One Track Mind: Kahil El’zabar, “Central Park West” (2013)

Share this:

The “Chicagoan of the Year” as awarded by the Chicago Tribune has to be a person who’s done a lot for that large community, and as percussionist, bandleader, composer, past Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians chairman (in 1975, while only is his early 20s), educator, and community leader. But we’ve only got room here to address one of Kahil El’zabar’s latest endeavor as the first two things on that list.

What It Is! is that latest endeavor, a new album that introduces on record El’zabar’s newest combo, a quartet of himself along with some of the most promising fresh faces on the AACM scene. Kevin Nabors, who we first noticed on Corey Wilkes’ Cries From The Ghetto, plays tenor sax, Justin Dillard (McCoy Tyner, Hamid Drake, Roy Hargrove, Branford Marsalis, Ornette Coleman, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Henry Grimes, Clark Terry and Ellis Marsalis. handles piano, organ and Rhodes and Junius Paul (Wynton Marsalis, Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, Donald Harrison, Nona Hendryx, Roy Hargrove and Corey Wilkes) plays the upright bass. Given the success and longevity of El’zabar’s Ritual Trio and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, the Quartet could be in for a nice, long ride, too.

The album celebrates the joyful, spiritual modal music of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, a past musical partner of El’zabar’s. El’zabar wrote five of the seven tracks the Quartet recorded for this album, emulating the extended, modal style perfected by ‘Trane and the RnB infused modal forms championed by Sanders, especially early in his career. But the other two are ‘Trane tunes: one is a fairly straightforward reading of “Impressions” and the other a not-so-straightforward reading of “Central Park West.”

We’ve raved over a cover of this song before: Joe Lovano’s sublime rendering was chosen as one of my first One Track Minds during the fall of ’06 and that one remains the gold standard recording of Coltrane’s 1960 deep cut ballad. El’zabar’s take on it gets points even though the melody is played straight. That’s because there’s this circular, African rhythm churning underneath it, produced by El’zabar’s African earth drum and Paul’s lively bass. Dillard’s organ and Nabors’ sax play that gorgeous melody and harmony in the familiar way, at the familiar pace, but it lines up perfectly with that tribal groove. Nabors’ sax is a little reedier than Trane’s and he’s a little more groove-attuned, but otherwise sounds much like the master. Following Dillard’s gospel intonations and another go around on the chorus is Paul’s woody and aggressive improvisations, which end on the high notes, literally.

Still, it’s that beat that makes this rendition. It may or may not be the best take on “Central Park West,” but it’s gotta be the grooviest one.

What It Is! goes on sale February 26 by Delmark Records. Visit Kahil El’zabar’s website for more info.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B00AL7OUYE” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00005MK3R” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B003Y3D5XE” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B004LGPBJY” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00006IQHD” /]

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close