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)

The band burrows into a deep groove on “In The Spirit,” with Dillard’s poignant piano lines and Murray’s potent tenor gracefully complementing El’Zabar’s passionate vocals: “In the spirit/ Opening your third eye/ Let your dreams, let them fly.” Elsewhere, Murray fuels his tune “Necktar” with an insistent tenor riff as the leader chants, “Open up the door.” The longtime collaborators conclude the program with a transcendent concert version of “One World Family,” which they co-wrote years ago.

“When we decided to do this Spirit Groove record, it seemed like [‘One World Family’ conveyed] an appropriate message for a higher ideal,” El’Zabar said. “Some people think it’s too lofty to believe that there can be any kind of collective empathy in the world—where we can’t see that we actually are all connected, when it’s obvious by the history of DNA that we all come from the same ancestors. We are connected biologically. And [we wanted] to create a spiritual connection using art as that bridge and anchor. That’s why we thought ‘One World Family’ would fit for this project.”

Murray discussed the adrenaline rush he felt during the live, 15-minute rendition of the tune. “You think the song is going to end, as I’m kind of going in and out, and in and out,” he said. “But it just can’t end, because there’s just too much feeling, too much spirit groove going on. It just brings me back and I have to play a little more, and then I pushed Kahil to do a little more singing.”

Whether they are onstage or in a Zoom interview, these two longtime friends radiate a deep mutual respect. “I enjoy working with David so much because it makes me prepare, musically,” El’Zabar explained. “I work hard, in terms of practicing and being ready for the telepathy, because in the moment, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But the more that you prepare—and work on your abilities as a musician—it helps you adapt. So, I’m thankful for that relationship, because I’m always growing musically inside of it.”

Thea Ioannou and Mark Gallagher, the producers of the radio show MadOnJazz, founded Spiritmuse in 2018, and they consider El’Zabar to be the label’s flagship artist. In addition to the 2019 release of Be Known: Ancient/Future/Music, by El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, the label plans to reissue a Ritual Trio disc recorded by the percussionist alongside his now-departed AACM colleagues Lester Bowie (trumpet) and Malachi Favors (bass). Also in the works is a disc by vocalist Dwight Trible’s band Cosmic Vibrations, as well as a project from multi-instrumentalist David Ornette Cherry, the son of trumpeter and DownBeat Hall of Fame inductee Don Cherry. DB

This story originally was published in the September 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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