Follow the Sun
“Ritual is how we make sense of the world,” wrote percussionist Kahil El’Zabar in his liner notes for the Ritual Trio’s 2008 Delmark release, OOH Live! (which featured Pharoah Sanders). Ritual is also, of course, how we reimagine the world, and on this disc El’Zabar and his compatriots embody that notion. Even the identity of the trio itself seems an exercise in shape-shifting: Although saxophonist/bagpiper Duke Payne and vocalist Dwight Trible are billed as “special guests,” they share frontline roles with El’Zabar, saxophonist/pianist Ari Brown and bassist Junius Paul (who proves himself a worthy successor to earlier trio bass players Malachi Favors and Yosef Ben Israel).
Especially on the all-instrumental tracks, the saxophones of Brown and Payne interweave and play off each other—Brown’s burly tone contrasts Payne’s more burnished sound, and their tightly wound aural patterns dance in kaleidoscopic filigrees. The modal drone of Payne’s bagpipes, meanwhile, invokes North Africa (as Coltrane’s soprano often did), and its interplay with the others intensifies that feel: “Great Black Music,” Payne’s bagpipe showcase, finds the ensemble’s organic meld of voices, rhythms and sonic textures at its most roots-rich and evocative.
Trible’s vocals, featured on six of the nine tracks, bespeak an intensely seeking spirituality, laced with anguish and toughened by street grit (accentuated by his playful excursions into hipster vernacular). His reading of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” is both tribute and lament; his lyrics, as well as his emotion-wracked delivery, bring fresh urgency to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” and they also serve to encapsulate this set’s overriding theme: deep-rooted ancestral wisdom carried into the present and beyond (“Ancient to the Future”), along with hard-won spiritual transcendence.