Kahil El’Zabar Quartet: A Time For Healing

The Chicagoan multi-instrumentalist injects the African sound of the kalimba into what was once styled new wave and post-bop modern

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This latest issue from the highly respected Chicagoan musician Kahil El’Zabar starts with the mesmeric title track, based on a repeated musical figure, hypnotic and peaceful, played on the kalimba (a smaller version of a mbira, or thumb piano) over which the horns are introduced – Corey Wilkes’ trumpet following a logical path, slowly building to a point where it can be taken out slightly, Isaiah Collier’s tenor in a style reminiscent of Archie Shepp.

The kalimba also leads on Urban Shaman – supporting horns gradually taking over with a strong African township flavour both in solos and jointly, the chants and underlying rhythm maintaining momentum – and on We’ll Get Through This, where small percussion and voice are added before a slightly Aylerish tenor soars behind the trumpet ostinato, the roles then reversed with trumpet taking the front ground before the kalimba’s tranquil bell-like sonority. This aspect of the instrument is briefly heard on an intentionally laboured version of Gershwin’s Summertime, after Wilkes’ tightly controlled and melodic trumpet more or less adheres to tune.

Eddie Harris is a direct tribute to the late saxophonist, the vocals referring to him as a “harmonic genius” and “electrifying”. (Harris’s Swiss Movement is never far from the turntable here.) Wilkes’ muted, tight approach contrasts with Collier’s direct, R&B influenced statement, right out of the Eddie Harris wardrobe. Time IS has similar contributions from both horns, the highly percussive section led by a slapping effect presumably from Kahil’s cajon (rhythm box).

Resolution is a more or less straight reading of Coltrane’s Love Supreme movement of that name, although ragged in the short introductory reference to the theme before the soloists take over. In comparison, The Coming Of Spring is an attractively arranged medium-tempo modal piece; Wilkes is clear toned, slightly laidback, matched by Collier, who threatens to take it into greater abstraction, whilst Dillard’s keyboard manages to sound like an electric guitar at times. Drum interjections, rimshots and cymbals drive it forward, Jazz Messengers-style.

An album of great expression, effectively mixing African roots with what was once termed “new wave” and “post-bop modern”. Recommended.

Discography
A Time For Healing; Drum Talk (Run’n In The Streets); Urban Shaman; Eddie Harris; The Coming Of Spring; Resolution; We’ll Get Through This; Time IS; Summertime (77.41)
Kahil El’Zabar (d, cajon, kalimba, v); Corey Wilkes (t, spirit bowls, pc); Justin Dillard (kyb, pc); Isaiah Collier (ts, ss, pc). Chicago, December 2020.
Spiritmuse Records CD-KEZ-007