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Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Arts Center

Billed as “a jazz loft party,” this animated live session is a memorial of sorts to Malachi Favors, the original bassist in the Ritual Trio. Yosef Ben Israel fills Favors’ shoes while Ari Brown plays gruff tenor sax, Billy Bang guests on violin and Kahil El’Zabar leads on kalimba, drum kit, congas and other percussion. El’Zabar’s three originals are built on extended modal vamps, beginning with the Favors tribute “Big M” and continuing with the more swing-based “Return of the Lost Tribe.”

An irrepressible character, El’Zabar never hesitates to inject loud vocalizations when the mood strikes; he spills into full-blown spoken-word on the pep-talkish “Be Exciting (Kahil Testifies).” At times his emotionalism seems jarring and forced, although it’s not without its appeal. Brown’s one contribution, “Where Do You Want to Go?” is in fact the most compelling, with an upbeat, syncopated groove that features Brown’s steel-cable tenor sound at its best. “Oof,” the final track, opens with a meditative kalimba pattern and builds through ecstatic statements from Brown and Billy Bang. Just before it ends, El’Zabar resurrects the spirit of Favors once again, by rhythmically chanting his name.

Originally Published