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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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Kahil EL'ZABAR

What it is!

DELMARK RECORDS DE 5002

 

 

The Nature Of [9:50]

Impressions [9:43]

What It Is! [4:00]

Song of Myself [11:38]

Central Park West [9:33]

From The Heart [4:30]

Kari [10:05]


The Kahil El'Zabar Quartet

Kahil El'Zabar (drums, African earth drum, kalimba), Kevin Nabors (tenor saxophone), Justin Dillard (piano), Hammond B3 organ, Fender Rhodes Electric Piano), Junius Paul (bass).

rec. at Riverside Studio, Chicago, USA on September 28-30, 2012. [59:19]

 

If you like your jazz `straight ahead' you'll love this disc. The notes say its new jazz that looks to the future while embracing the past, which it most certainly is. Five of the seven tracks are Kahil El'Zabar originals and two are John Coltrane compositions and played as a tribute to the great jazz innovator. The notes also explain that this is the 58th disc to feature El'Zabar, almost one for each of his years of age (he turns 60 this in 2013). It is a measure of how much jazz there is out there that despite jazz as a art form being what Ian Carr's seminal book's title has it: Music Outside, there are, nevertheless, many great jazz musicians who one just doesn't get to hear. One such that has escaped my radar, until now, is Kahil El'Zabar and on the strength of this disc I should have come across him before so it's a lucky thing to have discovered him now. The `future' is taken care of in the form of five very tuneful originals that exploit the quartet members' undoubted talent with some really interesting drumming from El'Zabar as well as his use of the African earth drum and the kalimba, an African thumb piano also known as a lamellophone (a perfect instrument for today's generation of mobile phone users to learn!). The admiration felt for John Coltrane is evident from the start as the disc kicks off with a tune that sounds very Coltrane like with his special mixture of the languid laid-back sound as well as his at times frenetic edge. Kevin Nabors' beautiful singing sax does the trick in that respect and when track two comes and we get Coltrane's own Impressions he really inhabits the mantle of the great man with a wonderful rendition of this Coltrane signature piece with its soaring and at times moaning sound. Justin Dillard's pianism is also a special pleasure to hear on this (he played the Hammond organ on the first track). The album's title track is next and we have a short tune with El'Zabar giving full vent on his African earth drum which makes for a really exciting and infectious experience and after the intro he then sings some very meaningful words accompanied by a repeated loop on fender electric piano as well as sax and bass. Song for Myself is a more experimental work with Dillard reverting to organ, later joined by Nabors and with Kahil and Junius Paul providing a solid background. Central Park West the second of Coltrane's compositions is another staple and always worth a listen, as indeed everything he wrote most certainly is. The world of jazz lovers is divided between admirers of Coltrane and the others who regard his influence as too overpowering with, they allege, many musicians merely trying to sound like him, as if that could possibly be his fault; what's that about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery! This rendition opens with Kahil's hand-drumming forming a great backdrop to the smooth sax of Nabors and the melodious sound of Dillard's Hammond organ while Paul's solid bass also helps to anchor things very nicely indeed. From The Heart is a delightfully sensuous, lilting tune that is over far too soon and against El'Zabar's African thumb piano, sounding for all the world like a miniature vibraphone and Paul's gentle rocking bass, there is Dillard's discrete intervention. The final track is named after El'Zabar's son Kari and is the longest track and I wondered if this is an allusion to the fact that he stands 6' 3" (at 16!). It is an honour for a father to name a tune after a child and Kari can be happy in the knowledge that it is a cracking one that showcases this band's musical credentials to the full with some more beautifully measured playing from Nabors as well as superb drumming from dad with Dillard's sensitive piano and Paul's bass bringing up the rear.

This band is made up of three of El'Zabar's protégés who have gone on to form their own bands. Kahil El'Zabar himself is this year celebrating the 40 th anniversary of his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and that is something that this disc has motivated me to explore because music as good as this must surely be in evidence in all that El'Zabar has been involved in and if this is What It Is I want more of it!

Steve Arloff



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