Kahil El’Zabar: America The Beautiful

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The basic premise behind this album is firmly fixed in a socio-political context, addressing issues of racism, bigotry, ecology and economics, whilst offering the high ideals of toleration, harmony, spirituality and fairness. Commendable and admirable sentiments – urgently needed in the current climate of political unreliability and pandemic crisis.

Its vision looks towards collective possibilities and creativity, and is reflected in the multi-stranded amalgam of music. An extended ensemble of instruments – brass, woodwind, strings and percussion – intertwine, weaving patterns and tapping musical resources: the African highlife of Express Yourself, the Ra-like Freedom March (the procession led by the rich baritone of Hamiet Bluiett), the highly percussive adaptation of Coltrane’s Afro Blue, Corey Wilkes’s understated trumpet effectively supported by James Sanders’ String Quartet.

Wilkes also contributes a clear, precise solo on Jump And Shout, and his muted horn leads on the Gibbs brothers’ composition How Can We [sic] Mend A Broken Heart in an arrangement closer to Al Green’s interpretation than to the Bee Gees’. The strings and trumpet spin a web of beauty on That We Ask Of Our Creator, Joshua Ramos’s bass and the keyboard of Miguel de la Cerna laying a bedrock of calm and peace.

The material is bookended with America The Beautiful – atonal, fragmented instrumental at the start, vocal support at the finish, the lyrics ironical and satirical, a brief reminder of the uphill battle on the other side of the Atlantic. There’s a reference in the sleeve notes to the benevolence of a divine intervention and the quest for a higher purpose, but given the state of things perhaps I’m missing something. After listening to, and enjoying, this uplifting and affirmative music, maybe I am.

Discography
America The Beautiful (Instrumental); Jump And Shout (For Those Now Gone); Express Yourself; Freedom March; Sketches Of An Afro-Blue; How Can We Mend A Broken Heart; That We Ask Of Our Creator; Prayers For The Unwanted Sufferings; America The Beautiful (44.32)
El’Zabar (arr, con, pc, f); Corey Wilkes (t); Hamiet Bluiett (bar); Tomeka Reid (clo); Dennis Winslett (as); Samuel Williams (vn); Joshua Ramos (b); Miguel de la Cerna (kyb); Babu Atiba (African pc); Ernie Adams (pc); Robert Irving lll (p); James Sanders String Quartet.
Spiritmuse Records SPM-KEZ005