Like the rest of this album, music of this caliber cannot be contained by time.