Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang

Big M: A Tribute To Malachi Favors
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Bittersweet celebration of veteran Chicago bassist Malachi Favors Maghoustut (1927-2004), who piloted the Ritual Trio for 18 years, Big M is more than merely reverential since it confirms the talents of the remaining band members.

Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, who also plays kalimba, flute and vocalizes here, pays tribute to the bassist with whom he played for a remarkable 38 years – starting when he was 16 – with seven compositions, four of which are named for Favors. Using the steady resonation of his regular drum kit, El’Zabar, gives many pieces a sturdy bottom in convergence with the blunt tongue stops and rough honking of tenor saxophonist Ari Brown. Also an accomplished pianist, Brown’s expressive reed arpeggios solidify in counterpoint with the sweeping strings of violinist Billy Bang. A long-time associate of the Ritual three, the fiddler’s slinky and silky multiphonics are most prominent on the title tune, as his metallic-sounding, pitch-sliding friction inflates as El’Zabar’s tambourine rattles.

The moderato “OOF” – named for Favors’ powerful pizzicato – and “Maghoustut” highlight both celebration and invention. On the former jagged thumb-piano scrapes and ankle bell beats from the percussionist complement Brown’s obbligatos and Bang’s spiky spiccato tones, which are alternately concussive and harmonic. On the later, hollow log-like pulsations from El’Zabar’s earth drum contrapuntally accompany sandpaper-rough triple-stopping from Bang.

Contributing guitar-like plucks in the bass’s highest register or chunky string bounces throughout, Yosef Ben Israel proves he’s equal to the unenviable task of taking Favors’ place.

— Ken Waxman

For Whole Note Vol. 12 #5