The Friendship Of Kahil El’Zabar And David Murray Grows Deeper


Kahil El’Zabar (left) enlisted David Murray for his latest leader date.

(Photo: Ave Pildas Photography)

Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray have been exchanging spiritual energy for more than 40 years. When they met in 1975 in Chicago, El’Zabar was a percussionist and vocalist deeply involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and Murray was a tenor saxophonist on a road trip as part of an independent study program at California’s Pomona College.“We met on a basketball court, and it was just a real good vibration,” El’Zabar recalled during an early July video chat that also included Murray. “From the first time we met, we were able to play together on the same team. We had the ability to see each other’s spaces.”

Murray has vivid memories of that initial meeting, and of the first time he saw El’Zabar perform. “He had that beam up to the universe, that beam of stream-of-consciousness,” Murray said before directing his comments directly to his friend. “Sometimes, you get on that wavelength, when the words are hooking straight up with all the universe, and you’re like the guy that gets struck by lightning.”

It was years later that El’Zabar, now 66, and Murray, 65, would record together, but their discographies eventually became heavily intertwined. Among the many projects on which they have collaborated are the duo albums Golden Sea (1989), One World Family (2000) and We Is: Live At The Bop Shop (2004). They also have logged thousands of road miles as a duo.

That shared history certainly informs their musical rapport, as evidenced on the new album Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray, released by the London-based label Spiritmuse. For this quartet project, the veterans teamed up with musicians from a younger generation: Emma Dayhuff (bass) and Justin Dillard (piano, organ, synthesizer).

The program—which includes live and studio recordings made in Chicago during 2019—mainly consists of El’Zabar’s compositions, with an emphasis on extended jams. In addition to his authoritative vocals, the leader utilizes an array of percussion instruments, including a drum set, cajon, kalimba and foot tambourine.

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