Chicago based Kahil El’Zabar is a composer and multi instrumentalist who has played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Eddie Harris, Sonny Stitt, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk as well as Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone. Quite a pedigree. During the early 1970s, El’Zabar also formed his own group, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, as well as Ritual Trio, both of which he continues to perform in today. He’s even appeared in films, such as Spike Lee’s Mo Money. You’d think with such a resume he’d be looking backwards but quite the contrary, now in he’s 60’s his music incorporates African rhythms and groove, as well as r’nb and hip hop grooves and feels like the future. In this outing he’s joined by tenor saxophonist David Murray (McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones even The Grateful Dead) who’s circular breathing creates not only gorgeous long phrases but sounds smooth like silk, and acoustic bassist Emma Dayhu (Herbie Hancock) and Justin Dillard (Junius Paul) on synth, organ and piano.
“You can dance in my house. You can pray in my house…”
Wow. Just wow. This is soul jazz of the highest order. It’s remarkable that jazz can still feel this vital, this groove laden and swinging in 2020. Its soul is from the 70’s but its technique is right now. The music is groove laden, the musicianship is telepathic and joyous, and the arrangements extended and tasteful. The highlight (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) are the vocals from El’Zabar. They never threaten to overtake the music but they shape it, like another instrument. They also feel loose, somewhat improvised and serve to add another melody to the music, before he eases off and the band just jam out. Again the arrangements are just mind blowing. The band are adept at sitting on a minimal groove and eventually just adding or subtracting and its electric. There are some quite spare moments that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. They know exactly what they are doing. This is incredible soulful music that while is ostensibly labelled jazz is so much more. Find it.