Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray first recorded together in 1989 and some of the seven compositions on this new set are co-written by both of them. So why they haven’t worked together more often is a great mystery, given their personal chemistry, for they are a perfect match.
Throughout, El’Zabar’s Afrocentric rhythms and spiritual grooves are highlighted by Murray’s soulful performances on both tenor and bass clarinet. Where El’Zabar sets the scene, Murray tells the story, setting out a strong narrative on each track. Bassist Emma Huff is a notable presence throughout, as is pianist Justin Dillard, in good Tynerish style on the heartfelt Trane tribute.
Many of the songs here have considerable history: El’Zabar’s In The Spirit was first performed by him at the Moers jazz festival in 1979, Song Of Myself was first recorded in 1997 in a trio with Murray and the bassist Fred Hopkins on Delmark records, while One World Family was co-written in the 1980s. More recent and personal songs include Katon, written by El’Zabar for his fourth son, and Murray’s Necktar, written for his new wife, Francesca. The lengthy title track was written specifically for this project.
At times, El’Zabar’s vocals bring Gil Scott-Heron to mind, his loose vocal approach to the lyrics working well against the shifting rhythmic accompaniment, but it is his percussion you come to hear, making much out of often limited musical resources: Few people get as much out of a kalimba or thumb piano as he does! He doesn’t so much push a rhythm forward as unroll it, letting it flow where it may. Which perfectly suits this set of uplifting soulful grooves and impassioned jazz, an ideal antidote for our troubled times.
Hear/buy Kahil El’Zabar featuring David Murray: Spirit Groove at bandcamp.com
In My House; Necktar; Songs Of Myself; Katon; In The Spirit; Trane In Mind; One World Family (82.17)
El’Zabar (d, pc, v); Murray (ts, bcl); Emma Dayhuff (b); Justin Dillard (p, org, syn). Live and in studio, Chicago, June 2019.