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Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration

Nic Jones By

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To date, drummer/bandleader Kahil El'Zabar has had his music and ensembles extensively documented. That endeavor culminates in this title and it's nothing short of revelatory in as much as it's nothing less than notification of his art moving to another level.

This impression is underscored by the fact that Transmigration marks a fundamental break with the precedent on record for El'Zabar's music. No less than thirty nine musicians, rappers and vocalists are listed in addition to the leader, trombonist Joseph Bowie and saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, making it by some distance the largest ensemble he's ever recorded. It's a melding of cultures too, ranging from Afro-American to African to French to West Indian, and the fact that the music is so uninhibitedly joyous, stimulating and downright creative is only cause for celebration. It's certainly a positive affirmation of music as a language capable of crossing cultural and geographical divides.

Given the number involved it's extraordinary that El'Zabar's managed throughout to come up with music that's never heavy in the worst sense of the term. For evidence of this the listener need hear no further than "Speaking In Tongues, where a wonderfully apt title is played out through an orchestration by El'Zabar and Robert Irving that both frames and stimulates a succession of soloists in a manner the beauty of which should be shouted from the rooftops. Particularly noteworthy in the soloist stakes on this one is clarinetist Jean Dousteyssier, a prodigy who at the time was gaining his first experience of a musical environment outside of the classical tradition; he was fifteen years old then, which is food for thought in itself.

The title track comes in like a foreboding tide, but such is El'Zabar's handling of the not inconsiderable forces at his disposal that it settles into an atmospheric slow tempo vamp in which an unidentified tenor sax soloist runs the gamut of his instrument's history from Chu Berry to Archie Shepp, with veiled references to Clifford Jordan along the way. The resulting ride is nothing but a gas, especially as the band's mastery of subtle coloring acts as a subtext to the whole thing.

The perhaps limited market for French rapping over a backdrop of scratching and hard percussion is catered for on the aptly titled "Nu Art Claiming Earth It works just like it shouldn't, in other words it's both music and text fashioned in the moment and in a way that only highlights how glorious the moment can be.

So much of the music that's put out these days seems mired in history at the expense of engagement with the present day and the kind of world that's to come, and it takes a disc like this to remind us of the fact. This is the crowning achievement of El'Zabar's career on record to date and it's heading for those polls at the end of the year if there's any justice in the world.


Track Listing: Soul To Groove; Speaking In Tongues; Transmigration; Nu Art Claiming Earth; Return Of The Lost Tribe.

Personnel: Kahil El

Title: Transmigration | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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