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World Music CD Reviews Jazz

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio

By Doug Merlino
Published August 23, 2007

Big M: A Tribute To Malachi Favors

The friendship of drummer Kahil El’Zabar and bassist Malachi Favors, both members of Chicago’s AACM, extended over 35 years. In the 1980s, Favors–along with trumpeter Lester Bowie–was a founding member of El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio. On this album’s seven tracks, recorded shortly after the drummer’s death in 2004, El’Zabar channels some of his friend’s spirit. It’s a powerhouse performance from the start, “Crumb-puck-u-lent,” a muscular funk blues powered by bassist Yosef Ben Israel. Saxophonist Ari Brown and violinist Billy Bang both lay on bruising, visceral solos. On the next track, the pensive “OOF,” El’Zabar switches to kalimba, mediating between Bang’s impassioned violin and Brown’s subdued tenor. The band maintains high energy throughout the album, alternating between meditations and urgent, rhythmically driven wailing. It closes with the gentle, piano-driven swinger “Malachi,” on which El’Zabar pays spoken-word tribute to Favors: “So kind, so divine, a true spirit of the higher mind.”