September 20, 2000
Africa N'da Blues
Chicago percussionist Kahil El'Zabar is one younger musician who makes it a point to interact with the jazz pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s. A longtime member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, he has built the Ritual Trio around the talents of veteran AACMers Brown and Favors, who is also a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. More to the point the percussionist has played and recorded with other sound pioneers from that time including saxophonists Fred Anderson, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman, Archie Shepp and now Pharoah Sanders.
The results, especially on this CD, are particularly memorable because El'Zabar and his men are able to match the older musicians' populist as well as the exploratory vocabularies. Categorized as a unreconstructed firebreather following his stint with John Coltrane's most advanced groups Sanders is much more than that as he proceeds to demonstrate here. After all, almost the entire so-called acid jazz movement was built on his recordings with vocalist Leon Thomas such as "The Creator Has A Master Plan".
No one really sings on this disc, though Sandoval's spoken words in both English and Spanish on "Africanos/Latinos" pinpoints the many tributaries to the jazz river, and El'Zabar's chanting on "Pharoah's Song" could excite progressive DJs.
Instead, on tracks like the title tune, "Ka-Real" and, of course, "Pharoah's Song" Sanders breathes out flowing legato tones that appears to refer as much to Ben Webster-like boudoir sax playing as the New Thing. Unleashing a percussion offensive on that last tune seems to satisfy El'Zabar's most exotic impulses, since he sticks to the trap set the rest of the time. Meanwhile Favors does his work as unobtrusively possible.
If the session does have a drawback it's in the under-utilization of Brown's distinctive reed playing. Except for a soprano sax interlude on "Pharoah's Song" and a tenor chase with Sanders on "Miles' Mode", he merely turns out impeccable modal-style accompaniment throughout on the piano, his third instrument. Nonetheless, Brown's transformation of hoary "Autumn Leaves" into a pulsating rhythmic piano workout not only highlight his multi-talents, but could have guaranteed him a gig in a Southside Chicago bar anytime over the past half-century.
Meetings of musicians from different generations don't always work. But the sympathetic sounds from all concerned on AFRICA N'DA BLUES shows that harmony can sometimes be attained.
Track Listing: 1. Ka-Real (Take 2) 2. Africanos/Latinos* 3. Miles' Mode 4. Autumn Leaves 5. Africa N'da Blues 6. Pharoah's Song 7. Ka-Real (Take 1)
Personnel: Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone); Ari Brown (soprano and tenor saxophones, piano); Malachi Favors (bass); Kahil El'Zabar (drums, percussion); Susana Sandoval (spoken word) *