Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet States What It Is!

As Howard Mandel observes, the new Delmark release What It Is! by The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet is the 58th recording to feature the composer-drummer/percussionist-bandleader-music director Kahil El’Zabar. One of the many important musicians to emerge out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) his credits are multiple, including being part of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble with saxophonist Ernest Dawkins. 

On What It Is!, El’Zabar is joined by Kevin Nabors on tenor saxophone, Justin Dillard on piano, Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes, and Junius Paul on bass. The selections with Dillard on the Hammond B-3 provide a fresh twist on an organ group from the opening moments of The Nature Of, as Dillard brings some interesting voicings on the B-3 while Nabors displays a robust attack and full-bodied tone. Paul takes a solo while the leader keeps the groove percolating on this spirited opening track. On Impressions, the first of the two Coltrane covers, the group shows the influence of the classic Coltrane quartet while providing their own personality. One can certainly hear Coltrane’s influence in Nabors’ fervent tenor here, while Dillard evokes McCoy Tyner as well. Dillard is on the Fender Rhodes while the leader is on the African Earth Drum for the title track and sings on a soulful number that has a seventies’ rhythm’n’blues flavor.

Song Of Myself” has Dillard back on the B3 and, as Howard Mandel observes, he explores some of the realms that Larry Young had ventured in against Paul’s firm ostinato bass and the leader’s sure footed groove. Nabors takes a lengthy solo that also takes unexpected twists while his playing displays his ability to build up a lengthy solo. The other Coltrane cover, Central Park West, is an particularly appealing organ-group reworking of the ballad with Paul contributing a lively bass underpinning, and El’Zabar’s hand drumming supporting Nabors vigorous tenor sax here with Dillard laying down some soulful organ. From The Heart is a lovely original with the leader on kalimba (thumb piano) setting the tenor of the performance. Kari, named after Kahil’s son, is a lively closer in a Coltrane vein. 

What it Is! is outstanding with varied material and energetic, swinging playing by The Kahil El’Zabar’s Quartet. The music here a joy to listen to.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This was the second recording by Kahil El'Zabar I have heard and it inspired me to purchase three more CDs by him (including one by Ethnic Heritage Ensemble).

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