January/February 2007

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang
Big M: A Tribute to Malachi Favors
Delmark Records

Kahil El’Zabar (drums) and Yosef Ben Israel (bass) spend most of Big M playing strong grooves from which they barely diverge. This is not to say that their roles are overly simplistic or that this music gets repetitive. They actually create a high level of excitement for what lies ahead. On “OOF” and “Big M,” El’Zabar uses the kalimba to create a hypnotic drone that inspires tenor saxophonist Ari Brown and violinist Billy Bang. When the leader takes a brief solo on the title track, the sonic effect sounds like an overmodulated celeste, which, in combination with the gruff vocal noise in the background, evokes the spirit of the late Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist with an appropriate salute. Elsewhere, the leader switches to earth drums (congas, essentially) for a funkier rhythm on “Maghoustut.”

Brown and Bang serve as ideal frontline partners throughout the album, with the saxophonist’s often gruff tone complementing a violin performance that combines an equally rugged attack with an often gentle sense of lyricism. Brown is equally skilled on piano, which he plays on “Freedom Flexibility” and “Malachi,” the latter a spiritually based melody with an El’Zabar vocal that avoids getting overly sentimental.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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