It’s a tribute to the inspiration that fueled this performance that “Autumn Leaves,” normally the most labored outing in a Ritual Trio performance, here achieves an indelible mix of pathos, sophisticated swing and upward-arcing majesty. Nonetheless, like most AACM-derived groups, the Ritual Trio is most at home when they’re most free, a statement that could equally apply to the venerable lion Pharoah Sanders.
“In the Land of Ooh!” begins with a sonic prayer from Sanders, then slowly builds in intensity until, about halfway through, he and the others ascend into what sounds like a state of ecstatic frenzy, leaving all thought of structure (and maybe even thought itself) behind for the uncharted territory of sonic and spiritual transcendence. It’s the kind of thing that can’t be faked or planned, and it’s also the kind of moment that free-jazz aficionados live and breathe for.
“This Little Light of Mine” is mistitled—it’s actually the venerable hymn “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” and the Trio (minus Sanders) mined it for the deep-running despair, hard-won fortitude and spiritual yearning at its heart. “Ka’s Blues,” introduced by a playfully honking, bar-walking theme from Sanders, is infused with whimsy as Brown steps away from his keyboard to blow some K.C.-ish deep blues tenor, Sanders rasps out a tribute to soul food and then augments his blues playing with a delightfully anomalous quote from “Jingle Bells,” and the entire house erupts into soul-clapping ecstasy.
An elegiac note: HotHouse, where this disk was recorded, is no more. The empty realm of silence in Chicago’s music scene that has resulted from its demise continues to haunt the city’s scene. Kudos to HotHouse’s proprietor, Marguerite Horberg, for her years of service to Chicago’s arts and culture.