Kahil El'zabar's Ritual Trio Featuring Pharoah Sanders - Ooh Live (Bright Moments Records, 2008) ***a1/2
Kahil El'Zabar's has this magical touch to turn all his music into a pure joy, full of playful spirituality, reverent and fun at the same time. And yes, he tends to repeat himself at times, but then what, who cares, the performances of his Ritual Trio or the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble are always great to excellent. What more can you want? This one is recorded live in 2000, with Ari Brown on piano (predominantly) and sax and the late Malachi Favors on bass, and with special guest Pharoah Sanders. The album starts with a long piano trio version of Autumn Leaves", a favorite of El'Zabar and already recorded several times in various live settings. Only on the second track does the great Pharoah make his appearance, first slowly, entering in all quietness, quite bluesy, but as the piece evolves, energy and tension rise, and Sanders becomes really wild, howling, screaming, full of power, opening his soul, pulling the other musicians with him on his sonic journey, and they not only follow suit, but they spur him on to go even further, to go even higher, to go even deeper emotionally, ... and he does! ... and then this monolith of sophisticated and sometimes less sophisticated emotional power calms down, in halts and sputters, still wailing, now singing, then screaming, then back to subdued lyricism, moving into a rhythmic tune, a signal for Brown to start a nice piano solo, with boppish walking bass and El'Zabar's drums in full support. The third track is again a piano trio, with great bass and drums solos, but without Sanders, and the fourth track brings us back into uptempo blues or boogie land, the enthusiastic crowd shouting out its excitement, with Sanders joining again, on sax and vocals. Throughout the performance El'Zabar sticks to his drumkit, without using his thumb piano, playing much more jazzy and without any direct African musical references as we are used from the Ritual Trio. The album will not be on my list of preferred Ritual Trio albums, but it is still great fun, with four musicians clearly enjoying themselves, with the second track as an absolute killer.