Spirit Groove

09/07/20Multi-Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar & Tenor Sax Colossus David Murray Release Phenomenal New Spiritual Jazz Album

Welcome to the house that Kahil El'Zabar built. For decades now, Chicago's hugely innovative, "legendary multi-percussionist and spiritual jazz master Kahil El'Zabar [has been on a] quest of spirit through groove." It comes as no surprise then, that his latest, June-released album alongside fellow spirit-searcher and "tenor sax colossus" David Murray is simply entitled "Spirit Groove". Spanning over four decades the two have collaborated on a multitude of "exceptional explorations in the varied realms of spiritual jazz," a bond repeatedly revealed in their inspiring on-stage exchanges and musical synchronicity.  

Kahil El'Zabar is an eccentric yet indispensable, visionary personality and an impressive source of creativity, who has made it his life purpose to channel a certain energy through music and attain new levels of spirituality, of transcendence through rhythm and sound: 

"The highest moment I ever remember in my music was 'Light' Henry Huff, who's deceased now, and Edward Wilkerson – who were original members of my band The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – and we had played for five weeks straight at a club called La Chapelle des Lombards in Paris. [...] And there was a moment I'll never forget, where I was looking at myself. I was playing and I was over here and I said damn, you know. And then when I wanted to tell Ed and Light where I was is when I lost it. I don't know if it was for one second or if it was for an hour but whatever that vibration was, I've lived to have that vibration again for the rest of my life, which I've not. And I've had some high levels of, you know, of experiences but that kind of existence is really what I live for. And this is what I feel in Charlie Parker. This is what I feel when I listen to the pygmy music of the Ituri forest of southern Cameroon. This is what I feel when I listen to classic Muddy Waters and he say, 'I'm a man.' And you feel the energy that's, you know, behind that. That passion," he once revealed in an interview.

On "Spirit Groove" El'Zabar and David Murray are joined by Emma Dayhuff on acoustic bass and Justin Dillard on synth, piano and organ, who complete the extraordinary ensemble. In Kahil El'Zabar's own words: 

"'Spirit Groove' intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level. From the mouths of Bebop music masters, who were my mentors and that I also had the distinct honour to play with – such as Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Eddie Harris, Malachi Favors, Jodie Christine, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, they all expressed to me that in the beginning of Bebop, people everywhere danced with spirit to the music of Charlie Parker! This is the moment to rekindle the motion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change!”

The album is composed of eight tracks. It takes flight on the 20-minute lead-in "It's My House" – that is also offered in a more compact 10-minute radio edit – followed by our personal favourite "Necktar" (included in our "Greedy for June" playlist on Spotify), which finds El'Zabar repeatedly calling out for someone to "open up the door," while accompanied by David Murray's agile sax-apades, Dayhuff's rolling bassline and Dillards groovy chords. Up next is "Song For Myself", which embarks on a light drum groove and continues to meditavely ride it out for eleven-something minutes, adorned with sporadic solo flourishes. "Katon" adds the soothing sounds of an mbira or kalimba to the mix, as the 15-minute, piano- and bass-led ballad takes shape and Murray adds even more of his genius. "In The Spirit" is a shorter piece, that marks a return to El'Zabar's vocal incantations and will have you humming along in no time. "Trane In Mind" is likely a tip of the hat to John Coltrane – who in his time was known to undertake his own spiritual explorations – as Murray's sax takes center stage and runs with it. And finally, "One World Family" concludes the album on a unifying note that resonates, a piece El'Zabar and Murray co-wrote together many years ago and whose message remains as relevant as ever. 

You can stream/buy this phenomenal album and/or watch the teaser below that includes El'Zabar and Murray speaking on the album as well as some live performance bits. Highly recommended!

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom